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The Bangles

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The Bangles: Live in Seattle (November 5, 2011)


The Bangles: Live in Seattle (November 5, 2011)

Unlike every other concert I've been to ever since I moved to the Seattle area, this one was actually in Seattle. More than that, you might even say it was in the very heart of it. If you ever see a movie located in Seattle in which the director needed a generic shot of the city, the first shot is always going to be the Space Needle. I was at the second shot, which is that iconic pink neon sign that reads “Public Market Center” and its accompanying analog clock.

When I was still a Kansas resident and still in high school (with a lusciously thick head of hair), I visited Seattle on Spring Break and I remember vividly going to the Market. However, ever since I've become a permanent resident of the area, I never even once felt the draw to go back. After all, heavy city traffic amongst the city's rows of skyscrapers and buildings with silly shapes annoys the hell out of me. I also don't get the point of driving 40 minutes just to buy produce and silly knickknacks.

Perhaps more importantly than that—and I hope I'm not alone about this—but downtown Seattle gives me the willies. You might say that shows I'm way too comfortable with suburban living, and I'll be the first to say you'd be correct about that.

Nevertheless, the siren-esque calling of The Bangles who were going to be playing next door to that iconic sign was more than enough for me to put those “willies” aside. As you probably know, I'm on a mission to see as many awesome pop bands from yesteryear in concert as I can, and The Bangles are about as fun and unpretentious as it gets. To be honest, when I bought the tickets, I don't even remember paying a whole lot of attention where the venue was. It could have been at the bottom of the ocean for all I cared; I let myself sort out those hairy details later. (Although come to think of it, the bottom of the ocean is probably less creepy than downtown Seattle.)

What I don't understand is what The Bangles were doing there in the first place. I mean, The Showbox at The Market is where all those hipster acts play! I mean, the venue doesn't even have regular seating; the audience is expected to crowd around right in front of the stage, like those pictures of chickens in crowded coops I see in those PETA ads. I mean, aren't The Bangles' core audience supposed to be over-the-hill? And aren't over-the-hill people supposed to have deteriorating knees? I mean, I'm 28 and even I could hardly manage to remain standing for four hours straight. This has me wondering: when you reach 35, are people in this country approached by government agents who offer to turn you into a cyborg with steel-clad knee caps? That's the only reasonable explanation for this. Also, it would also explain varicose veins, which I think look more like hydraulic fluid than blood.

Anyway, I arrived way, way, way too early to the event, which seems to be my standard because I always expect to get horribly lost. I thought there would be a place at the venue where I could stand in line or sit for awhile; however, all I could see was a rather tiny and incredibly crowded bar at the front of the club. Permeating through the walls, I heard “Walk Like an Egyptian” being performed, and I figured that must've been The Bangles warming up. (Do most bands really warm up before shows?) Well, I wasn't going to stick around in that crowded bar, so I decided to try to keep my creeps inside me and venture out to this world-famous Market that people all 'round the world visit just to visit.

Let me tell you something: Seattle at the Market after dark is a bit like watching a Tim Burton movie except it's real life. Or perhaps it's more like a Terry Gilliam movie, since I walked next to a woman who was pacing up and down an otherwise empty sidewalk singing “Brazil.” She was pretty well dressed, and I don't remember seeing any hats on the floor to deposit any change. Not that I would have given her any change anyway, since I feared that would have prompted her to grab my wrist and hiss at me...

Naturally, were also plenty of legit hobos—you know, the kind with scraggly white/yellow/brown facial hair and fingernails that are encrusted with black gunk. One of them wanted to “buy” a cigarette from me, but as he could probably tell from the tone of my verbal response—my boyishly soft voice—that I've never smoked a cigarette in my life. (I'm not kidding; telemarketers first assume they're talking to a woman named “Michael” instead of a man who has a boyishly soft voice.)

Well, I managed to burn all of forty minutes walking around that place; but after I walked pretty much anywhere within the concert's vicinity that had lights, I realized I didn't want to keep going in circles lest I double back on these characters. So, I didn't have much choice but to retreat back to the parking garage and sit in my car for 30 minutes.

I eventually got tired of staring at the clock on my cellphone, so I left the car and walked back to the front door of the venue where I noticed a queue forming outside. It was kind of an overwhelming gush of relief when I got in back of that queue, since that was the first time that evening I felt like I belonged somewhere. (I think that's the first time I've ever been happy to stand in a queue!)

I happened to be standing behind a 40s-ish couple who could have been surgically attached to one another for all I knew. I mean, the only thing that would keep me clutching onto someone like that is if I were free falling and my parachute wouldn't open. The guy had a very modern blonde, combed-forward hair-do and a goatee that was also blonde except for a strip down the middle of the chin, which was dyed black. The woman seemed more or less normal, apart from the fact she was holding onto someone from an anime program. Do you think they know what feng-shui is? I could have asked them...

