I was wondering whether I’d be the youngest person at the Bangles show at the Orpheum Friday night, but it wasn’t so; there were plenty of other people my age. And you know who else goes to see the Bangles? Ten-year-old girls and their moms! Is it because the moms liked the Bangles when they were ten and want to introduce their daughters to the band? Or is there a Bangles song famous enough that current ten-year-old girls know about it? I think the former: my rule of thumb for figuring out what these kids today listen to is to look at playcounts on last.fm, and the Bangles have just 585,000, a bit ahead of Frankie Goes to Hollywood but well behind the Eurythmics, Duran Duran, and a-ha.
The Bangles lead off the set with three songs they didn’t write: “Hazy Shade of Winter” (Simon and Garfunkel), “Tear Off Your Own Head” (Elvis Costello), and “Manic Monday” (Prince). The Bangles are masterly interpreters of others’ songs; I think this is an underrated rock virtue. Their recording of “Hazy Shade of Winter,” for example, makes the original sound like a cruddy demo. Friday night’s version was a little too easygoing, but as the night went on the Bangles powered up and played their hits as rock numbers, guitar solos and all. They seemed to be having a good time, and so was I.
The band closed the set with “Walk Like an Egyptian,” another song they didn’t write, but which is impossible to imagine performed by anyone else. (The songwriter, Liam Sternberg, offered it to Toni Basil first! What a revolting alternate history that suggests.) Is this song the best #1 of the ’80s? I think only “Let’s Go Crazy” gives it serious competition.
Things that are great about “Walk Like an Egyptian”:
- Songs that sit on one chord for almost the whole verse are typically great — e.g. “Spirit in the Sky” (played on the soundsystem before the concert) and “Walk Like an Egyptian.”
- The way the Bangles trade off the lead vocal on the song; so that when you hear their famous harmony at last (“Way oh way oh, way oh way oh”) you’ve still got the individual pieces fresh in your mind.
- The part where they whistle (sadly, replaced in concert by a weird mini-cover of “Mrs. Robinson.”)
- And the lyrics of this song are great, great, great. They convey like nothing else the sense (kind of new at the time, at least to my teenaged self) that from now on we were going to see people all over the world acting in the same strange ways at exactly the same time. “The future belongs to crowds.” If you happen to be writing a book about 1980s culture, happiness, and consumerism, you should probably call it All the Kids in the Marketplace.
For the encore, the Bangles go garage and play a Seeds cover, “Pushin’ Too Hard” (which I learn from my diligent research was always a Bangles live staple) then close with the obligatory “Eternal Flame,” in which they relax and let the audience do most of the singing.
Here’s a 1986 profile of the Bangles to give some sense of how people saw them when they were big.
Here’s what the Bangles sounded and looked like 25 years ago, opening for the English Beat:
And just for fun, here’s a strange video of the Seeds themselves performing “Pushin’ Too Hard” on a sitcom sometime in the late ’60s. Great dancing.