07.24.2004 Concrete Blonde Trocadero, Philadelphia, PA
Opener: Blue October
The members of Concrete Blonde in their old age are unpretentious as I have seen in a band. Jim Mankey showed up onstage before the set to help the road crew work out a few technical problems. Their stage is minimalist, just a elevated deck for the drum kit, two microphones and three guitars (the acoustic guitar was never touched.) They descended down the stairs for the start of their show and dug in to “Real Thing.” Their newest album, Mojave, sparked a ten date tour around the U.S., playing to small venues in big cities, the kind of venues that hide out in Chinatowns and on choked downtown roads where the homeless and college students alike beg for money on the street. This is the dirt under the fingernails inspiration for a lot of their music, whether the setting is Los Angeles, Mexico or the Mojave desert. The new album isn’t spectacular, it’s languid, lacking in radio-friendly melodies and is carried almost entirely by Johnette Napolitano’s vocal charms, which are considerable. Not lazy then, just unconcerned.
Their live act has gone the same way. They opened the show with the non-album track “Real Thing” which is only available on I-tunes or on a limited edition single that was being sold at the concerts. The merchandise, however, sold out before they made it to Philadelphia, so no shirts, no limited edition single, no little piece of Concrete Blonde to take home with you. Most bands make a large portion of the hard working dollars from their merchandise sales. With six more U.S. dates to go, I can only guess Concrete Blonde doesn’t rely heavily on t-shirt sales.
Almost every song during the night was preceded by a band conference at the drum kit. Surprisingly, it only resulted in three set changes. “Ghost Riders In the Sky” was pushed up in the set order because Johnette got into a long diatribe about the album inspiration and how people in general are choking the life out of nature. Which is what the song was about. “Mexican Moon” was nixed from the setlist because Johnette was apparently done playing lead guitar and wanted her bass back. “Caroline” was replaced by “Joey” to close the show because a fan somehow got Johnette’s attention long enough to have a four minute conversation about organic farming and she let him pick the last song.
On the whole, Johnette and Jim Mankey, who have been the core of the band since the beginning, are in great shape. Physically and musically. Her voice is still scorching and his licks burn down the house. But somewhere since the last tour, they either forgot or ditched the melodies to their popular songs. “Heal It Up” was completely unrecognizable until the song was over, and on the fade out, I could hear a hint of the song’s original melody. After a completely reworked instrumental introduction to “Joey” she apologized for the band saying they hadn’t performed it in a while and were going to start over and play it closer to the original. Then they proceeded to play “Joey” just like it had sounded a minute earlier. “Take Me Home,” one of my favorite studio cuts, actually benefitted from this melodic amnesia and lost that discordant twang during the chorus.
I know I use the term “scorching” too much, and probably “blistering” needs to be 86′d, but there is simply no other way to describe when Johnette picked up the lead guitar on the song “Because I Can” and tore through the song. She usually sticks to her bass and let’s Jim Mankey handle all the artistic guitar parts, but this one time, I’m glad they switched it up. “Ghost Riders” was mezmerizing, even though a fracas in the audience caught Johnette’s attention to the point that she motioned to the two people to separate, all the while without missing a note. I can tell you, as the person standing immediately to the right, that a gentlemen came with two ladies, all completely bombed before the show even started. When the two gals went for a beer run, without providing for him, he tried to grab their beers from their hands and they tried to fend him off. He disappeared from the audience shortly thereafter, although I never saw security escort him out, so maybe he left on his own legs.
God Is A Bullet
Ghost Riders In The Sky
Tornado At Rest
True To This
Heal It Up
Scene of A Perfect Crime
Because I Can
Take Me Home
When I Was a Fool
Days And Days
Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)
100 Games of Solitaire