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.