As I stood in line, I definitely found the hobos more amusing. One verrry scraggly and very spirited white-haired man was trying to sell make-out lessons. There was an extra fee if you wanted him to put his teeth in. As expected, no one I could see literally took him up on the offer; however, the idea was silly enough that people threw a few dollars into the collection hat he had laying in front of him. There was another guy walking down the queue trying to sell—as he put it—high-LARious jokes. I resisted making eye-contact with him lest he mistake eye-contact as interest in buying a high-LARious joke. At another point I noticed about three people in their late-teens/early-20s walking on top of an eave of a building across the street. After a few minutes, two of them had already retreated back through a window; however, the man who remained started to sing a Broadway-ish song that I didn't recognize, and he attempted to get people on the street to cheer for him. He got a few cheers, but his escapade didn't last much longer than 30 seconds since I'd imagine it wasn't legal for him to be up there.

I was standing in that queue for a LONG, LONG time when the venue operators finally got around to letting people in. I thought the show was supposed to start at 7 p.m., but it was 7:15 before the line started moving. When I made it inside the doors of the venue, I showed a beefy bouncer my ID who studied my face quite carefully having to make 100% sure that me and my horribly balding scalp didn't actually belong to a 20-year-old. Then, a tattooed waif stamped the back of my wrist with the word “Boo!” written in cartoon letters. This was five days after Halloween, but I suppose that's consistent enough with hipsters' stereotypical habit of being fashionably late.

I was not near the front of that queue outside the venue whatsoever, but I noticed something pretty enticing when I went inside the concert room: there was hardly anyone standing directly in front of that stage! Almost all the seats and tables in back were taken, however, which shows that those are the prizes most people seek after for standing in queue for so long. For sure, considering my legs were already tired from standing outside, I also wouldn't have minded sitting in one of those chairs! However, would I then spend my life regretting that I didn't stand right next to the stage for a Bangles concert? Probably not, but I did it anyway!!!

I took a spot at the side of the stage, standing next to a very beefy middle aged guy who—based on his side-profile—looked exactly like Jason Alexander. However, I soon after a good face-to-face look and decided to change that to John Rhys-Davies as he appeared on Sliders. Also nearby, I saw two (count 'em two) people who were near doppelgangers for my high school English teacher from 10 years ago. I don't think they knew each other since they were standing far away from one another. Could I have been freaking out? When I was walking through the Market, I'm pretty sure I inadvertently breathed in a few sour whiffs of someone smoking pot, so maybe I was.

The opening act had a rather silly name (“A Fragile Tomorrow”) and its four members were chubby boys in their early 20s who wore very tight pants and hailed from South Carolina. If my 2002-self had a time machine, I probably would have fit in very well with them apart from the tight pants. I then would have had the power to tell that sound engineer to turn down that freaking BASS, because it was driving me crazy! I need my ears to last me for life, you know. (I then realized I could have picked pretty much anywhere to stand, so why did I go directly underneath one of the speakers? I must subconsciously be trying to punish myself.)

Because of the sound mixing, most of A Fragile Tomorrow's songs came off rather like a blur. However, according to the studio versions of their songs that I listened to once I got home, they can be classified as jangle-pop, which I suppose means they were an appropriate opening act for The Bangles. Are any of their songs very distinctive? Not really, but they're all quite nice. ...And, they were all smiling the whole time, so you can't really hate them!

If I may put on my “critic” hat for a bit, one of their mistakes, as they even admitted with eyes a-glowin' on stage, is that they aspire to Indigo Girls. Isn't that like a budding restauranteur aspiring to The Hard Rock Cafe? I mean, if you wanted to be hip, you could aspire to Indigo Girls, but they're so freakin' middle-of-the-road. At one point, A Fragile Tomorrow played a newly written song they said was done in Indigo Girls' style, but they said they hoped they didn't copy it too closely. ...I don't want to be mean, but how is it even possible to copy Indigo Girls' style? I mean, they pretty much sound like everybody else. Am I wrong? At the very least, I think a budding band should aspire to something greater than a C-level act at best. ...Just my two cents.

So anyway, A Fragile Tomorrow proved to be quite a fitful way to rouse the audience; they were very energetic, seemed happy, and I'll even give them a few props for having some songs with involved chord changes. During one of their better numbers, I kept on thinking they were on the verge of breaking into the chorus of Jewel's “You Were Meant For Me.” If it did, it wouldn't have been terribly off-track for them, since that song is way better than anything I've heard by Indigo Girls! (...Alright, I'll stop slagging them off now.) A Fragile Tomorrow concluded their set with a very flashy finish featuring a load of power chords and even more loads of jumping up and down.

