Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals Rock L. A.

Johnette Napolitano and her now defunct Pretty & Twisted.

There was something momentarily unsettling about Johnette

Napolitano's final glance into the crowd at the Concrete Blonde and Los

Illegals show Monday night (May 5) at L.A.'s House of Blues. It was, in part,

the glance of gratefulness that she always gives her fans at the end of her

performances, yet there seemed to be a disturbing nostalgia attached to it.

Jutting her chin so she could see the crowd under her big, teased bangs, she

revealed a hungry, teary-eyed look.

Still in Hollywood, that girl.

And yes, she did sing it--the song that not only defined Concrete Blonde the

band but also L.A. the city from a mid-1980s punk-rock point of view. On Monday

the verses were still the same, but the chorus was not--instead of "Still in

Hollywood," it was "Still in the Barrio." And Napolitano wasn't the only one

carrying the chorus--the members of Los Illegals, as well as her significant

other in Concrete Blonde, guitarist Jim Mankey, were shouting along with her.

It was during this song that the night proved its sense and viability in

the most tangible terms. Here, nostalgia was kept at bay, because it was given

a current, if translated, twist. At first, it seemed a little negligent that

the reunion of one of L.A.'s most memorable bands (CB called it quits after a

10-year hiatus in 1993) was stuffed into a package celebration of Cinco de Mayo

and the release of the collaborative "rock en Espanol" album called Concrete

Blonde y Los Illegals. But, as the night progressed, it became increasingly

clear that the constant participation of the Los Illegals members--even

during the few CB songs--not only saved the show from the depths of

sentimentality but also gave it meaning and resonance beyond that night.

The unity on stage and the possibility of greater unity through music

loomed prominently in your face--this was no yesterday fest; this was a tight

crossing of fingers for a less messy tomorrow. Set in this context, the CB

tunes were beyond being just the enduring rock &

roll they are. They fit

comfortably among songs from the new album, which features mostly Spanish-sung

vocals by Napolitano and Los Illegals' commanding leader Willie Herron, as well

as a few well-chosen covers, which included Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" and

Hendrix's "Little Wings." Without exception, the show was seamless and sizzling--including

the opening performance by L.A.'s most popular Latin punk band,

Maria Fatal, whose latest album was produced by Napolitano and Los Illegals.

Undeniably, Napolitano, whose post-CB work as a musician has included

Vowel Movement and Pretty & Twisted, as well as a brief stint last fall as the

leader of the touring Heads, was the main attraction for the crowd, which was

mostly English-speaking and full of diehards who screamed her name each time

she opened her mouth, played a chord, shook her ass, or did, well, anything.

With her unique, throaty voice as the best instrument on stage, she gave a

gripping performance as she poured on the passion in her own signature, genuine

way.

During the final song, a Latin-influenced rendition Concrete Blonde's

biggest radio hit "Joey," Napolitano was obviously affected by the crowd's roar

of the lyrics. Her voice cracked as she struggled to get through it, but she

came back in the final verse with startling emotion in her voice. After it was

over she was again humble with Thank Yous and Graciases. And then came that

pained, nostalgic look. But Napolitano kept on walking.