Review: The Go-Go's still got the beat in farewell tour opener at Clearwater's Capitol Theatre
Here it is 2016, with a woman a whisker away from the presidency and much of the world more woke than ever before, and the Go-Go’s have decided now's the time to call it quits.
Why now? True, they’ve been at this for 38 occasionally frustrating years. But they’re all relatively young, most still in their 50s. And in a pop music world dominated by women, doesn’t it seem like the first all-female rock band to top the charts writing and singing their own songs might still have some influence to give?
At their farewell tour kickoff on Tuesday at Clearwater’s Capitol Theatre, the Go-Go's played like they still have ground left to break, keeping the audience on its feet for more than 90 minutes with a mix of candy-coated ‘80s classics and rarities they haven’t played in decades.
Dancing onstage to Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re An American Band, the group – singer Belinda Carlisle, guitarists Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey, drummer Gina Schock and bassist Abby Travis, filling in for the absent Kathy Valentine – opened with a high-velocity Vacation and feisty How Much More, and the post-punkish energy didn’t let up from there.
Looking like the coolest fun moms on the block, Carlile and Wiedlin grinned, grooved and traded chirpy warbles all night, with Carlisle’s infectious joy keeping the audience dancing right along with her. For Cool Jerk, they pulled fans up on stage to dance; for the summery Cool Places, they danced across the stage toward one another.
“We’ve been together since 1978,” Carlisle said. “We started the band when we were 2. It’s true.”
And while the outspoken Schock kept a vigorous beat, Caffey, as always, was the group’s secret weapon, stoically grinding out razor-sharp leads in what Carlisle described as a “sexy secretary” getup. In her squealing solos and determined delivery, you heard shades of early R.E.M. and even later bands like the Pixies.
There were hits upon hits, of course, some stronger than others. Our Lips Are Sealed was tossed off with sleepwalking ease, while We Got The Beat and Head Over Heels were punched-up with glee.
But what kept the night moving were those under-heard, underappreciated post-punk-meets-New-Wave cuts that fleshed out the set – the snappy Tonite, the sultry This Time, the power-poppy La La Land. Even the mid-‘90s rarity Good Girl was delivered with just the right smear of sloppiness, a filter of reality that proved this farewell tour is about more than just a paycheck.
“If you didn’t believe that the Go-Go’s used to be a punk band, with these next songs, you will,” Wiedlin said.
First came Screaming, a song they said they haven’t played since 1979, with Caffey ripping through a snake-charming solo as Wiedlin jabbed out raw riffs and Schock pounded away on her kit. Then came the wiry Fun With Ropes, “a little ditty from 1978 about bondage,” Wiedlin said.
The biggest surprise came in the second encore, which the band opened with an acoustic cover of Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball.
"You guys are the first ones to hear this," Carlisle said.
Wrecking Ball turned out to be an unexpectedly transformative performance, evidence that artists once presented as pinups can deliver songs well-crafted and real enough to transcend generations.
That influence also showed in their choice of opener, Kaya Stewart, the 16-year-old daughter of the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart.
With her low but sizeable voice and beyond-her-years ear for blending pop, rock and grungy gospel, she seems interested in filling the arena-sized heels of artists like Katy Perry, Pink or Halsey. It worked well on big-beat belters like With Your Love, Try It Out, So U Care Now and the unabashedly pop-punkish Sleepover, all from her forthcoming self-titled debut LP, which drops Aug. 12.
As a performer, Stewart is still growing into those ambitious songs, but again, she’s only 16 – SHE WAS BORN THIS MILLENIUM, PEOPLE – which means she should have many more years to figure it out.
There may be more female presidents to come in those years. Here’s hoping there’ll be a few more bands like the Go-Go’s, too.
-- Jay Cridlin