Pay No Mind to What They Say
Though they quit after three short years, the five pinups who were the Go-Go’s never disappeared completely. There were tours promoting best-ofs and new-wave nostalgia, plus a few solo efforts. Still, releasing their first album of original material in 17 years took guts, and performing it turned out to be even riskier. Although Belinda Carlisle straitjacketed herself in a calf-length black skirt and matching turtleneck—an outfit your mother would call “slimming”—on Friday at Central Park’s SummerStage, it wasn’t enough. When you’re a Go-Go, fans measure how fat you are and who can’t cover it up with black. This was a straight crowd—nary a tattoo or body ring in the joint—and a tough one.
Now you could say that because they buy in to the whole cutesy image, which was backward then and still is, the Go-Go’s deserve the harshness of fans who probably go home and rip themselves apart in front of the mirror even worse. But that wouldn’t be nice, and it wouldn’t be true, either. God Bless the Go-Go’s puts the hard lessons of the past aside without dismissing them. “Talking Myself Down” rescues an infatuated girl from the old “Head Over Heels” syndrome that became a metaphor for everything that wrecked them: sudden wealth, nasty breakups, substance abuse, and flaky management. The punny “Kissing Asphalt” promises that these Go-Go’s won’t be had so quickly, and their solid performance helped explain why: Drummer Gina Schock shouted out the beat to Kathy Valentine’s twangy bass while guitarist Charlotte Caffey plugged along happily, looking as if she’d never missed a day’s work. “I don’t think that this band’s longevity is going to be decided by how many records we sell,” said Jane in 1984. “It’s going to be decided by how well people get along with each other, and how much people are willing to adjust to changing times and moods.” Though still struggling with their fans’ expectations, the Go-Go’s convinced me they’ll be around awhile. —Georgia Christgau
Kind of Blue
I’ll describe first, and decipher later. Tears for Fears’ “Pharaohs” instrumental fades as dark blue lights bathe the Irving Plaza stage. After some random postmillennial beats, the Eurhythmics-like synth groove of “You Don’t Wanna” (a track from the brand-new Blowback) takes over. Her dreadlocks braided in two large cornrows, singer Ambersunshower serenades the audience while Tricky smokes a cigarette stage left, his mohawked head eerily shrouded in smoke. Keyboardist Garreth Bowen brings in the Mafia-movie hook to B.I.G.’s “What’s Beef?” that anchors “Bury the Evidence.” Hawkman—Tricky’s latest Jamaican sideman foil—toasts wicked in patois. Things get very loud.
The Tricky experience at its best alternates punk-driven, death-metal dirges with hip-hop vivacity and majestic moments of lump-in-your-throat poignancy. “Pumpkin,” which was up next on June 18, is one of those moments. “I can’t see, and I can’t breathe,” Tricky rasps over the Middle Eastern-flavored ballad, testifying to the melancholy suffocation of despondent love. Ambersunshower mines this mood of Billie-level despair on “Makes Me Wanna Die.” A back-to-the-audience bandleader à la Miles Davis, Tricky stands off to the side for a good portion of the set, maniacally wagging his head with the music. His most piquant sentiments are made plain by their incessant repetition: stuff like “hate to feel, scared to feel” (from the night’s closer, Pre-Millennium Tension‘s “Vent”).
Ambersunshower’s come-ons in “Overcome”—like “When we fuck we’ll hear beats on the corner”—come off, and the band on the whole achieves Nirvana-worthy sonic distortion on “Give It to ‘Em.” The houselights flood Irving to the prerecorded track of “Tricky Kid,” an aural aftertaste for an audience that’s just downed a lethal shot of Tricky’s new bitches brew, straight no chaser. —Miles Marshall Lewis
Monica, a fly, thirtysomething, master’s-degree possessing, denim-and-camouflage-sporting speech therapist hailing from Fort Washington—”south of Southeast,” she says—is scribbling the names of her crew on a scrap of paper on Friday like she’s once again a 10-year-old out past curfew on a hot Georgia Avenue night. “You want your name on the go-go list?” she asks. Yes, it ain’t no party like a D.C. party in NYC. Before she pushes to the front to try to pass the list to Chuck Brown, she says, “I’d be here with a broken leg!” The steamy basement of the Village Underground might as well be the Magic Club in 1976. Looky here, Chuck’s still go-go swinging, still bustin’ em loose like the coolest grandfather in the world. Nobody’s gonna be claiming Brooklyn or Bronx tonight.
The band fires up the 2001 theme, and Chuck fills the spacious drum-and-conga pocket with bluesy riffs. Imagine if the band at your junior high dance were as funky as the Roots and more live than your average DJ savior, talking ’bout two-hour suites of covers and originals hooked together with blazing breaks. Oh, and shouting out every last person in the house. Thus spake Chuck—part Stanley Kubrick, part Hoochie Coochie Man, part Mister Señor Love Daddy: “Happy birthday to sweet Tawana over here,” “We got Allen and Suzaaaay—newlyweds celebrating their honeymoon.” And by the way, it’s drummer Mr. Smith’s wedding anniversary, an occasion that will be duly celebrated like all the rest.
As the band segues out of “Mister Magic” into percussionist Foxy Rob’s easy dook-dooka-dook groove, the crowd chants, “Oh my goodness!” Then the inevitable “Wind me up Chuck!” “Oh, talk to me baby!” the funky grandpa laughs. “I don’t forget. I remember everything!” —Jeff Chang