[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Friday, July 9.]
SAN FRANCISCO The outfits were half the fun.
At the jam-packed Go-Go's show at the Maritime Hall on Wednesday, nostalgia was the order of the day. Leg warmers, headbands, eyeliner, punky garbage-bag dresses and spiky hair were spotted in the crowd. A group of men wore towels and facial masks, emulating the cover of the Go-Go's' first album, Beauty and the Beat (1981).
"Of course we had to be here!" laughed Tracy Leicester, who'd driven about 50 miles from Novato with her sister and who gave her age as "over 30." "Wouldn't miss this for the world!"
The crowd politely received opening bands the Lunachicks another all-female band and '80s Los Angeles mainstays Berlin. Berlin cranked out some of their greatest hits, including "The Metro," "Sex (I'm A ...)" and the schmaltzy 1986 smash "Take My Breath Away."
The 1,700-person hall was full, and people crowded even closer to the stage as the house music cranked up a few extra notches during "Thank Heaven for Little Girls."
Walking out with no announcement or fanfare (apart from the screams of the crowd), the Go-Go's' four instrumentalists guitarists Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey, bassist Kathy Valentine and pink-haired drummer Gina Schock hoisted their gear and launched into a surf instrumental, "Surfing and Spying." The twisty little number was the B-side to the Go-Go's' biggest hit, "We Got the Beat," and it got the crowd moving.
Singer Belinda Carlisle shimmied onto the stage halfway through the song, accepting the thunderous applause with obvious relish. Barefoot, wearing a paisley top and slim capri pants, she danced between the musicians and mic stands, waving at the crowd and looking every bit the diva.
"Head Over Heels," from the Go-Go's' third and last studio album, Talk Show (1984), put Carlisle in front of the mic. Her voice hasn't changed in the nearly 20 years since the band hit the limelight: a little thin on the high end, but dulcet, clear and so familiar.
Wiedlin, looking as elfin and sweet as she did in 1981, rocked happily behind her sparkly gold guitar. Singing backup harmonies in a high, little-girl voice, she seemed to garner as much applause just for smiling at the crowd as the rest of the band did for singing or playing. The crowd was driven even more insane after the third song, when she stripped off her T-shirt and played the rest of the show in a black lace bra.
"They all look amazing," Jim Hairns, 34, of Concord, said. "They were [considered] the cute, cool girls when I was in high school. Now they're just plain hot."
"They just seem to be having such a good time," his wife, Caroline, 32, added. "You can tell they know each other so well, and they look like they're still friends. Or maybe friends again."
They have 20 years of experience performing together, albeit sporadically, under their belts. Since breaking up in 1985, they seem to have established a routine of announcing a reunion every five years, touring, and then splitting up again. But their stage manner is relaxed and friendly, both with the audience and each other. There was plenty of off-mic chatting, as they shared private comments and laughs among themselves.
If they were at all bored by playing the same songs they've been doing for 20 years, they didn't let it show.
"This next song is off of an album called Beauty and the Beat," Carlisle said at one point. "Perhaps you've heard of it."
The audience, packed in like sardines, roared even louder as the band swung into "This Town." People danced, eyes closed and heads back, belting out lyrics from their high-school days.
The songs lost nothing for being nostalgic. As musicians, the Go-Go's have solid chops and expensive equipment dramatic changes from their lean days as a scrappy L.A. punk band in the late 1970s. Their playful, medium-hard mixture of surf, rock, punk and bubblegum seems to have a timeless appeal.
They saved their best-known songs for later in the set, putting "Vacation" about midway through and waiting until the end for "Cool Jerk" their cover of a 1966 hit by the Capitols and "We Got the Beat" (RealAudio excerpt).
"I can't believe this!," screamed one unidentified 30-ish woman in the ladies' room before tossing away her cigarette and hurtling out the door. "We're smoking in the girls' bathroom and the Go-Go's are playing! We're in high school! It's 1985! God, let's get out there before they play 'Our Lips Are Sealed'
The Go-Go's ended their main set with that song. The hall reverberated with 1,700 voices screaming the familiar refrain: "Hey hey hey ... Our lips are sealed."
They left the stage and returned almost immediately to encore with another oldie, "Can't Stop the World," followed by a newer take on that theme with "The Whole World Lost Its Head," which they recorded for the 1994 compilation Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's.
As the audience swooned, the Go-Go's swung into a typically bouncy intro. Stepping up to the mic, Carlisle winked mischievously and started singing Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On." Fans gawked in surprise and then started dancing. They managed to make even that titanic top-40 staple sound as if it had been a Go-Go's song all along.
There were still a few surprises, as the band segued effortlessly into "Johnny, Are You Queer?" a Josie Cotton new-wave nugget. Again, the audience knew all the words, and again everyone danced as if they were teenagers. Winding up the finale, the Go-Go's gave their last waves, blew kisses and sent the crowd back to their grown-up lives.