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The Go-Go's Come Home to the Hollywood Bowl With 'Totally '80s' Show: Concert Review

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The Bottom Line

With Psychedelic Furs, The Motels and Bow Wow Wow also on the bill, the retro-fest featured timeless hits and enthusiasm from acts that, for the most part, have aged well. 

Venue

The Hollywood Bowl
Los Angeles
(Saturday, Sept. 29)

More than 30 years after The Go-Go's first played the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles-based quintet returned to the storied venue to a markedly different world.

Back on August 29, 1982, the Go-Go's were on top of the world. That spring, they became the first all-female band who played their own instruments to top the Billboard album chart, when Beauty and the Beat spent six weeks at No. 1. By late summer, they appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in their underwear and Vacation, their second album -- and its title track -- both hit the top 10.

Today, the Go-Go's music is relegated to occasional spins on Jack-FM and TV commercials, but Saturday's show was far from a pity party, rather a celebration of survival. Sure, Richard Butler, frontman of the second-bill Psychedelic Furs bounced up and down like a prizefighter between songs, but it was the Go-Go's who took to the stage to Survivor's Rocky-theme song "Eye of Tiger" after treating the crowd to an amusing historic video montage.

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With their hit-making line-up intact -- save for bassist Kathy Valentine, sidelined with a broken wrist, admirably replaced by Abby Travis -- the Go-Go's bounced their way through a solid hour-and-20-minute set that sounded surprisingly fresh and contemporary. Although the show was billed as "Totally '80s," the Go-Go's and their music has held up well over the years, perhaps because the band favored guitars and live drums rather than the synthesizers and drum machines that are synonymous from the new wave decade.

At the Bowl, the Go-Go's still displayed several elements that never seem to go out of style. In songs like "Tonight" and "How Much More," Charlotte Caffey let loose with blazing surf guitar leads, borrowed from The Ventures, that  have resurfaced in tracks by '90s punks The Offspring. Drummer Gina Shock laid down solid Bo Diddley-like beats in "Get Up and Go," and Belinda Carlisle, who performed barefoot, still has the '60s girl-group charm and glamour.

About the only time the Go-Go's seemed totally dated was when they dipped into "Cool Places," guitarist Jane Wiedlin's 1983 collaboration with Sparks, which Wiedlin acknowledged beforehand with a playful demonstration of goofy '80s-styled dancing.

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The one troubling or comforting thing about the evening -- depending on your point of view -- was the lack of new material. The Go-Go's haven't released new material since 2001's God Bless The Go-Go's, and only offered two songs from that set, although early album tracks "Automatic" and "Fading Fast" were given new arrangements with Caffey shifting to keyboard.

The set concluded with a triple-play of hits "We Got The Beat," "Our Lips Are Sealed" and "Head Over Heels" with the Go-Go's still showing traces of that old punk energy. (Due to time constraints, they had to drop their cover of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" from the set, but you can catch it on YouTube.)

The Furs, with original members singer Richard Butler and his bassist brother, also concentrated on their early '80s material, but also sounded remarkably fresh. Butler, who early on was compared to a combination of Johnny Rotten and David Bowie, has aged into a sort of post-punk Richard Gere, trading in his shades for real specs and dropping his trademark cigarette. With his distinctive hoarse vocals and expressive stage moves, he remains one of rock's most underrated frontmen. Highlights of their set included 1987's sax-soaked "Heartbreak Beat," which ironically signaled the beginning of the band's artistic decline, and signature hit "Pretty in Pink." One other bring spot worth mentioning, the set included the apparently new track "Little Miss World," a catchy slice of jangle pop  that hints perhaps the band has new music up their sleeves.

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Martha Davis, of the third-billed Motels, was still strong in voice and admirably delivered hits like "Only The Lonely" and "Suddenly Last Summer" with her latest hired hands, but lacked any semblance of edginess.

Openers Bow Wow Wow are another survivors' story. Back in the early '80s, the one-time instrumental core of Adam & the Ants was stolen away from Adam Ant by Malcom McClaren and matched with 14-year-old Anabella Lwin. On Saturday, Lwin was proud to point out she's still in her 40s, following her early start, but her bandmates haven't fared as well. Original guitarist Matthew Ashman died 1995 due to diabetes, but bassist Leigh Gorman was still at Lwin's side, along with new drummer Deavin Beaman and guitarist Matt Fuller. Lwin's voice still sounds tough, though thematically some of their material, such the ode to home taping, "C30 C60 C90 Go!," is dated. "W.O.R.K.," however, originally inspired by Thatcher's Britain, is still sadly relevant. It's also worth pointing out that Lwin was singing highly suggestive songs like "Louis Quatorze" before Britney Spears was born.

Set List:

The Go-Go's

This Town
Vacation
Tonight
How Much More
Get Up and Go
Mad About You
Lust To Love
Stuck In My Car
Automatic
Fading Fast
Cool Jerk
Cool Places
Unforgiven
Skid Marks On My Heart
We Got The Beat
Our Lips Are Sealed

Encore:

Head Over Heels

The Psychedelic Furs

Only You And I
Love My Way
Mr. Jones
Heartbreak Beat
Ghost In You
No Easy Street
Little Miss World
All Of This And Nothing
Pretty In Pink
Highwire Days
Heaven

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