We were first introduced to Johnette Napolitano when her band, the great Concrete Blonde, appeared on the soundtrack for Alan Moyle’s vastly underrated Pump up the Volume. Their cover of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows hung around in our then adolescent ears long enough to drive us to seek out more from the band. Since we still listen to her music just as much as ever, we feel a responsibility in recommending that you join us when she returns to town to perform with opener Laurie Sargent at Johnny D’s In Somerville MA on Thursday April, 16th.
Concrete Blonde, named by their then I.R.S. Records labelmate Michael Stipe, started releasing music in 1986. Combining a mix of gothic, 80’s hollywood-rock, and a DIY punk-rock attitude and sound, Napolitano, a self-taught bass player, and her bandmates, released two great records before Bloodletting (arguably their most known album) was released in 1990. That album, and the single Joey brought them attention that lifted them past the reach of college radio and on to a national stage. 1992 brought Walking In London, more soundtrack and TV appearances and then a style-departure with Mexican Moon in 1993. However, after their last two albums were received poorly both critically and commercially (not mention internal fighting) Napolitano broke the band up.
Napolitano joined up with former Wall of Voodoo guitarist Marc Moreland to form Pretty & Twisted, who released their debut in 1995. Short-lived as the project was, the record is great and definitely worth looking up (we like Singing is Fire featuring lyrics by the late Charles Bukowski). She also recorded a solo album titled Sound of a Woman around 1996-1997, and performed many of the songs on a solo tour opening for Paul Westerberg. Unfortunately, that album was lost to a reorganization of her then record label will likely never be officially released. Rumor has it there are internet copies out there and if you find one, well… please take our money!
We find her previous releases and collaborations worthy of countless playlists and car rides and we cannot wait to see what her upcoming solo record Naked (reportedly due 09.22.15) has to offer; reportedly, she has been on the road and recording quite a bit. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that her Sketchbook series is what continues to captivate us. Filled with spoken-word pieces and home recordings, these three albums continue to fascinate with their stories, romance, frustration, and heartbreak.
We’re not quite sure what to expect on Thursday night at Johnny D’s — the internet set list sites report a few Concrete Blonde songs sprinkled over mostly newer solo work — but the thought of seeing her perform solo with just an acoustic guitar — as we have be told — leaves us wondering how early we can line up.
– Jonathan Pape
Jim Sullivan here: My two cents. I loved the short-lived Pretty & Twisted, Johnette’s searing take on manic-depression, “The Highs are Too High” (follow up line: “And the lows are much too low”) – pretty much nails it, aye? – and especially their version of Roxy Music’s “Mother of Pear,” linked here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGk5Co2DerI It’s a song I thought so distinctive to the original band it was virtually uncoverable – he speed-up slow-down, the Ferry-specific lyrics (“If you’re looking for love in a looking glass world/It’s pretty hard to find”) An excerpt of what I wrote for the Boston Globe in 1995:
There is no shame in admitting to being manic-depressive. In rock ‘n’ roll — being the mood-swing business that it is — it’s rather common currency. Think back to Roy Orbison’s sad songs, Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” or the Who’s “Quadrophenia.” More tragically, consider Del Shannon or Kurt Cobain.
f you can transmogrify that malady into art, creative things can happen. This would seem to be the case Mama Kin Music Hall vis-a-vis Pretty & Twisted’s singer Johnette Napolitano. You get the sense she is trying to rise above it all, and, maybe, somehow, she’s helping you do the same. Not that this is therapy — Pretty & Twisted rock hard, more so than their self-titled debut album suggests.
First song: the Carpenters’ sweet ‘n’ sour pop ditty “Hurting Each Other,” given much more grit by Napolitano’s dig-deep vocals. As with the recent alterna-rock Carpenters tribute album, you got to hear the anguish and feel the pathos under the syrup. Second song: “The Highs Are Too High,” a P & T original in which Napolitano answers the declaration of the title with a desultory purr of “the lows are way too low.” Guitarist Marc Moreland constructs a blitzkrieg of churning melody and noise: terse, wiry, eruptive.
Clearly, this is a band that’s serious about its fun.
At the end of the night, P & T left us with a clamorous, anxious original, “Don’t Take Me Down,” and followed with a double-time cover of Roxy Music’s “Mother of Pearl.” The latter is a lyrical and musical gem — “Well, I’ve been up all night / Party-time wasting / It’s so much fun” — where Napolitano ponders “life’s inner meaning and my latest fling.” She finds: “It’s the same old story / All of the glory / It’s a compromise — Looking for love in a looking-glass world is pretty hard to find.” P & T clattered along like a runaway train. And, while Napolitano echoed Bryan Ferry’s words, she brought something new, female and with an almost matter-of-fact world-weariness to it. Ferry seemed saddened by his revelation; Napolitano accepts it as the nature of modern love.
Pretty & Twisted spun out of Concrete Blonde, Napolitano’s semi-successful LA-based, late-’80s-and-early-’90s hard rock/punk band. Moreland used to play with the cryptic, spooky, twangy Wall of Voodoo. Drummer Dandy Montgomery met up with Napolitano in Paris last year. (Napolitano also wrote with Paul Westerberg, based a song around a Charles Bukowski poem and based one song around unpublished lyrics by Janis Joplin.) The meetings of these minds? Something that’s both comforting and disorienting. “No, Daddy, No” is creepy (incestuous?) and infectious; “Train Song (Edge of Desperation)” lets loose a lonesome wail as it rocks with a vengeance. There was a bit from the Beatles’ primal howl of a gut-wrencher “I Want You.”
Johnny D’s show starts at 7:30. Tix: $30.
17 Holland St., Somerville, 617-776-2004 www.johnnyds.com