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Go-Go's bring class reunion spirit to Wolf Trap

The stage goes dark. A single spotlight illuminates the drum set.

Gina Schock, barely visible behind the bass drum, pounds out a tribal tattoo.

Another spotlight, in front of the drums: Bass player Abby Travis, head bobbing in time, plays off the rhythm with a two-note bass figure.

As the figure repeats, new spots light up Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey, who punctuate it with an exclamation point, Ramones-style: “Hey!”

The guitars come crashing in, and Belinda Carlisle floats to center stage to add her tremulous warble: “Go – Get up and go!”

It’s a goodbye song, but opening the proceedings Thursday evening at Wolf Trap, it doubles as an invitation: The Go-Go’s have arrived. The party is on.

The female fivesome – original members Carlisle, Caffey, Wiedlin and Schock with newcomer Travis, who filled in for an injured Kathy Valentine last year and has now apparently won the starting job – brought a high school reunion feel to their 17-song set at the amphitheater in Vienna, Va.

Or maybe it was the crowd, heavy with middle-aged fans, some towing children, holding up cell phones to snap pictures or take video that might already be on YouTube by now.

Carlisle recalled the ’80s – or, rather, said the band didn’t remember them. She invited audience members onstage to dance to “Cool Jerk.” The feisty Schock, a Baltimore native, claimed a cousin had been kicked out of the venue for getting too drunk, and later brought out her mother, who she said was turning 87 Thursday – “and she is beautiful, for reals” – and led the audience in a round of “Happy Birthday To You.”

Musically, the sound the Go-Go’s of 2013 produce is more full than that on their trio of records in the early 1980s – now you can hear the punk roots they’ve always claimed.

That sound, which the band captured on its fine 2001 reunion album God Bless The Go-Go’s, serves the older material well, transforming “Vacation,” “Our Lips Are Sealed” and Carlisle’s solo hit “Mad About You” into guitar-driven power pop not far removed from, say, Green Day.

As it happens, they played only one song from God Bless – “Unforgiven,” co-written by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong – thought it might be their most satisfying album. The set list was heavy on the ’80s, with nine of the songs coming from Beauty and the Beat, the group’s 1981 debut.

And they threw in a couple of surprises: A garage band workout of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” and, best of all, combining “We Got The Beat” with Kiss’s “Rock and Roll All Nite.” How long have they been doing this? Whose idea was it? It was fantastic.

Opening was The Psychedelic Furs, the postpunk pioneers who have turned up regularly in the Baltimore-Washington area in recent years. Richard Butler makes a mesmerizing frontman, with his buzzsaw vocals and his expressive, almost balletic movement.

At Rams Head On Stage last year, the band seemed to be featuring keyboards high in the mix; on Thursday, it was the guitar of Rich Good that provided the pad for Butler’s vocals and Mars Williams' saxophone.

They played straight versions of several hits – “Love My Way,” “The Ghost in You,” and “Heaven,” among them – while combing the jangly guitar of the original Talk Talk Talk version of “Pretty in Pink” with the saxophone of the 1986 remake for a pleasing new hybrid.

And, as on other recent stops, they also introduced a fine new song. This time, it was “Little Miss World,” which, with a nursery rhyme verse leading to a minor-key refrain, sounded like an outtake from the second Love Spit Love record. More evidence that if they ever get around to putting out that new album they have long promised, it will be worth a listen.


Set lists

The Psychedelic Furs

Highwire Days


The Ghost In You

Heartbreak Beat

Little Miss World

No Easy Street


Love My Way


Pretty In Pink


The Go-Go’s

Get Up and Go



How Much More?

Mad About You


Fading Fast

Paint It, Black

Cool Places

Cool Jerk

This Town


Skidmarks on My Heart

We Got the Beat/Rock and Roll All Nite

Our Lips Are Sealed



Lust to Love

Head Over Heels

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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