This is the most diverse crowd I have ever seen. There's a
40ish earth mother type in front of me. Young goth girls to
the left. Sensitive metalheads. Geeks. Some baseball caps. Some
guy who looks like he hasn't changed clothes nor hairstyle since
Foghat Live came out. And me. I'm standing next
to Foghat guy.
And that's how The Variety Playhouse looked when Steve Wynn,
formerly of the 80s psychedelic underground pop band Dream Syndicate,
took the stage armed with just a guitar and a terribly charming
personality. He performed a few Dream Syndicate songs, hitting
the title track from The Days of Wine and Roses,
which sounded familiar. Why did I not know this band? [Note
to self: research Dream Syndicate.] Wynn played some solo material
and a cover of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, which
were pretty enjoyable, and the crowd was very responsive.
But let's be honest: we were all there to see the three original
Concrete Blonde members reuniting for a tour after a six-year
hiatus. Well, OK, not all three original members. Drummer Harry
Rushakoff is off the tour after only a few weeks. Apparently,
plucking the original Concrete Blonde drummer out of rehab to
face all the temptations of the road wasn't a swell idea. And
as I was waiting for singer/bassist Johnette Napolitano, guitarist
Jim Mankey, and a mystery drummer guy, I hoped that Rushakoff's
departure was not a bad omen.
So, when Johnette, Jim, and new drummer guy Gabriel took the
stage, they kicked off the show with Roxy, Johnette's
appropriately swooning homage to Roxy Music, and the first song
from Concrete Blonde's new album Group Therapy.
It sounded really good -- The Variety Playhouse's sound, the
band's sound, Johnette's voice--I breathed a sigh of relief.
It wasn't just the original drummer's departure that had me
a little concerned. Concrete Blonde have some great songs. I
can always stand to listen to Still In Hollywood as one
of the best songs of the era -- all punk attitude, a perfect
snapshot of the star town, all tarnished, and down and dirty.
But then for every great song like Still In Hollywood,
there was always a real clunker, like Ghost of a Texas Ladies
Man. But fortunately, the clunkers were omitted in favor
of much stronger new material and old favorites.
The set included solid renditions of non-clunker Concrete Blonde
songs from their back catalogue, like Bloodletting (The Vampire
Song), Days and Days, Joey, I Don't Need
a Hero, and Mexican Moon. You haven't lived until
you've seen a sensitive metalhead singing along, teary-eyed,
The wistful Someday? was an unexpected, and pleasant
inclusion. The show's highlights were a vicious God Is a
Bullet, Leonard Cohen's Everybody Knows, and a new
song, Violent, that I'd love to hear as a radio song.
The band was really tight, and if I hadn't known otherwise,
I would have thought the whole band had been practicing together
for a while.
The final encore, as hoped, was Still In Hollywood,
which wasn't as raw an interpretation as the song really deserves.
The big, distinctive riffs weren't quite so big and distinctive
and the vocals not so frantic. But it rounded out an otherwise
great set filled with an agreeable mix of old and new Concrete
Blonde songs. My only real lingering question is about Johnette
and Jim's matching chinese pajama outfits...which seemed a bit
odd. But after 15 years of playing shows, making albums, touring,
personnel changes, and all that goes along with a rock n' roll
career, I'll let it slide.