Bloodletting came out 20 years ago. Bloodletting is one of those albums that defined a time for me. If I were to make a list of albums I would want on a deserted island, Bloodletting would be one of those albums. I’m pretty sure I bought it on CD after seeing the video for Joey on MTV, but it was songs such as The Sky Is A Poisonous Garden and Tomorrow, Wendy that kept me coming back years later.
Concrete Blonde had been together for 8 years when Bloodletting came out and they stayed together for another 5 years after, but that was the first I had heard from them and I never ventured much further. My obsession with this band lived and died with those 10 songs. So when I read that they were reforming for the 20th Anniversary of the album I had mixed feelings. I saw Johnette Napolitano and crew at the Bumbershoot Festival in 2002 when they reunited the first time and it was a less than spectacular performance. I was worried they might disappoint again. Luckily they did just the opposite.
Just after 8:30pm the house lights went down and the black stage with roses was bathed in a red glow. Bauhaus‘s Bela Lugosi’s Dead came on over the speakers and served as the perfect opening. Gabriel took his place behind the drum kit, a completely gray James Mankey picked up his guitar and then Johnette walked out in a skin-tight black mini-dress with built in black gloves and a hood (that would be revealed later), making her look at least 10 years younger than her age of 52. She looked great! And damn did she sound great! Her voice seeming to get better and better as she rolled through Bloodletting (The Vampire Song), Joey and I Don’t Need A Hero (stressing the ‘now that I’m older’ lyric). It became obvious from the start that this was not going to be a track-by-track rendition of their classic album. Even though the first five songs were from Bloodletting; they were not in order and the 6th song, Scene of the Perfect Crime, came from their debut album.
This detour from the album they were celebrating did not end there. They ended up performing songs from every release (except 2004’s Mojave and their album with los Illegals), as well as the famous cover song Johnette ‘wish she writ’, Leonard Cohen‘s Everybody Knows (with as least 3 f-bombs and an oil spill reference with ‘BP lies!’). Being someone who didn’t think he knew much of their work outside Bloodletting, I was surprised at how many other songs I did know and how much I enjoyed these songs. Someday?, God Is A Bullet and When I Was A Fool were all highlights. They actually skipped The Beast and Darkening of the Light and I didn’t even notice.
Johnette was such a presence all night. She didn’t hide behind her mane of hair (until late in the night) like she did last time I saw her. She seemed like she was truly happy to be there. She seemed alive and alert and she hit every note…her voice soaring to heights I didn’t think possible. She was at times somber, at times evil and at times a straight-up punk screaming out lyrics. She was truly, truly badass! She even spoke to the crowd quite a bit, commenting quite a few times about how beautiful is was there and how she can understand how Nikola Tesla could get up to some shit in Colorado. She told the story of the last time she bought speed and how her dealer had been in a dark room for 3 days unraveling a plastic rope before going into Run Run Run. One time she was in the Denver airport, eating a Denver omelette, sitting next to John Denver. She showed humour, she showed pain and she showed us how to ‘rock the fuck out!’
The woman who introduced herself as ‘the head of my own insecurity’ did not seem insecure at all! She sang, she danced, she told her stories. And if she is completely removed from these songs like she mentioned in an interview recently, she could have fooled me. These songs still mean something to her; something deep, something profound. You can read it in her movements, in her voice and on her face.
The main set ended with the hood coming up over her head, a rose in hand, the lights going down even further and the opening line “It is complete now the two ends of time are neatly tied” giving me chills. This heartbreaking work of staggering genius was another song I’m sure she wished she ‘writ’, but even though she didn’t write Tomorrow, Wendy (Andy Prieboy did), she made it what it is. When the hood came off, the rose was dropped to the ground and she went down on her knees to belt out “And if he ever suffered it was (we) who did his crying!!!” at the top of her lungs, you could feel the pain emote from her like a wave. Incredible!
Like any great band, they weren’t going to leave us on a suicidal note, so they came back and blew us away with a less than perfect (sound-wise) but energy-filled Still in Hollywood…leaving me with a “I’m still in Hollywood!!!” lyrical loop in my head until I fell asleep.
I’m so glad Concrete Blonde decided to take advantage of this milestone to reunite and take their show on the road. I’m so glad Johnette looks and sounds so amazing at this point in her life. And I am so glad they decided to celebrate their whole career together and prove to me they are more than just one classic album!
* no photography was allowed, so I only snapped a few blurry shots when no one was looking
Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)
I Don’t Need A Hero
Days And Days
Scene of the Perfect Crime
Ghost of a Texas Ladies’ Man
Everybody Knows (Leonard Cohen cover)
When I Was A Fool
God Is A Bullet
Run Run Run
Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix cover)
Heal It Up
Your Haunted Head
Still In Hollywood