Saturday, June 12, 2010

Show review: Concrete Blonde at the Vic, 6/12

A reunited Concrete Blonde, one of alternative rock's original and most dynamic bands, played Chicago's Vic Theatre Saturday night as the fourth stop on a national tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of their most successful album, Bloodletting.

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)
2. Joey
3. I Don't Need a Hero
4. Days and Days
5. Lullabye
6. Scene of a Perfect Crime
7. Ghost of a Texas Ladies' Man
8. Someday?
9. Everybody Knows
10. Caroline
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
19. True
20. Tomorrow, Wendy
21. Still in Hollywood


  1. Great show. It seemed to me they were doing the "short" version of the songs. Mankey's solos seemed shorter than on record and I think one was even skipped. But otherwise - outstanding. Here's hoping she and Mankey start collaborating again.

  2. I can't believe how incredible they sounded. It's as though nothing has changed in 20 years save a new face behind the drum kit. Johnette sounded exactly the same as she did 20 years ago. It would be a sin if they did not continue on and collaborate on a new album and another tour. They sounded like a band at the height of their prowess.

  3. Fantastic show! Johnette is by far, the best female voice in rock and roll. And she proved it Saturday night. For me, this was one of the best concerts I've ever been to.

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  5. They did Caroline in Columbus too. And They were dead on all night here too. My only surprise was that in Columbus Johnette didn't talk to the audience. 6/11 was my first Concrete Blonce concert. It was one of the best if not the best live performance I have ever seen.

  6. Thanks for the comments, all. I'm glad to hear I wasn't the only one who thought this show was absolutely amazing. I honestly believe this is one of the greatest shows I've ever been to. I was in awe and captivated the entire time. I hadn't seen them before, but I can't imagine they were ever any better than they were Saturday night.

  7. I have seen them several times, and Saturday was one of the best. They are an amazing band and Johnette's voice is without question unique and amazing. I'm so glad to see all of the positive comments and appriciation of this great talent. I have seen a lot of concerts, and the Concrete Blonde shows are the best I have ever seen.