Dante's, August 30, 2002
~review by Sonya
(Photography by Sean
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
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
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
Days and Days
When I Was a Fool
Scene of the Crime
Still in Hollywood
Concrete Blonde Website: