The Bangles: The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA 11/08/2011

Photo Credit: Rebecca Wilson

The Bangles deserved a night at San Francisco’s storied Fillmore on November 8th. After thirty years together, riding the highs and lows of being one of two all-female bands going to top of the charts repeatedly in the 80’s, the group has all the hallmarks of a legendary act: a litany of diverse hits, a harmonized sound that is unmistakably theirs, a strong grasp on songwriting and a surprisingly strong live show. The Bangles aren’t just a group of cute girls singing “Walk Like An Egyptian;” rather, they’re seasoned pros, demonstrating their accomplished rock veteran status in an easygoing manner. What’s more — the Bangles made it abundantly clear that the they had nothing to prove.

Three of the four of the original hit-making lineup, Susanna Hoffs and sisters Debbi and Vicki Peterson came out to support their new album Sweethearts of the Sun (2011). Former member and Runaways veteran Michael Steele continued her sit-out of all things Bangles started in 2005. “We’re glad and slightly surprised we’re back with the new record,” said Vicki Peterson in the middle of the impressive twenty-two song set. And what a set it was. Gracefully interspersing the compulsory catalog of hits with a few lesser-known songs from albums new and old, the band crescendoed into an uninterrupted three-song run (“Ride My Ride”, the underrated “In My Room” and “Hero Takes A Fall”) at the end of the main show that did not fail to impress.

The band’s construction of the setlist, the group’s longevity and their playing skills were inspiring and entertaining. However, most engaging was the women’s ability to balance the vocals and attention-grabbing between the three of them, especially considering it was the press, producers and public’s disproportionate attention to Hoffs that caused friction and broke up the band in 1989. Not many groups can say all members can equally rock out on their instruments and still take on lead vocals, but the Peterson sisters and Susannah Hoffs all graciously shared the spotlight. What’s even more astounding is that all three sounded fantastic, with only one false start on “The Rain Song” and the keyboardist falling out of rhythm and getting glares from Vicki on the difficult Prince track “Manic Monday.” Most surprising, and not to mention rare, was the sheer strength of Debbi Peterson on songs like “Liverpool,” which does not come through on her studio vocals for Sweetheart of the Sun.

Anyone seeing a Bangles show is a better connoisseur of rock and pop for having done so. A viewer doesn’t just see how a band holds it together after thirty years and still seem fresh and compelling– they also witness how to create a harmonized sound that makes a band as differentiated as the Beach Boys or Mamas and Papas, how to play a solid pop song written by Prince as well as Stevie Nicks and how a group of women can rock it out just as well as the Gogos or former member Michael Steele’s Runaways. There are not many acts in the industry who can be exemplars of so much, and even fewer who are still together playing as well as they always have.

Anna Lee
Hazy Shade of Winter
Some Dreams Come True
Manic Monday
Ball ‘n’ Chain
I’ll Never Be Through With You
The Rain Song
If She Knew What She Wants
September Gurls
He’s Got a Secret
Under a Cloud
Going Down to Liverpool
Eternal Flame
Get the Girl
Open My Eyes
Ride the Ride
In My Room
Hero Take a Fall

Sweet and Tender Romance
Walk Like an Egyptian/Magic Bus

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