Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 8, 2007)
When the subject of the most successful all-female rock band emerges, it usually comes down to two candidates: the Bangles and the Go-go’s. Both experienced freakishly similar careers, as they hit it big in the Eighties, split after three albums, and reunited in later years. Neither recaptured their glory days, but both managed to rediscover their audiences.
If we’re going to look at the best female rock band, I’d probably pick Sleater-Kinney, but I do have a soft spot for the Bangles. Some of that came from the fact that I – like every other guy of my generation – had a crush on Susanna Hoffs. All the other Bangles were cute as well, but oh, Susanna! Cute, sexy and a rocker? Do women get any more appealing than that?
A couple of decades later, a live DVD called Return to Bangleonia reveals that Susanna remains just as crush-worthy as ever – heck, maybe even more so. Does the band’s music hold up just as well after all these years? Yeah, pretty much. Though the DVD reveals some fissures, it mostly reminds me why I always liked the Bangles.
Shot in September 2000 at LA’s House of Blues, Return’s 18 songs come from the Bangles’ three Eighties albums as well as some other sources. Off of 1984’s All Over the Place, we find “Hero Takes a Fall”, “Going Down to Liverpool”, and “Live”. 1986’s Different Light brings us “Manic Monday”, “September Gurls”, “If She Knew What She Wants”, “Angels Don’t Fall in Love” and “Walk Like an Egyptian”, while 1988’s Everything provides “In Your Room” and “Eternal Flame”. “Hazy Shade of Winter” appeared on the soundtrack to 1987’s Less Than Zero.
As for the other tunes, many were unreleased when shot at this show. “Stealing Rosemary”, “Between the Two”, “The Rain Song”, “Here Right Now”, and “I Will Take Care of You” eventually materialized on 2003’s Doll Revolution. (Vicki optimistically discusses an early 2001 release here; I don’t know what held up the album so long.) “Get the Girl” popped up on the soundtrack for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, while “Pushin’ Too Hard” is a cover of an old Seeds song that I don’t think the Bangles ever recorded.
Let’s get the ugly part of the review out of the way first. If you expect to hear sterling musicianship here, you’re out of luck. Return abounds with mistakes. I’m not picky about that, and I usually don’t notice goofs during shows. Maybe I’m a dope or maybe I’m just a go with the flow, whole is greater than the sum of the parts concert-goer, but most slip-ups escape my attention.
Return doesn’t allow for such blissful ignorance. From the opening guitar of “Hazy Shade of Winter”, we find bum notes, missed beats, quavering vocals, incorrect cues and other boners. Vicki’s leads tend to be particularly off through the performance. Don’t get me wrong: these don’t dominate the show. It’s not as if the Bangles sound like some high school garage band at their third show. Most of the music sounds just fine, and the Bangles were never virtuosos anyway. It’s just sloppier than you’d expect.
I expect some of this stems from the timing of the concert. I don’t know if Return represents the Bangles’ first reunion show in 2000, but if not, it came up pretty early in the tour. Perhaps if they’d been on the road for a while they’d be tighter.
On the other hand, the semi-novelty of the concert adds to some energy. The Bangles look darned happy to be together and playing again, so that attitude translates to the music. It may not be a great performance, but it’s fun.
The then-new songs blend well with the older stuff. The audience doesn’t seem all that happy to hear unfamiliar tunes, but they work anyway. The older material benefits from that sense of enthusiasm that came with the then-new reunion. Even though the band had played those tunes a billion times, they manage to make them pretty lively and fresh here.
Director Kerry Asmussen conveys the show with a minimum of fuss. The production lacks the quick cuts and gimmicks that mar so many live DVDs, but it also doesn’t seem stiff or staid. No, the presentation doesn’t boast memorable visual impact, as it ain’t Stop Making Sense or The Last Waltz. However, it’s more than competent, and it delivers the show in a satisfying manner. Given how unwatchable so many modern live DVDs can be, “satisfying” and “more than competent” border on high praise.
I can’t really lavish a great deal of plaudits on Return to Bangleonia, as it’s not a killer production. The band slip on more than a few occasions, and they probably would’ve sounded better with a few more shows under their reunited belts. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of charm and energy on display. This may not be a great live show, but it’s a fun one.