Concrete Blonde 
Dante's, August 30, 2002
Portland, Oregon
~review by Sonya Brown 
(Photography by Sean Strauss

Not so long ago, Concrete Blonde performed at The Roseland Theatre, Tuesday, January 29, 2002. When news airs that Concrete Blonde will soon perform at Dante's Italiano Cafe, a much smaller and more intimate setting, many pleasantly surprised fans become star-struck during the days leading up to the performance night.

What a strange turn of events. Concrete Blonde is to play Dante's, Portland, Oregon, on their way to Bumpershoot in Seattle?!  We knew tickets would not last long for this performance!

With doors opening around 8:30, and a line already forming, we arrive just in time to hear Rob, the most gracious doorman, announce, "come on in!"  Though Red-cloth covered tables are whisked away by the staff, we are fortunate enough to find a tiny table of sanctuary in the corner, by the kitchen door.  This location proves to be a most wise choice as the night wears on and the crowd thickens.  Soon, there will be no breathing room at Dante's, save for our little "sanctuary" in the corner.

Drinks begin to flow and the crowd is heavy with comments: "I can't believe they are playing here... such a small club"... "I only heard about this a few days ago and I rushed right out to get tickets"... "did you see them at the Roseland?"...

Lights dim, voices hush, and the "First Act" begins.

A Mime. What?! A Mime!  Actually, as we find out later, Don McCloud is a student of Mime, and also a "Butoh" artist.  "Butoh", Johnette Napolitano later explains to us, is a Japanese form of "reactionary" dance, and is actually inspired by Flamenco (or Gypsy Dance).  Tonight's performance, however, is a Mime performance - very different from Butoh.  Vaguely resembling Alice Cooper (sans the trade-mark make-up), Don begins his performance art to a backdrop of aggro-industrial & darkwave industrial sounds.  Don moves as if electrified, twitching and bending to the guitar sounds, his body his only instrument, often seeming to defy the laws of gravity with these odd gyrations.  By the end of Don's performance, he is now clad only in a pair of pants - his flowing shirt having been torn from his body during his intense movements.  Don bows, leaves the stage, and the DJ takes control.

Idle chatter and the hum of a packed house, barely audible over the David Bowie Heathen CD which is warming up the crowd, turns to unbridled cheers as the lights dim once again and the DJ now releases his audience to the legendary Concrete Blonde.

Wielding her bass like an apocalyptic cowgirl, a barefoot Johnette Napolitano immediately spatters the crowd with energy as she launches into the opening song, "God Is A Bullet".  Wearing traditional Chinese outfits, she and her amazing guitarist, Jim Mankey, proceed to completely blow me away, performing a perfect blend of the old and the new, with many surprises along the way. One of these little surprises takes place when they launch head-first into a raucous jam of the Doors, "LA Woman"; only to stop half-way through as Johnette teases the audience, "do you think we should learn that one?"  Cheers erupt as she continues... "I just have such a hard time understanding what he is saying!" and she garbles some lyrics in a mock-guttural “Jim Morrison” tone that leaves us all laughing.

One of the most intense moments is when they perform Leonard Cohen's, "Everybody Knows".  Even thinking about this now, days later, sends emotions welling up inside of me almost to the point of tears.  How often can a band inspire such deep emotions?  Concrete Blonde certainly were strumming my heart strings during this number.

Promoting their latest CD, Group Therapy, Concrete Blonde perform "Tonight", "Valentine", and "Violent"; as well as the classics we all want to hear, such as "Vampire" and "Joey".

While I move around as much as possible through the wall of bodies that occupy Dante's this night, I often find myself back in that little corner of sanctuary for a bit of breathing room. From this vantage point, I have a perfect view of the drum riser. Johnette introduces us to her drummer, "straight from Mexico City".  I study him often during this performance.  Much to my amazement, he remains in sync with the skyward trail of notes blazing from the guitars Jim and Johnette play as the world outside spirals into the Inferno.  I am always awed at a drummers ability to keep the beat, and to follow the whims of an often unpredictable live show.  I often wonder how they can keep their drum sticks from flying out of what must be sweaty hands.  I have a newfound respect for this craft while watching from my semi-secret vantage point.  Such amazing talent emits from this trio of musicians.

Something I have noticed about Concrete Blonde, is the strong cultural influences they bring to an event.  During the Roseland performance, their opening act was a Flamenco act.  At Dante's, it is Mime.  Johnette, wearing a traditional Chinese outfit, introduces us to her drummer who is of Mexican descent.

After the Dante's performance, we are fortunate enough to meet with Johnette briefly and she discusses many culturally diverse subjects.  Butoh. Navajo. Flamenco.  Johnette seems to be a deeply spiritual being, embracing so many cultures and incorporating them into her music and her life. 

As we are visiting downstairs in the tiny little "green room" off the stage at Dante's, something I notice, and I ask her about, is if she always performs in her bare feet.  She replies "yes", and she explains something about the height of her foot to the floor pedals of her bass, and how having bare feet helps.  Johnette adds, "I've grown to like the feel of the ground under my feet... like the Indians like to feel the mountain through moccasins."  I now notice she has slipped into some cute black sandals with a black flower on the top straps.  She sees that I notice them and she continues... "I got these in Canada, for like ten dollars!"... she then puts her arm around me as a photo is taken.  I am, by now, completely reeling from the entire night.  A magnificent performance, and a once-in-a-lifetime meeting with the legendary Johnette Napolitano. Concrete Blonde.  I went home this night pleasantly star-struck!

Concrete Blonde Set List:
(please note: Johnette states they do not always follow the set list exactly,that they often mix things up depending upon the crowd/show)
God is a Bullet
Everybody Knows
Mexican Moon
Days and Days
When I Was a Fool
Haunted Head
Femme Fatale
Scene of the Crime
Still in Hollywood

Concrete Blonde Website: