Like several bands whose careers have become fodder for “Behind the Music,” the Bangles have reunited in an attempt to prove their best music isn’t necessarily behind them. While the jury is still out, early signs from their three-night homecoming at the Los Angeles House of Blues are pointing in the right direction.
Performing a 90-minute set with broad grins and engaging energy and humor, the femme quartet leaned heavily on their 1980s hits, but also premiered a half-dozen new songs. All save one — a Susannah Hoffs-penned number that veered too uncomfortably toward “Eternal Flame,” the mawkish, 1987 chart topper that reportedly broke up the band — evoked the psychedelic folkiness that made the Bangles’ early albums so charming.
The band also displayed an admirable capacity to recast their older material. They discovered the rock song hidden beneath “Manic Monday’s” studio polish, their emphatically strummed guitars making the segue into the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for My Man” sound logical. But a version of “Going Down to Liverpool” utilizing a drum machine never quite jelled.
Electronics were put to better use during “Walk Like an Egyptian,” which also contained a clever interpolation of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” The band also assayed a wide range of covers, from the expected (“Hazy Shade of Winter,” Big Star’s “September Gurls”) to the surprising (the ’60s nuggets “Pushin’ Too Hard,” by the Seeds, and Mose Allison’s “I’m Not Talking,” both performed with a gleeful, punky sloppiness).
While never known for their instrumental prowess, the band members have become more than competent, especially Vicki Peterson on guitar. There was a genuine camaraderie on stage, as Hoffs, whose gamine looks and insinuating presence was the cause of much tension previously, appeared to deflect the spotlight, allowing Peterson and bassist Michael Steele to do most of the talking.
But the evening’s real revelation was the band’s harmony singing, which, in its arcing intricacy and cathedral sound, approached that of another often-underrated California band, the Mamas and the Papas.