I then glanced at the clock on my cellphone and noticed that it was nearly nine o'clock. According to the venue's website, the concert was supposed to be finished by 10 p.m.! Were The Bangles only going to play for a half an hour? I've never been to a concert at a hipster venue, I considered that an actual possibility. ...Well, the concert ended at 10:50 p.m., so I had no need to worry. There's the benefit of hindsight.

While the opening act was putting away their instruments and a crew was preparing the stage for The Bangles, the crowd was getting thicker by the minute. During the opening act, I kept thinking I might retreat to the back of the room if that speaker was bothering me too much. However, I saw that the back of the club was nearly as packed as the front. Well, I figured that I wouldn't move much anyway, once I'm in the heat of the show. You know, I tend to get lost at these things...

I looked around and noticed the feng-shui couple standing near me; however, they looked different than they did outside: Their continual clutching of one another no longer seemed so much out-of-place. I also noticed, at these hipster venues with no seats, you have to be very territorial about your claimed “space.” John Rhys-Davies had to get personal confirmations from everyone beside him and behind him that he would still have his spot when he returned from the bathroom. Well, we're were all polite, so he was safe in our hands! Besides, whatever would happen to me if I were to fall into a wormhole in the middle of the concert, and he wasn't there with me? (OK, I'll concede it: Maybe I do watch a little too much TV.)

So, three pages into this so-called concert review, The Bangles did make an entrance. And up close, too, which I gleefully remembered is why I seized the moment to stand really close! Also, what luck I had by choosing the side of the stage that Susanna Hoffs was going to be standing on for the whole show? No offense to the other two, but she's, like, way hot. (Also, The Bangles was sans Michael Steele... “Michael” Steele, I assume, is to blame for telemarketers being used to the idea that my boyishly soft voice could be female. Why couldn't I have been named “Butch?”)

I've been having this very peculiar habit lately of forgetting the first song I hear a band play at a concert. I was even cognizant about this that I was dead-determined to actually remember it this time. But... Ergh, they played something I'd never heard before! I didn't manage to recover it after poking through their albums the moment I got home, either. Oh well. However, I do remember that “Manic Monday” was maybe the third or fourth song they played, which was one of their biggest hits of course. The crowd pretty much went nuts for that one. I sort of felt out of place being one of the few people there who didn't have the lyrics memorized. ...But, ya know, I'm not really one for memorizing lyrics anyway. If you want me to sit at the piano and recreate that opening line, then that's where I can shine! (That is, if you'll permit me to stumble over it.)

What made the concert especially endearing was that the band was very jovial with one another on stage, always looking like they were doing exactly what they wanted to be doing. They also poked fun at themselves a few times during the show for being “old,” which was met with a few encouraging calls as well as someone yelling out “You're still beautiful!” But you couldn't convince me that Hoffs didn't know how hot she was. flailing her long, silky hair all over the place during the show. I had a brief fantasy of having a conversation with her, and what first popped in my mind to say to her was: “You should be in a shampoo commercial!” ...I'm still single, ladies.

They'd also reminisced how obsessed they were with the '60s when they made those iconic '80s albums. After that, they covered Emitt Rhodes' “Live” and Big Star's “September Gurls.” (Big Star came about in the '70s, but that band was retro-'60s before that was cool!) For some reason, I randomly put “September Gurls” on a mix a rather long time ago, so hearing them sing that song brought back memories. ...Of course those memories were not as deep as I'm sure as most people who actually remembered The Bangles back in the '80s! But anyway, they picked a few great songs to cover from then-obscure bands that now—thanks partly to them—got some real respect in the '90s. They also played “The Rain Song” which originated from Vicki Peterson's '90s band The Continental Drifters. However, it also appeared on The Bangles' 2003 album The Doll Revolution. It's not as catchy as most of The Bangles' big hits, but it's very enjoyable guitar-rock.

It fun being in the middle of a crowd during a rock concert. Usually I hate crowds, but there's sure a lot of energy and I can feel its radiation. Also, the speakers are friggin' loud. My ear drums were screaming at me when I got home, but their suffering was not in vein. John Rhys-Davies was dancing throughout the show in a very comical way: hopping up and down from side-to-side whilst rather gingerly clapping his hands. One woman next to me was so into her fluid dance moves that I had to keep my arms folded to keep her from accidentally sucker punching me. (Well, I'm not a dancer, so keeping my arms folded while tapping a foot is the closest I get to physically expressing myself!)

