Considering the band had been inactive as a unit since 2004 with, up until recently, no plans to get back together, it was hard to know exactly what to expect from the show going in. But all it took was the creeping, menacing guitar intro of "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)," the apparent enthusiasm from the large, obviously dedicated crowd, and the commanding appearance of front woman Johnette Napolitano looking entirely ready to rock to signal that it was going to be one hell of a night. And it was.
After a slithering version of the song did its job getting fans to sing along, the band continued the set with four more Bloodletting tracks. A solid version of their biggest commercial hit, "Joey," surprisingly didn't seem to get quite as much of a crowd reaction as some of the lesser-known songs in the set. Rocker "Days and Days" and two of the album's most beautiful, more laid-back tracks - "I Don't Need a Hero" and "Lullabye" - sounded incredibly fresh. Later, they played two more tracks off the record, the sad, eerie "Caroline" and a particularly powerful version of the Andy Prieboy-penned "Tomorrow, Wendy," both of which are Concrete Blonde staples. After reading reports of "Caroline" not being played on previous stops of the tour, I was relieved to hear the band kick into it Saturday night - a show celebrating Bloodletting just wouldn't seem complete without it. "Tomorrow, Wendy," an always-moving song about dealing with loss, reached new heights as Napolitano began singing in a fragile, wounded voice behind a hood and her mess of hair, eventually letting loose for the most powerful lines ("I told the priest don't count on any second coming/God got his ass kicked the first time he came down here slumming/He had the balls to come the gall to die and then forgive us/No, I don't wonder why, I wonder what he thought it would get us").
In the end, the band played seven of the 10 songs from the album the tour was put together to celebrate. While "The Beast," "Darkening of the Light" and "The Sky Is a Poisonous Garden" would have been no less welcome than the ones that made the cut, it was ultimately for the best that they made room for a variety of tracks from their other albums. All corners of the Concrete Blonde sound were represented, from hard rock ("God Is a Bullet," "Run Run Run") to poppier fare ("Someday?," "Happy Birthday") to punk ("Your Haunted Head," "Still in Hollywood"). They even played two of their best covers, Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows" and Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing."
Perhaps the biggest show-stopper, though, was one of the most obscure songs in the set, "When I Was a Fool" from the group's 2002 reunion album, Group Therapy. Napolitano delivered the track's lyrics - which deal with self-acceptance and maturation but at the same time are laced with bitterness - with unbelievable intensity and had the crowd 100 percent transfixed.
It should also be mentioned that Jim Mankey's howling guitar work sounds as amazing as ever - playing a major part in what gives Concrete Blonde their bite and distinctive style - and that drummer Gabriel Ramirez also did a fantastic job.
You never really know what to expect when a band hits the road again after years of not playing together. It could lead to mediocre, or even downright bad results. Fans might not show up. Tensions and rustiness could hinder the music. In Concrete Blonde's case, though, the respite seems to have given them even more fire. With a band that has always been as naturally thrilling, though, I guess there was never any reason to worry.
1. Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)
3. I Don't Need a Hero
4. Days and Days
6. Scene of a Perfect Crime
7. Ghost of a Texas Ladies' Man
9. Everybody Knows
11. When I Was a Fool
12. God Is a Bullet
13. Run Run Run
14. Little Wing
15. Heal It Up
16. Your Haunted Head
17. Mexican Moon
18. Happy Birthday
20. Tomorrow, Wendy
21. Still in Hollywood