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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Concrete Blonde's Unsentimental Exit

March 12, 1994|CHRIS WILLMAN

Johnette Napolitano wore pajamas to what was billed as Concrete Blonde's final gig Thursday at the Wiltern. Guess she's not kidding about calling it a night.

The full house had every right to see this quits-calling as tragedy, since for more than eight years, Concrete Blonde has been L.A.'s most consistently rewarding rock 'n' roll band, a power trio for the Angeleno ages. If "leave 'em wanting more" was the operative maxim in Napolitano's busting up the band, it's a successful exit.

It was certainly an unsentimental adieu Thursday, with minimal nostalgia waxed despite the singer's promise to "be sappy and corny tonight." There were a few intimations of possible bad blood, like when guitarist Jim Mankey--called to the microphone by Napolitano--reluctantly allowed that he would be sad, "because I can only look forward to poverty and obscurity." Her cheerful retort--that "many people have poverty and obscurity and joy as well!"--wasn't quite mending enough to lead to any group hugs at the close.

If they didn't go out arm in arm, the chemistry clicked as ferociously as ever in a set strong enough to make you fear they might never go on to circumstances so complementary. Napolitano's poignant wail, Mankey's liquid blues and Harry Rushakoff's drum thunder had one last go in a nearly two-hour show, culminating first with a revival of "Still in Hollywood," then a final ballad about someone not still in Hollywood, the AIDS-themed "Tomorrow Wendy."

If appropriate, the finale felt slightly anticlimactic, emotionally, and two conflicting sentiments lingered: All three talents will certainly thrive, and say it isn't so.

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