Over The Weekend: Concrete Blonde at the Granada Theater

Concrete Blonde, Jim Bianco
Granada Theater
June 18, 2010

Better than: listening to Bloodletting on CD, sad to say.

The recent trend of bands performing shows and planning them around an entire album has become quite the rage these days. It's gotten almost absurd: The fan-friendly phenomenon has grown to the point where certain acts will even go out and perform entire, classic albums from bands they had nothing to do with (see: The Flaming Lips, Cheap Trick).

Friday night in Dallas, as they have in many other parts of the country in recent weeks, Concrete Blonde provided their take on the recent concert-industry retro-craze to a packed-out Granada Theater.

Their tour has been advertised as a "Twentieth Anniversary Tour" for their stellar, commercial breakthrough Bloodletting album. Interestingly enough, though, Johnette Napolitano and crew didn't actually play their entire album--let alone play it in succession--as many acts performing these so-called "album-concerts" have done in recent times.

Basically, Concrete Blonde simply put on a firey show that, yes, borrowed heavy from the album being celebrated, but pulled songs from their other releases as well, including 1993's Mexican Moon and Walking in London from 1992.

The Los Angeles-formed trio--consisting of a Napoitano (who looked smashing, dressed in an age-defying, tight, black mini-skirt), guitarist James Mankey and drummer Gabriel Ramirez--entered the stage while Bauhaus's "Bela Lugosi's Dead" fittingly played over the PA. Even more fittingly, the choice of song with which to open was "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)," which happens to open the album of the same name. The bluesy, guitar-goth gave their set an energetic and forceful beginning, and set the stage for the tone that would dominate the evening, musically.

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In rather surprising fashion, the hit song that placed Concrete Blonde onto the top 40 charts, "Joey", was belted out in the second spot of the night, and, predictably, was greeted with the flashes and attention of all sorts of cameras from the audience (more on that later). The propulsive bass drum kicks and the sheer, balls-out rock of the arrangement overtook the somewhat sappy melodrama of the original, recorded product that was ever-present on radio all those years ago.

Perhaps surprisingly, Napolitano's voice was in fine, bold form throughout the show. And, the dated production which, looking in hindsight, gave the album a somewhat schlocky sheen, was power-washed away by the chugging and wall-rattling power that the stripped-down dynamic provided. In the case of certain numbers, such as "I Was a Fool," soulful R&B vibes were evident for all to hear, thanks to the cleansing power of simply plugging and tearing it up.

Thanks to a few flash bulbs, it seemed as Napolitano might not make it through the night. After expressing her irritation at being made to forget some lines to "Joey," she seemed to calm down--until later, when it happened again. But she fought through it, and seemed to settle down after a second scolding. Feeling the love from the crowd, Napolitano soldiered on and led the band through some tight versions of the metal-esque "God is a Bullet", "Caroline", "Lullabye", "I Don't Need a Hero" and "Someday?", which featured an inspired, soaring vocal performance from the bass player with killer pipes.

It's understandable that after over 20 years of on-and-off touring, Concrete Blonde knows how to close out a show. The serene, heavily acoustic, encore closing, one-two punch of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing," which they have played for some time now, and Bloodletting track, "Tomorrow, Wendy" supplied the audience with more of a campfire-lit, communal experience than most artists provide with their typically rousing, show-closing numbers.

The story of the night wasn't the fact that the Bloodletting album wasn't fully performed; it was that Napolitano effectively pulled off an Olympic-style vocal gymnastics master-class. At times, she offered a low and smokey offering; at other moment, a controlled caterwaul. This is a singer who doesn't need a marketing ploy or gimmick anniversary to be special.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Bloodletting was one of my favorite albums through the '90s. "Joey" is in my Top 5 songs for that entire decade, even. With that said, I was more than a little nervous about hearing the songs live after all these years--especially after I revisited the album in its entirety for the first time in a long time recently. Thankfully, my fears weren't realized on the live-end of the spectrum. There's a big difference between an album sounding vintage or even classic and just plain old. Sadly, the album version of these tunes fall on the side of the latter, for me, thanks mainly to the ham-fisted production it was saddled with.

Random Note: As expected, the crowd that gathered outside of the theater before the start of the show resembled the saloon scene from Star Wars. Truthfully, it was an impressive mix of Goth-girls, D-bags, cougars who should probably just retire to their respective dens, and leather-clad bikers. I wouldn't have it any other way.

By the Way: Congrats to the newly engaged, lesbian couple that was able to have Napolitano actually make the proposal from the stage. Quite the coup, indeed.

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