Concrete Blonde at the Troubadour, August 29, 2012
Editor’s Note: photography and video were not allowed at this show.
Women in music have always been, and will always be, incredibly vital and important to me. From the early memories of my mother’s Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Fleetwood Mac albums, to my headfirst dive into Patti Smith, Cowboy Junkies, Tori Amos, Sinead O’Connor, Mazzy Star, Throwing Muses, Hole, 10,000 Maniacs, Aimee Mann, Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux and Johnette Napolitano’s music, women have always taken a leading role in the playlist of my life. Their stories sung, their presence and power, and yes, the fact that a part of me has always dreamed of being up on a stage with a guitar and a mic, playing and singing my soul out.
My all-time favorite woman in music is without a doubt, Johnette Napolitano. From her work with Concrete Blonde, to her side projects with Pretty and Twisted and Scarred, to her overall strength and raw persona, she has always been an inspiring, kick ass, personal hero of mine. Seeing her live last night, with Concrete Blonde, well I struggle to find the words that will sufficiently express how it felt. There were moments where I thought my heart would leap out of my chest, other moments where I was sing-screaming so loud I thought I would lose my voice forever, and moments still where I stood there in awe, tears in my eyes, overwhelmed by feeling.
Perhaps it is the fact that Johnette is born and raised Los Angeles, or it could be that Concrete Blonde’s first two albums were music that for a good, long spell just belonged to me. What I mean is that for the first time at that point in my life I had music that I had not discovered, nor shared (yet), with anyone else but myself. I discovered them in a favorite record store of mine, browsing alone one afternoon when I was supposed to be in a community college math class and bought them both (self-titled and Free). I played them incessantly in my first car’s stereo, memorizing and mesmerizing over the songs and how fucking real and relevant they felt to my life. I knew these stories, I knew these streets, I knew the broken and the beautiful, and I knew about addiction and loss and dirty and desperate hope. I felt as if I was living these songs and I could not stop playing them.
It was later that I found out that others loved their music as much as I did, but for that first little while they were all mine.
Then it was Bloodletting, the album thatcame around during a huge emotionally charged everything-is-changing time in my life. I clung to that album, hanging on for dear life, breathing in each and every song like they would save me.
The other albums, side projects included, seem to accompany significant times in my life, as well. The songs amongst them often feel like bookmarks to moments and memories. I play them and they feel like old lovers and friends come to share a drink with me, and I welcome them in, gladly and gratefully.
Last night, at the Troubadour, seeing Concrete Blonde and Johnette for the first time ever, I was saved, and I was glad and grateful for the experience. Crammed to the very front of the Troubadour (oh the Troubadour, I could write volumes on what this venue means to me) with close friends of mine, the music enveloped us, overwhelmed us and lit us up. We kept looking at each other, throwing our hands in the air and opening our eyes impossibly wide, an unspoken “this is fucking amazing” passing between each shared glance.
To pick a favorite moment would be impossible, but I will say that their cover of Everybody Knows nearly took my soul. Johnette thanking Leonard Cohen, tears threatening to fall from my eyes, my voice hoarse from singing so loudly along to every single word, was beyond amazing. There was also her ass kicking rendition of Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning, or the soft-sad take on The Rolling Stones As Tears Goes By. Joey and Run Run Run brought me to actual tears, and both True and Scene of a Perfect Crime hit so deeply they still are reeling inside of me, and have left an undeniable inspirational kick in the soul that I think I have been starving for, especially hearing Johnette sing the line “if I had the choice, I’d take the voice I got, ‘cause it was hard to find.” God is a Bullet, Take Me Home (with the cutaway interlude of Rehab),and the closing sing-a-long of Still in Hollywood, the final encore, were unforgettable.
Johnette was glorious, powerful, raw, flawed at times, honest and outspoken, and so fucking amazing. Jim Mankey, with his subdued persona, should not go unmentioned, as his guitar work was unbelievable – quite easily he is one of the top living guitarist in the music world. It was great to witness the interractions and connections between Jim and Johnette, 30 years of being married to the band as they are.
All the love I have carried around for the albums was expanded exponentially seeing them play live.
Live music is something that fills me and moves me in a way that nothing else has ever managed to do. There is something that wakes up in me, races to the surfaces, pushing and pulling out of me, and lighting my entire body up like some kind of holiday festival of lights. I am a different part of myself in the presence of live music, as if a rare and often hidden part of me that waits to come out to dance and sing only in the music’s presence. Live music just does it for me.
Thank you, Johnette Napolitano and Concrete Blonde, for waking me up last night.