With the Go-Gos finally being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year – some 15 years after it should have happened – are there any other major injustices in the world that need to be righted? The headlines actually say yes, but still it was easy to focus on tiny moral gains made as the group returned to Southern California for a string of homecoming shows this week. It’s a lap of honor that leaves no skid marks on hearts.
The big highlight of their SoCal tour within a tour this week is Wednesday night’s show at the Crypto.com Arena, a venue seven miles and some 43 years from the Masque where the group’s earliest incarnation as punk began Group. Not even a “pop-punk” band, to use modern jargon, but something like the single P before they quickly realized they could hook and play slower than 180bpm.
On Monday night at the House of Blues in Anaheim, they played a far smaller show that probably counts as underplay — and definitely counts as the closest thing in a ticketed commercial setting to seeing the band rekindle their clubbing origins leaves. Obviously, Orange County has different standards for how many music fans can reasonably be packed into a room this size than neighboring county to the north, but no matter how difficult the task was to break into the nearly impregnable main room (some fans gave up and on monitors in the lobby observed), it did Feel like sweaty old Hollywood without the smoke. It won’t be the same at Crypto with end-to-end seating and an HVAC system.
In Anaheim, Blondie’s “Rip Her to Shreds” at 8 sharp—bedtimes have definitely changed since Masque days—served as the group’s vintage entrance music, and this song’s arguably odd take on feminism could have fitted anyway. But it also served as an acknowledgment that Blondie drummer Clem Burke is present on at least some of those dates; Gina Schock is said to be out with hand problems. The sight of four out of five of the classic members, accompanied by Burke, might have had you wondering why one-guy line-ups never caught on, but then again, “all-girl” groups, despite the pioneering work of the go-gos, multiplatinum ways. (Please reignite things, Linda Lindas.)
But it doesn’t matter if the group inspired tens of millions of women to pick up their guitars or just hundreds of thousands. The Go-Gos would still be one of the most wonderful holdovers from the early ’80s if they had never influenced another female soul or singled it out as a novelty. Her short but undeniable catalog of songs speaks for itself … and sang for itself when so much of it was adapted for the Broadway musical Head Over Heels. Caffey & Valentine & Wiedlin as Rodgers & Hart & Hammerstein? It’s an odd thing to have happened in recent years, and Kathy Valentine didn’t even mention her indirect appropriation as a musical comedy songwriter when she offered a short list between numbers of new developments in recent years — Hall’s induction of Fame, the documentary (Showtime’s “The Go-Go’s”), the lonely new song (“Club Zero”). Perhaps the musical was too uncool or too short-lived to mention, but it was quite good and pointed to how many great songs they spawned in an insanely short but fruitful attempt at album-making in 1982-84.
But it wasn’t the sheer songcraft that old fans and some young fans went to House of Blues for; It was the beat and the vibe and the promise that maybe if these five (or temporarily four) women still have their mojo, maybe I can reclaim mine too? And the nearly 90-minute set didn’t disappoint in terms of personality or energy front. It’s still possible for both female and male fans to play the Who’s Your Favorite Beatler…um, Go-Go? game.
Sometimes hunched over a keyboard and other times anchored off-stage on lead guitar, Charlotte Caffey remains the most scholarly-appearing presence on stage. Jane Wiedlin is truly the punkiest now, as then: going gray is as bold a color choice as any makeup artist could have made back then, and dressing up as a clergyman, complete with a white collar and pectoral cross, reinforces her innate irreverence. And it was some of Wiedlin’s rhythm guitar blasts that perhaps most seemed like returning to 1979, even more than 1982 forward. Kathy Valentine has always felt like a pure, timeless rocker who would be at home in any group, although it’s to our advantage that it’s the go-gos who’ve been decked out with that classic “head over heels” bass line. And Belinda Carlisle? Somewhere between “Beauty and the Beat” and her solo debut, she morphed from a winning cherub into a chilled version of Ann-Margret, with a voice and a hippie-hippie shake that’s weathered the years in a way that makes a great advert for Pilates and vegetarianism (and quitting cocaine, of course).
To take a measure: maybe 5% less demonstrative than in the salad days because girls will be women, but just as engaging and seemingly committed. It may require having Shock back to feel the full effect of how they’ve stopped the world, so to speak. (And it’s ironic that at a time when all five members are on the same page, after a string of tours where one or the other has dropped out, a health issue prevents that at the moment.) That a band still can having all of its original parts and still being so inspirational more than 40 years after the #1… it’s certainly something none of them take for granted, and probably not the House of Blues crowd either, although swoon at the prospect , perhaps a rescue would have meant philosophizing for the long parking garage traffic jam.
As “We Got the Beat” kicked in before the encore, Wiedlin called it “the song you wanted to hear” while imploring the crowd to put down their listeners and enjoy the moment. Perhaps she’s not completely off the mark in this — also as co-writer of another song everyone obviously wanted to hear, “Our Lips Are Sealed” — but it would be nice to think she underestimated the depth of audiences’ catalog knowledge. The setlist was certainly constructed as if audiences didn’t just trust the hits…although so many songs playing at three minutes max in an 85-minute set require curating a few album tracks, regardless. These shows provide a nice opportunity to meet or revisit some songs from their 2001 semi-comeback album God Bless the Go-Go’s, such as Automatic Rainy Day (which, after all, is also featured on the Broadway show used nicely). its relative darkness), “Unforgiven” and the shapely “Throw Me a Curve,” in which Carlisle struck wry pin-up poses.
Is it too much to expect a fresh album? Probably, but if their contemporaries in X can finally ditch the idea that an original catalog from the early 80’s is frozen forever in time, it shouldn’t seem impossible here. As Valentine said, here was the one new song to celebrate — “Club Zero,” which was recorded to put a relevant cap on the Showtime doc — and the way its angry feminist tone carried into Monday’s set fits seems to offer a way forward for the group that is not a complete surrender to what worked 40 years ago. But when the Go-Gos carry on as some sort of rock brigadoon, resurrected every few years to revive selections of the same songs, there are worse places to take a mental vacation than the era it looked like if LA “girls” would really rule the world.
After the Crypto.com show, the Go-Gos make one last stop in Southern California at Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay in San Diego before heading to Europe as guests on Billy Idol’s UK tour in June.
https://variety.com/2022/music/concert-reviews/go-gos-concert-tour-review-house-blues-anaheim-1235219539/ Go-Go’s Come Back to SoCal on Their Victory Lap: Concert Recap