Monday, May 30, 2011

The Go-Go's Go Wild In Hershey PA

[Note: The regular Monday feature, New Wave For The New Week, will return next week.]

It only took me 30 years, but last night I crossed off another from the "Bands I Need To See Live" section of my personal bucket list.  The Go-Go's played at The Hershey Theater in Hershey, PA last night - a show that was a wonderful combination of music, party and nostalgia for the good-ol-days.

My friend Janel and I could not have timed our arrival at the venue much better.  We saw the lines outside, and given the heat and humidity of the day, neither of us were thrilled with the idea of waiting outside. No worries, as it turned out.  No sooner did we take our place in line than the ushers opened doors and let everyone in.  As someone who has attended innumerable shows at innumerable clubs in innumerable towns over the past 25 years, I can tell you, that never happens!  If anything, the doors are going to open late.  It was a sign that a good evening lie ahead.

And yes, I did say "ushers," not "bouncers."  The Hershey Theater is just that - a beautiful old theater with stage, orchestra pit, and tiered seating.  Seating! Again, after years of standing on hard concrete beer-soaked floors crammed sardine-like beyond fire code limits in warehouse-style spaces to see many of my favorite bands, the concept of sitting in plush, upholstered theater seats was a foreign one.  No matter, because The Go-Go's were greeted with an enthusiastic standing ovation when they took the stage and launched into "Vacation;" for the rest of the show, hardly anyone sat down.

I know from live recordings I have heard over the years that, much as I love them, hearing The Go-Go's live is a bit of a gamble.  When they're on, they're awesome, but when they're having an off night they have been known to induce a cringe or two among my circle of friends.  Last night may have only been the second night of the current Ladies Gone Wild Tour, but they were most definitely on! They were energetic and entertaining, and looked like they were having as much fun as the crowd.  Nothing is worse than catching a band on a night when they look and sound like they'd rather be anywhere else but there; The Go-Go's were definitely not one of those bands last night.

Their set relied heavily on their 1981 debut album Beauty And The Beat (naturally, as this year celebrates the 30th anniversary of that LP, now available in a special anniversary reissue), but they pulled some from every album, even giving the single from 1994's Return To The Valley Of The Go-Go's compilation, "The Whole World Lost Its Head," a run-through, as well as Belinda Carlisle's solo hit "Mad About You" and Jane Wiedlin's wonderful collaboration with Sparks, "Cool Places."  Most surprising was a decidedly excellent cover of The Rolling Stones' "Mother's Little Helper."  For their second encore and final song, they went deep into their back catalog to play "Fun With Ropes," which only ever saw release in a roughly recorded version included on Return.  Have to say, getting to see The Go-Go's perform "Our Lips Are Sealed" ranks up there with the best performances of favorite songs I have ever seen. A nice touch:  having never played Hershey before, they dedicated Beauty's "This Town" to Hershey, PA, changing the line "it is so glamorous" to "it is so chocolatey..."

The theater was packed with eager Go-Gos fans and bouncing beach balls, which also kept the energy level high.  We agreed heading in that neither of us could predict what kind of crowd might be showing up. It was fascinating to do a bit of people watching: there were families with kids who couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 bopping along happily with the music; there were folks in our age group, some in full rock-and-roll costume, others as preppy as you could imagine; there was a large older contingent, too.  Everyone knew the songs and sang and clapped along and had a great time, though.

All in all, one of the more fun shows I've been to in awhile, and I sure won't complain about not having to sit through a series of opening bands.  I had hoped to get a chance to get to thank the band for their music and maybe get a record or two signed - who knows when or if they'll be back on the East Coast again! - but that didn't happen.  So, Belinda, Jane, Kathy, Charlotte and Gina - if you're reading this, thank you for the past 30+ years, and thank you for a great time last night in Hershey!