all words: Josh Phelps
all photos: Katherine Gaines
Nostalgia was inescapable last week as two weddings reunited me with people I hadn’t seen in 10 years and The Bangles came to town with years of childhood memories in tow. With two parents working three jobs in the early 80s and a newly minted cable subscription, Adam Curry and Martha Quinn played babysitter while I emptied the contents of a lead E.T. lunchbox every afternoon onto the den floor and geeked out to “Music Television.”
The kids know it now as “MTV” and more for Teen Mom than Teena Marie but 30 years ago it was as important a tool for breaking a band as terrestrial radio and The Bangles were ubiquitous. Armed with an endless array of jangly rock tunes, Vicki (guitar/vox) and Debbi Peterson (drums/vox) harmonized in lockstep with megaton sex-bomb Susanna Hoffs to own the charts in the second half of the decade. It didn’t hurt to have Prince tossing the group earworm piano lines like “Manic Monday” or Hoffs’ two-pronged invasion into the sexual awakenings of adolescent boys everywhere.
First, give them early onset hypertension singing about doing “anything you want me to” and teaching “everything that a boy should know” with “In Your Room,” sporting a slick “Hey Mickey” beat and “Dancing With Myself” guitars. Then rock them to sleep with the band’s biggest hit, “Eternal Flame”. Between this and Axl Rose’s leather pants, 1987 was a wild fucking year for an 8 year old.
Speaking of the hits, The Bangles had enough to tour forever, new material or not, but since reuniting in the late 90s they’ve put a few records and EPs out including 2011’s Sweetheart of the Sun. Produced by frequent Hoffs collaborator Matthew Sweet of “Girlfriend” fame, it’s a more than capable set of traditional Bangles tracks that the 930 crowd was not there to hear. Not that they weren’t respectful – everyone listened politely as they banged out album opener “Anna Lee” and the southern boogie of “Ball and Chain” with Debbie on lead vocals.
But the unspoken contract with a $30-plus ticket is that you’re gonna get the hits, baby, and they commenced fairly early with the Simon and Garfunkel cover of “Hazy Shade of Winter” off of the Less Than Zero soundtrack (easily the biggest hit off the Rick Rubin produced record and conspicuously sandwiched between LL Cool J, Slayer, Public Enemy, and Danzig.) “Manic Monday’s” ode to Sunday fun, procrastination, and sex over sleep was a lot earlier in the set than I expected but endeared the crowd while setting them up for a few less popular songs. Just enough time for everyone to share beers and synchronous pogos during “If She Knew What She Wants” and tears and group hugs during “Eternal Flame.”
The night ended with “In Your Room” and “Hero Takes a Fall” off of their debut followed with the delightfully cheesy “Walk Like An Egyptian,” a family affair as openers Antigone Rising joined to dance ridiculously and add some vocals. Bottom line, these women are pros with the crowd wrapped around their fingers and certainly not dummies – no Cyndi Lauper blues-revue here.