If you aren’t in the market for a new favorite band, or five new rock star crushes, it’s probably best to steer clear of ever going to see the Go-Go's live in concert. Of course, if your favorite band is already the Go-Go's, then good on ya -- and you were probably there anyway.
Having reunited and toured both sporadically and consistently since their first official breakup in 1985 -- a lot can happen in 23 years, after all -- the five original Go-Go's, or at least the five who appeared together on all the recordings you love (or are going to buy soon) entered from the eaves at the Bottleneck Blues Bar in St. Charles to the majestic opening strains of “The Sound Of Music.” Indeed, the Go-Go's can only be considered as old as the hills if the hills are very much alive.
You wouldn’t guess, though, at either a look or a listen, that Jane Wiedlin (guitar & vocals), Charlotte Caffey (guitar, keyboards), Gina Schock (drums), Kathy Valentine (bass), and Belinda Carlisle (vocals) are any older than they might have been when they were making their hits. The dynamism, enthusiasm (and, frankly, sexiness) with which they pounded out the beats, synchronized their swaying, belted out their familiar choruses, pogo’d around (dare it be said, Go-Go-pogo’d?), improvised their lyrics, hosted impromptu dance parties onstage, took arbitrary leave of their instruments and prescribed positions, exaggerated their playing worse than Pete Townsend, and conversed familiarly with the crowd, belied the notion that any of them -- let alone all of them -- are pushing fifty (or beyond).
The Go-Go's, "We Got the Beat," 1/29/08, Pennsylvania:
The Bottleneck Blues Bar is not a bad place to see the Go-Go's, or anyone -- and in fact, is a venue which affords the sort of intimacy whose loss is commonly lamented among concertgoers. (Wiedlin herself remarked upon its charms.) It’s also not the sort of place that you’d expect to see the groundbreaking quintet (after all, concerts at the casino carry with them some…connotations?), a four-chartbusting-hit wonder that’s remained steadily, if sometimes subtly, in the public eye (recall Carlisle’s Playboy debacle of the early years of this decade). Alas, if they can sell out a show and give a crowd as good a time as this, the point becomes moot.
As for the hits, all four Top 20s the Go-Go's scored back in the early- to mid-1980s were present and accounted for; shortly following the Rodgers & Hammerstein bit and a minute of solid surf-rock instrumental ear candy, they launched into “Vacation.” Of course mainstays “We Got The Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed,” as well as the slightly less memorable, but no less infectious tunes “This Town,” “How Much More,” and “The Whole World Lost Its Head,” were exhibited in full force.
Their popular cover of the Capitols’ “Cool Jerk,” featured onstage dancing by the ubiquitous Beatle Bob and a less recognizable (but move-for-move, every bit as animated) female dancer who seemed to actually know all of the lyrics. The entire band even joined together with fervor to perform the Belinda Carlisle solo hit “Mad About You,” rounding out the highlights among a night rife with nothing but. “Head Over Heels” and a brilliantly-arranged and rendered punk treatment of the Shangri-Las’s “Remember (Walking In The Sand)” closed out the encore. Covers and Carlisle solo cuts aside, If there existed a machine designed to accomplish nothing but the churning out of pure and perfect pop songs, surely at least every other creation it spawned would be a Go-Go's tune.
The Go-Go's, "Cool Jerk," from 1/29/08 in Pennsylvania:
Songs alone, and even great ones, however, do not an excellent rock band or an interesting show make. The distinct personalities of each Go-Go would be enough on their own to pick up any slack left by the songsmithery, and furthermore put trite titles such as “the cute one” or “the quiet one” to shame. Carlisle’s nonstop dancing, frequent audience encouragement and out-loud “band moments” (“Hey, can we do ‘Cool Jerk’ again? That was fun!” [Valentine begins playing the bass line] “Nah, I changed my mind”) no doubt endeared her to all to whom she was not previously endeared. Wiedlin’s (self-admitted) cartoonish voice, constant audience interaction, bubbling energy, and humorous observations on the otherwise mundane (“What room are we in? What room are you in?” she responded to a particularly loud attendee, with an over-obvious wink, at one point) contributed to her qualifications as a face for the band every bit as charismatic as Carlisle.
Valentine’s get-it-done but let’s-have-fun demeanor (and insane bass licks to boot) would have anyone wondering who the band’s real leader is backstage. Schock’s habitual forays to the front of the stage from behind her comparatively mammoth drum kit -- and her solicitation of the audience for a vote on whether or not she should be allowed to visit the restroom before the encore started; the audience voted “yes,” and unanimously so -- gave her an up as the group’s jocund firebrand. Caffey, while initially the seemingly reserved straight-shooter, or maybe even the proverbial “man behind the curtain” (swapping vocal, keyboard, and guitar duties with ease, and appearing to provide a no-nonsense anchor of sorts for the band), eventually showed her true colors with some light-hearted physical mimicry.
While somewhat geographically remote, especially given the inclement nature of last night’s weather, the show made evident that band and constituency alike were there for the same reason: to have an awesome time. Hopefully the next Go-Go's visit to St. Louis (or “St. Louis” as the case may be) will bestow better climatic and other circumstances under which to get you a new favorite band and five new rockstar crushes.
-- RØB Severson