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NIGHT LIFE / THE CLUB SCENE

Dark Roots : 'It can be pretty tough being the opening act,' says Concrete Blonde guitarist Jim Mankey.

October 08, 1992|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Everyone hates concrete except developers. You know where they stand--they're sitting behind the wheel of a cement truck heading gleefully for the last vacant lot in town. Maybe the appropriately named Concrete Blonde can play at the official end of our quality of life.

The band hasn't been around as long as developers, but singer/songwriter Johnette Napolitano has a voice as powerful as a cement truck flying down the Conejo Grade with no brakes.

The band got going in 1986 and has four albums to date, including the latest, "Walking In London." The trio, which also includes Jim Mankey on guitar and Harry Rushakoff on drums, will stop by the venerable Ventura Theatre on Monday night. Opening will be Australian Chris Baley who used to be in the Saints.

Make no mistake about it, the lead cement head is Napolitano, who's not even blond. She slithers, slides, moans and groans, crawls on her belly and generally sings up a storm. Off visiting relatives in the Carolinas, Napolitano is the voice on stage, but this time, Mankey was the voice on the phone, talking about his favorite band. "I think our music is fairly unique," he said. "Johnette's unable to really see anything much but herself--all her stuff is really personal."

Concrete Blonde is an L. A. band. L. A.'s the place where tourists mistake each other for movie stars. And in L. A. most people are in a band, out of a band, or thinking about a band--while working at a convenience store where they can read Rolling Stone for free. Everyone else is trying to be an actor.

"Is there an L. A. scene?" asked Mankey rhetorically. "It's nothing but fear and loathing these days. You see kids get off the bus at the bus station every day carrying their guitar bags. Then they head for the Guitar Institute, then up to Santa Monica Boulevard to sell themselves. There's always plenty of musicians hanging around outside the union, probably 99% of the members aren't working."

Mankey didn't have to deal with bus stations, having grown up in La Puente in a musical family, and dreaming those rock 'n' roll dreams. "My dad plays music and my uncle is a professional musician," Mankey said. "Since I was 12 years old, I fantasized about being up there on stage and meeting a bunch of girls."

But somehow it didn't quite work out the way he envisioned.

"Johnette is the one that has a lot of groupies. Guys usually throw roses onto the stage, and lately, a lot of condoms."

Equally as famous as their music has been Concrete Blonde's lengthy battle with their record label, I.R.S. No, not them-- this I.R.S. is infinitely cooler than you-know-who. During their legal hassles, the band supported itself through endless touring. It still hasn't ended.

"We finally came to an agreement over our music problem," Mankey said. "Right now, we owe I.R.S. one more album. I don't think it would be news to say that for a long, long time, we've wanted to change labels. I just don't see any other way we could've gone about this. Maybe, we could've starved longer, but we starved long enough. Anyway, we in a large part have things worked out. . . . A new album could be out by March."

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