Aug. 17, 2011
The Go-Go's are having their second coming. Celebrating the 30th anniversary of their landmark debut album, Beauty and the Beat, as well as getting their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the band traipsed onstage as “Hot Blooded” by Foreigner played and launched into a set of greatest hits and choice album cuts.
They started with “Vacation” and Belinda Carlisle sounded off-key but got it together by the time they made it to “How Much More,” a wise choice for Carlisle to use to introduce the band as the song most clearly demonstrates the band's influence on modern bands such as Best Coast, Sleater-Kinney and openers Girl in a Coma, with its country walk bassline and jangle and chirping vocals.
All in all the band made mostly good choices, and with more than 30 years (and five decades, as guitarist Jane Wiedlin pointed out) together, there are plenty of choices to be made. They slipped in Belinda Carlisle solo song “Mad About You,” which fit into the Go-Go's canon well, with Carlisle shaking a tambourine and guitarist Charlotte Caffey shredding along, but left out the poppier “I Get Weak” and “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” for instance. They seemed most comfortable and sounded best when playing Beauty and the Beat songs like “Lust to Love,” which managed to sound as spunky and punk as it did on the album.
Elsewhere, they faltered a bit when playing into more dramatic antics. With Caffey on piano,
“Automatic” sounded more stately than it needed to be and didn't have the post-punk cool it did on record — perhaps Wiedlin could have switched to a less rawk tone than she had on the other songs, but she kept to the Johnny Ramone crunchy power-chord tone the whole time, for better or worse. They pulled people onstage for “Cool Jerk” in a very mommish, wedding-reception kind of thing — oy.
But those parts weren't for me and my kind — and the crowd of moms who got their first tattoos while listening to the Go-Go's were definitely into it. Jane Wiedlin performed her always-welcome Sparks duet “Cool Places,” and the band clearly had a blast playing the whirling riffs of early Go-Go's song “Fun With Ropes,” from their days as a punk band (Carlisle was an early drummer for seminal L.A. punks The Germs); perhaps unburdened by having to play a hit, they blew through it full bore. And underrated drummer Gina Schock sounded killer on “Skidmarks on My Heart” and “We Got the Beat,” that hammering beat tying the line between Madonna and Mo Tucker.
Mostly they sounded like the goofy punk girls of yesteryear grew up into goofy moms, without losing a hint of charm. Part of the Go-Go's appeal was that scrappiness — they still f-ed up at the beginning of badass motorcycle riff song “This Town” — that still yielded terrific radio-ready pop, despite any technical limitations. “Our Lips Are Sealed” actually sounded pretty punk sans keyboards or the palm-muted guitar (ugh, WTF that was my favorite part of the song, whatever, I still sang along and that breakdown still sounded tight). And Carlisle (on her birthday!) looked and sounded great, a little raspier but still happy-go-lucky, dancing in a sequined top and passing out guitar picks for girls to start bands. Cute!
“Head Over Heels,” their best song (hands down!), helped close the show with smiles all
around and Carlisle sounding her most confident and ferocious. It's the kind of song and performance that makes you wish they'd never broken up to begin with but glad they're still around.
Overheard: “It's like 'Cougar Town' up there.”
“She looks like a disco ball.”
Random notebook dump: People behind me seemed to be rehearsing “Happy Birthday” right before the entire audience sang happy birthday to Carlisle.
Critic's bias: I once wrote a song completely based around the drum beat of “We Got the Beat.”