This isn’t the first time that Concrete Blonde’s fiery singer, Johnette Napolitano, has threatened to retire her band, though this time she appears to mean it.
This was the first of two Wiltern shows, with the second booked tonight and billed as the band’s farewell concert. Whether Napolitano, who also doubles as the group’s bassist, will ever resurrect Concrete Blonde (which she formed under the name Dream 6 in 1983) remains to be seen, but if she intended the band to go out while at the top of its musical game, she’s certainly accomplishing that.
This sold-out, 95-minute show was a celebration of the band’s accomplishments , in particular music from 1990’s brilliant “Bloodletting” album, as well as the dramatic, mature themes offered on the group’s fine new Capitol album, “Mexican Moon.”
And it was with the current project that Napolitano and band, performing before an appreciative if sedate crowd, was most affecting. No longer a slave to love songs, the 37-year-old singer spins an emotion-filled, moving blend of anxiety, confusion, struggle, frustration and, ultimately, hope, wrapping it all with one of the most genuine female rock ‘n’ roll voices since Janis Joplin’s rage was silenced.
The Hollywood tragedy of “Jenny I Read,” the ambitious and soaring battle cry of “Heal It Up” and the soft, Spanish-flavored elegance of “Mexican Moon,” all lifted from the new record, are testament to the soulful diversity and passionate heart of the band. The alternately delicate and aggressive interplay between Napolitano and crafty guitarist James Mankey, with solid percussive work from Harry Rushakoff, further enhances the trio’s dynamic maturation.
Longtime fans were also respected, as faves “Joey” (Concrete Blonde’s sole Top 40 hit, delivered with a new, twisted-double-time ending), the playful “Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man” and “Tomorrow Wendy,” perhaps the shows most poignant moment, were also highlights. The latter track, written by former Wall of Voodoo vocalist Andy Prieboy, is a stunning, acoustic piece that mourns the AIDS death of its title character and drew the evening’s loudest applause.
As the band’s three members move toward new projects, concerts like this proud and elegant showcase will only solidify Concrete Blonde’s standing as one of Los Angeles’ most important ifunderappreciated bands.