Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano
Photo: ©2012 Ron Lyon Photo
Concrete Blonde At The Troubadour
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By Crystal Larsen
West Hollywood, Calif.
Though they're perhaps one of the more underrated bands in '90s alternative rock history, the Los Angeles-formed trio Concrete Blonde had no trouble selling out the Troubadour for a special performance on Aug. 29. While they're widely known for their biggest hit, 1990's "Joey," the band delivered an energetic two hours of nonstop heavy alternative rock.
As frontwoman Johnette Napolitano took the stage to a deafening applause, resplendent in a black long-sleeved dress, images of a cold desert at dusk filled the background screen as the band began with the recently released ballad "Rosalie." Spinning around to strap on her same-colored bass, Napolitano and founding guitarist James Mankey led into a revved-up cover of Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning."
Moments later drummer Gabriel Ramirez-Quezada played those familiar first beats to "Joey." As I looked over the crowd to the left, I saw four men who stood out like a sore thumb. They were tall and their clothes were lighter in color, but one stood firmly in his spot with his right hand over his heart and recited every lyric, not once removing his eyes from that evening's rock and roll queen of the Troubadour. Noticeably aware of her admirers, Napolitano walked over at the song's finish and shook the guy's hand.
"When you keep something around long enough, it comes back in style," said Napolitano as if to remind the audience of the band's place in alternative rock history. And the band is more than deserving of that place. It's unfortunate that Napolitano doesn't show up on enough "best of" lists when it comes to female rock vocalists, because her talent is certainly incomparable. She can deliver a soft ballad with the emotion of heart-torn singer/songwriter or dominate the stage with a street-savvy strut and heavy metal-esque whip of her long black hair.
But it wasn't all rough and tumble for Concrete Blonde. The band stripped down for few acoustic songs, including "Take Me Home," which featured a short dedication to the late Amy Winehouse at the end as Napolitano sang a portion of the chorus to "Rehab." As our heart rates continued to come down from the heavy rush of the first portion of the set, the band dove into a cover of the cowboy standard "Ghost Riders In The Sky," which was written by Stan Jones and performed by Johnny Cash, among others. This particular performance haunted me for the rest of the evening as Napolitano stretched her vocal chords to a level that seemed almost otherworldly. Also covered was "Everybody Knows" written by Leonard Cohen, an artist of whom Napolitano holds in high regard.
Not wanting to disappoint, and in an ode to their hometown, the band left the hundreds of screaming fans with "Still In Hollywood." If it was death by Concrete Blonde, I was definitely killed in Hollywood last night.
"Beds Are Burning" (Midnight Oil cover)
"I Know The Ghost"
"God Is A Bullet"
"Damage I've Done" (the Heads cover)
"Take Me Home"
"Ghost Riders In The Sky" (Stan Jones original)
"Everybody Knows" (Leonard Cohen cover)
"Les Coeurs Jumeaux"
"As Tears Go By" (the Rolling Stones cover)
"Ghost Of A Texas Ladies Man"
"Scene Of A Perfect Crime"
"100 Games Of Solitaire"
"The Real Thing"
"Still In Hollywood"