Live: Concrete Blonde Reunite At Webster Hall, Somehow Manage To Avoid Playing Their Best Song
Thursday, June 10
No, not "Joey." Certainly, if you know just one Concrete Blonde song, that's it -- a fiery, elegant grunge quasi-ballad that probably wound up on a quite a few I Love the '90s-type compilations, and anchored their 1990 benchmark Bloodletting, a fount of gothic, vaguely salacious alt.rock stompers that essentially sounds like the True Blood soundtrack 20 years too early. Yes, 20 years. Hence this reunion. And a fine time it was, except for the fact that a) dude, you are old, and b) again, they didn't play their best song.
Let's just say that singer-bassist Johnette Napolitano doesn't exactly look her 50-odd years and leave it at that. CB is a sort of minimalist power trio, with guitarist James Mankey and drummer Gabriel Ramirez deferring entirely to her pretty amazing voice, a barely focused melodic howl conveying both anguish and defiance. (Shit would kill on American Idol.) They play "Joey" immediately -- second song of the set -- perhaps to weed out any non-superfans, who are thankfully legion, howling along to Bloodletting deep cuts (trivia: the second CD I ever bought) (the Spin Doctors) (shut up), career-spanning greatest hits (dig vowel-stretching aggro anthem "Heal It Up"), and a few odd covers (their version of Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows" was on the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack!). The slinky, vicious "When I Was a Fool," as in "I know you liked me better when I was a fool," kills.
And while Bloodletting's highlights are also legion -- the stormy "Tomorrow, Wendy" stands up with the best album-closers of the '90s -- they play for nearly two hours and don't do the best song on the record, which'd be "Caroline," dammit, wistful and eerie and almost unbearably sad, Napolitano singing the hell out of it back then, and very very clearly still capable now. Drop that during the encore and this night woulda been perfect; without it we're stuck hoping this victory lap has, itself, another victory lap. Whereupon we'll all be even older.