The Bangles, Neon Love Life, Vintage Trouble
It’s a well-established fact that anyone who was old enough to be coherent in 1986 has some great memory that takes place to a Bangles song, probably either “Manic Monday,” “Eternal Flame” or “Walk Like an Egyptian” — or, quite possibly, all three. It’s perhaps a lesser-known fact that the famous '80s jangle-pop group is still recording and just released an album called Sweetheart of the Sun last month. The album is The Bangles’ first release since 2003 — and that album was their first since 1995, prompting co-lead guitarist and singer Vicki Peterson to joke that “every time we release a record they have a new format for it.”
So what exactly does one get from an all-girl pop group that was on top of the world in the mid-'80s but has — let’s face it — fallen off the musical map since? Well, the 2011 iteration of The Bangles actually bears a good deal of resemblance to the 1986 version. For one thing, Susanna Hoffs’ voice still carries precisely the same kind of cute, girlish charm as it did back then, and the music is still very much pop; mostly bright and happy, other times wistfully sentimental, but always upbeat, with major chords and strong bass lines. If there’s been any change in their sound, it seems they’ve relaxed the pace overall, spread out a bit and become more of a straight-up rock band, even adding a little bit of country twang on occasion.
With drummer Debbi Peterson seated on a platform well above the level of the stage, presiding over her sister Vicki and guitarist Susanna Hoffs, tossing their hair seductively and swaying as they played, The Bangles brought an impressive stage presence and a big, guitar-heavy sound to match. They opened up with the first track from Sweetheart, “Anna Lee,” a loose, sunny kind song with great harmony and lyrics about, you guessed it, love and romance (“All the boys they flock to you/wanna do more than talk to you/don’t you wanna be Anna Lee”).
It only took them four songs to get to “Manic Monday,” which naturally drew applause from the otherwise only mildly enthused crowd, before playing “I’ll Never Be Through With You,” a song they co-wrote with Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go’s — whom Vicki charmingly insisted are not, and were never, The Bangles’ rivals.
Later, The Bangles thanked all of their fans for 30 years of support, before dropping “Eternal Flame." It was one of the key moments of the show, as Hoffs’ sweet, imploring voice made the Egyptian Room feel for a moment like the local Skate-o-Rama during couples skate. The band continued to trot out songs from their new album —“Under a Cloud,” being one of the more memorable of those — while playing older but less-know tracks like “Hero Takes a Fall.” They closed the nearly 90 minute set with, you guessed it, “Walk Like an Egyptian,” pleasing those fans who stayed for the length of the show, and there seemed to be about half the audience left.
Indianapolis-based all-girl group Neon Love Life opened with a solid, half-hour set of their genre-crossing punk. Keeping things decidedly punk-ish, the girls rocked songs from their recently released debut album, Tuesday Night, like “Love Control,” “Teenage Werewolf,” and “Whiskey.” Their sound seems to combine the fast, buzzing guitar work of punk, but with brighter pop elements to keep things on the lighter side.
Los Angeles-based soul-funk outfit Vintage Trouble warmed things up before Neon Love Life. With elements of James Brown and Wilson Pickett, these guys echo the motif that bands like Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears are reaching for, and do it in a fine style.