Review + Setlist: Aging Gracefully with Girl-Group Pioneers the Bangles at the Pageant, Sunday, May 2

May 3, 2010 at 3:13 am
Bangles vocalist/guitarist Susanna Hoffs while singing "Eternal Flame" at the Pageant last night. - Annie Zaleski
Annie Zaleski
Bangles vocalist/guitarist Susanna Hoffs while singing "Eternal Flame" at the Pageant last night.

The Bangles saved its mega-hit, "Walk Like an Egyptian," for the last song of the encore. The three principal members of the Cali group - vocalist/guitarist Susanna Hoffs and sisters Debbi (drums/vocals) and Vicki Peterson (guitar/vocals) - moved to the front of the Pageant stage and shimmied as they performed their own music. They moved seamlessly into a snippet of the Who's "Magic Bus" before steering the tune back to its final chorus and jagged ending.

This fun romp capped a loose and lighthearted 90-minute set, which balanced hits with album cuts and fan favorites. A slower-than-usual "Hazy Shade of Winter" (think closer to the tempo of the Simon & Garfunkel original) started the night off on a low-energy note. That sluggish tone bled into second song "Restless," a '60s fuzzpop nugget which dates from 1984's All Over the Place. With the glittery, sun-kissed "Manic Monday" up next, however, the set started to pick up momentum.

If anything, the band grew stronger as the night wore on. Devoid of '80s production gloss and cheesy keyboards, "If She Knew What She Wants" dawned as a timeless pop song. "Ride the Ride," a bouncy watusi from 2003's Doll Revolution, featured breathtaking harmonies; so did that album's "The Rain Song," which Vicki dedicated to victims of flooding in Nashville. The rollicking rave-up "In Your Room" started off the encore on a perfect note; thanks to the vocal contributions (and enthusiastic dance moves) from openers Sick of Sarah, whom the Bangles invited onstage, the song evolved into a bubblegum barn-burner. Even "Eternal Flame," the prom-schmaltzy slow-dance, was a treat, mostly because of Hoffs' preserved-in-amber voice.

The Bangles' influences - girl-groups, '60s-era psych-pop, jangle-rock, punk - are rather straightforward; its many cover songs tend to come from these genres as well. Last night was no exception: A version of Big Star's "September Gurls" - a set staple - felt more poignant in light of Alex Chilton's sudden passing in March. An unexpected performance of Nazz's "Open My Eyes," on the other hand, was a clattering garage-punk nugget.

Bangles drummer Debbie Peterson, also looking fantastic. - Annie Zaleski
Annie Zaleski
Bangles drummer Debbie Peterson, also looking fantastic.

Besides die-hard fans, few people mention the collective musical talent found within the Bangles. But that's exactly what stood out at the show. The band's three-part harmonies were jaw-droppingly precise, as gorgeous and delicate as fine china. Hoffs and Vicki Peterson leaned back into rock-goddess poses constantly during the set, and also went knee-to-knee on a guitar duel near the end of "Hero Takes a Fall." That song also found Hoffs whipping her hair around her head in a slow headbang, like she was in a hair-metal band. Drummer Debbi took lead vocals on several songs and vacated her kit to strum an acoustic and sing several songs, including "Going Down to Liverpool." And the heavy psych-rocker "Watching the Sky" was a riff clinic and a nod to classic rock. (Bassist Derrick Anderson and keyboardist Greg Hilfman - the latter whose science-professor demeanor and excitement when performing was charming - anchored the music.)