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June 16, 2024

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Concrete Blonde
Live In Brazil (ARK 21 Records)

By: Vinnie Apicella

The talented post-Punk rockers rise up above the underground to do their first live album - in Brazil (one of two guaranteed successes along with Japan) - and featuring 2/3rd's of the band's originals, including Napolitano and Mankey, bass, vox, and guitars. The addition of drummer Gabriel Ramirez-Quezada adds a fighting element to the sound that's crisp, clear, and rather meaty, which considering the circuit, comes away impressive. The two-disc set captures CB in vintage form, some twenty years after they began as the unlikely Dream 6, hitting the flourishing Modern Rock stage at a time when names like Michelle Shocked, The Plimsouls, and Throwing Muses were spreading their own wings before later landing hard for lack of commercial viability. Concrete Blonde had both visibility and credibility with underground audiences and thus retained their element of cool even after entering the "major" leagues and IRS-induced climb to the top rung during the late '80s. Gifted vocalist Johnette Napolitano's never seemed to get the credit deserved for her singing talents. She, charming and disarming at the drop of a verse, stands out like few others regardless of gender, enticing the splendid pale of a peak hour moon to illuminate a midnight sky or as easily shatter the silence with a banshee's lustful wail. CB's songs are equally captivating on an emotional, social, and sexually subliminal level aided greatly by writhing plotlines, effectual resonant breaks, and vampiric overtones that cast the long shadow from then to now realizing true relevance in longevity over coming lately. And "Live In Brazil" is a career spanner to support the returning band in all that they've done and provide further evidence of plenty left. From the opening intensity of "God Is A Bullet" from '89s "Free" album to the soulful and sultry "Valentine," or the enticing "Everybody Knows." Johnette adopts the role of cosmic crooner to chaotic diva at cliff's edge for "Little Conversations" and is quickly followed by a muffled version of the classic "Caroline," which comes away clever, still powerful, but in no way does justice to the original uptempo rocker that would have made a better follow up to the quieter "Conversations." "Joey," the first hit from their "Bloodletting" 1990 breakthrough follows up in fine fashion for Johnette's mood leaping, mind boggling range, and a definite highlight among the mix. Disc Two features more recent work spotlighted by the bass beaten "Days and Days," seeing JN finally finding her bass - referring to an earlier reference somewhere between the "Conversations" and "Caroline" introduction of players - this anthemic piece goes full effect on the guitar work and features a mid song bug out before going big on closing choruses. "Violent" goes out to George Bush who had he even known the band was kind enough to donate a song in his honor, would surely arrange for their appearance at the next RPC, which might've gotten a bigger rouse than the apparently still-floored Brazilians saw fit to muster. But, frankly, it's not one of their stronger pieces yet should've been a bigger hit than maybe it was. For two discs and eighteen songs there's little to complain of catalog-wise, but I'll have my say and go on record to criticize for not including two all time classics criminally excluded from the set - "Jenny I Read" and "Heal It Up," from the incredible "Mexican Moon" release in '93. Hard to imagine not having it all with such a massive collection, and yet explains much in the storied and sometimes scattered career of Concrete Blonde, a true Rock n' Roll original that's seen 'em come and go. And continuous givers they are, they had a mind to include even their brief trip itinerary as well as the newcomer's guide to Brazil in the gatefold, a simple three page structure emblazoned in blood red and eye popping tribal art. "Live's" an essential collection for any Concrete fan or first timer searching for an answer in this grim world of godlessness and sadistic glamour.
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