An unusual disruption occurred in the middle of the show when a stereotypically drunk man and his fat girlfriend elbowed their way right to the front of the stage and started causing a commotion. They were dancing rather violently, swinging their arms so widely that they were hitting pretty much everyone around them. After The Bangles stopped playing one of their songs, the guy yelled out at them: “Play 'Walk Like an Egyptian!'” Vicki Peterson sort of rolled her eyes and said: “We'll get to that. ...Believe me, we'll get to that.” (Seriously, even if I were passed-out drunk, I'd figure a band would play their most famous song!) The drunk guy was getting so obnoxious that, at one point, John Rhys-Davies had enough of it and stopped his silly dancing completely to stick a reprimanding finger right in that guy's face and yell something at him that I couldn't make out. The drunkard responded to that with a comically slurred voice “Yeah, I've heard that one before, buddy!” It wasn't too long thereafter a bouncer showed up, grabbed the guy by the ear (yeouch and I'm not joking), and dragged them away. A small eruption of cheers ensued. Aren't these concerts fun? The audience members always seem to provide an extra layer of entertainment for me... But anyway, back to the concert.

Debbi Peterson (the drummer) was on her platform on-high most of the time. While she was there, she did take lead vocals for “Ball and Chain,” which is one of their new songs, and that's a very good guitar-rock song. However, there were a number of occasions when she came down and sang in front of the stage while playing a guitar, notably with “Going Down to Liverpool,” and the keyboardist (who looked like—and this is the best way I can put it—a weird uncle of John Oliver from The Daily Show) took over the drumming duties. There were a couple other songs (“Eternal Flame” and “Walk Like an Egyptian”) that didn't really require a drummer, so she also played in front of the stage for those. I'm also sure The Bangles have first-hand knowledge of the decline of cigarette use over the years; I saw only two people holding up cigarette lighters during “Eternal Flame.” I'm sure I would have seen dozens if it were 1988. Why couldn't my parents have taken me to Bangles concerts when I was six? I think they thought rock music was going to rot my brain. ...Well, they might have been right about that.

...I've had “Walk Like an Egyptian” stuck in my head all week thanks to this concert. I do suppose that's their best song—if you want to get “technical” about it. However, that was actually a song given them to sing from the studio and thus it isn't 100 percent true to their spirit. “Hero Takes a Fall,” on the other hand, has everything that a Bangles song is supposed to have: Catchy melody, catchier chorus, bubbly bass guitar, a snarling but poppy lead guitar. I wanted to hear them play that song the most, and there was really no doubt I'd get my wish. (I mean, they don't exactly have an extensive enough of a back catalog to ignore it!) And the inevitable moment I heard it LIVE was my idea of music-nerd bliss. I still don't dance (remember, I had to keep that woman from accidentally sucker punching me); however, my body was nonetheless a-swaying.

That also prompts me to say that they are an excellent live band. I mean, you know these girls did everything for themselves, right? They had some supporting, non-members on bass, keyboards, and miscellaneous percussion, but never was the spotlight taken off those stars of the show. They also had quite a lot of stage personality that were very infectious: Vicki Peterson was sassy, Susanna Hoffs was sly, and Debbi Peterson was a bit loopy. All three 100% entertaining. (I don't know what Michael Steele was. Based on the videos, she seems rather... um... stern.) The Bangles were an excellent studio band, but they were equally as excellent live.

Also, I might have questioned earlier why The Bangles would play at a hipster club instead of—say—a casino, where I think most bands of their era usually end up. However, they definitely seemed at home in the club, and it wasn't like they had trouble finding an audience since that place was PACKED. Without a doubt I appreciated the chance to see them up close without having to sit behind people who get great tickets as swag! Everyone was equal...

I suppose technically they were touring to promote their latest album, Sweetheart of the Sun, and they played a few songs from that. Naturally, they stuck mostly to their three classic '80s albums. (Can you believe they only had three?) Other songs I heard them play were “In a Different Light” (huge reaction from the audience), “Hazy Shade of Winter” (even huger reaction from the audience), “In Your Room” (loved hearing that huge drum sound there), “Live” (a really great bouncy '60s guitar-rock throwback), and I'm also about 90% sure I heard “Be With You.” There were others but my mind starts to get fuzzy on such matters. Unfortunately, I don't have a photographic memory... If I did, I would have been able to sing along with “Manic Monday!”

So I might have been rather frightened going to downtown Seattle alone in the dark with nothing but my unfledged wits; however, now I can say I've broken that ice. Immediately when I got home, I told myself I was never going to go to a club in downtown Seattle ever again. ...However, days later, maybe it wasn't so bad? I definitely wouldn't revisit the place for any ole, rinky-dinky band that plays there; however, I'll be keeping a look-out for any future events. (I did miss a chance to see Sia there last August. I'm regretting that now since I bet you she doesn't tour the USA too much...)

All reviews are written by Michael Lawrence.