Concrete Blonde - The Palace
In the 20 years since Concrete Blonde released their defining album Bloodletting, interest in all things ‘vamp’ has sky-rocketed, perhaps loosely benefiting the once close-to-forgotten group.
The title and content does reference Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, true, but the songs on Concrete Blonde’s third album were never meant to be taken as literal tales of the freaky undead. Addiction and consequence were the songs thinly disguised subtexts – many of which were veiled pleas from the band’s singer/bassist Johnette Napolitano to the people close to her, including the rest of Concrete Blonde. But original drummer Harry Rushakoff and, to a lesser degree, guitarist Jim Mankey’s substance abuse basically sunk the band less than four years after Bloodletting broke them out of obscurity.
In the last decade a rehabilitated and revived Concrete Blonde delivered the self-reflective 2002 sobered-up sequel to Bloodletting, Group Therapy and found their way out of the haze and put the wasted years behind them. Last year Napolitano paid a fleeting visit to Melbourne to test the waters with a smallish solo gig and seemed genuinely surprised by the amount of slavering fans turning up she could still lay claim to. The time was right for her long-awaited musical return and both the artist and any fan despairing over Johnette’s fellow Californian, seemingly plague proportion pop bitches, felt it at that show.
The Concrete Blonde faithful don’t waste any time – or volume – in letting her know she’s adored tonight at The Palace, as the dirty opening bass chords of Bloodletting’s title track are beaten into our ears. Australia was the first country outside of the US that Concrete Blonde toured, prompted by the album’s reception here, and specifically the second single, Joey. It receives no encore placing either, but rather runs straight out of Bloodletting’s feedback finish. Joey, like much of Bloodletting, runs at a mid-tempo pace, so the band hurl in a few bigger-sounding rock crowd-pleasers from other albums. Breaking away from Bloodletting – so far in running order – God Is A Bullet, Happy Birthday and True from their late ‘80s period, are especially well received.
Continuing their diversion from Bloodletting, the band haul supports Graveyard Train out from backstage to join them as a ghostly choir for a momentous romp through Ghost Of A Texas Ladies’ Man. As Leonard Cohen’s Australian live dates approach, a reminder that if he wants his song, Everybody Knows, back from Napolitano, he’ll need to pick up his game. Following that is a surprising cover of Hendrix’s Little Wing giving guitarist Jim Mankey a chance to indulge himself. A barefoot Johnette indulges us all with some spirited flamenco dancing during two cuts – Heal It Up and the title track – from Spanish-flavoured album Mexican Moon.
Bloodletting was always more ‘eight-parts-soulful and two-parts-rawk’, so the decision to drop its beefiest moments – The Sky Is A Poisonous Garden and The Beast – is an odd one indeed. The audience don’t seem to mind, especially once the stand-out sing-a-long moment Tomorrow Wendy begins. Johnette’s near-accapella reading of the albums only cover track (an Andy Preiboy song) is a seriously powerful end to the set.
Concrete Blonde receive a deafeningly raucous hand on their exit which is sustained for a good five minutes before the final encore of It’ll Chew You Up And Spit You Out, which again is out of step with the mood built up by Tomorrow Wendy, but is no less a satisfying all-in-rock-out for the group and fans.
Although the running order of the songs needed a rethink, it feels like a triviality when in the presence of Johnette Napolitano, who never once failed to be completely mesmerising. Drummer Gabriel Ramirez and guitarist Jim Mankey made for outstanding accompaniment, but it was Napolitano’s show for her sheer authority as a vocalist and bass player.
The demand for them to tour again may never be as overwhelming, but Concrete Blonde proved tonight they are much, much more than just a 20 year old album.