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August 17, 2002

Big Name Entertainment

The Bangles at the California State Fair

by Margaret T. Minnick

Included in the price of admission to the California State Fair last night was "Big Name Entertainment" provided by the Bangles, that all-girl pop-rock band of the late 80s. I seem to be naturally (or perhaps unnaturally) attracted to faded stardom in all its forms, so I could not pass up the opportunity to see the Bangles slumming it Spinal Tap-style.

I'm not just saying this to sound cool, but in truth I never actually liked the Bangles. (Okay, well, I have a 45 of the song "Hazy Shade of Winter," but that was their only good song. Seriously!) My main memory of the Bangles' stardom and its impact on my life was teasing my friend's younger brother for having a Bangles poster in his bedroom. I was 14 and my ultra-sophisticated musical tastes leaned more in the direction of New Order and the Smiths.

So seeing the Bangles in concert at this late date didn't conjure up any "I wish I could have seen them in their prime"-type nostalgia for me, the way that a Smiths or, indeed, Foreigner concert might. Clearly there were others in the audience who felt differently, in particular a gumpy-looking guy behind us. (No, not nerdy, not geeky, but gumpy. If you don't know what it means I'm not sure that I can help you.)

Mr. Gump felt the need to scream "Manic Monday!" every time they finished playing a song that wasn't "Manic Monday." I'm not exactly sure what his deal was. I mean, did he really think that they wouldn't play "Manic Monday," which was one of their four or five hits?

They started out the show with "Hazy Shade of Winter," much to my pleasure. Unfortunately the sound hadn't really been properly mixed. The backing vocals were as loud as the lead vocals and the vocals in general were too loud for the music. This problem was worked out more or less by the third song, which was something off of their upcoming CD (!).

After playing a hit (the other two were "If She Knew What She Wants" and "In Your Room"), they would play 2 or 3 songs I didn't know, some of which were identified as "new" and others that I clearly would have known were I a Bangles aficionado (which, as I mentioned above, I am not, just in case you weren't clear on that).

They put on a pretty good show. 3 gals with guitars (Susanna Hoffs in her silver mini-skirt was pleasing to many, I assume) and one gal on the drums, all doing their parts and all that. They each sang at least one song, with the drummer pulling a Phil Collins (drumming and singing at the same time -- which always gives me a thrill but I'm not entirely sure why).

But I guess I still don't really like the Bangles. I think the diplomatic way to put it in common parlance would be that it's "not my thing." Their old songs were just as lame as ever, and their new stuff had fairly stupid lyrics (one song about always remembering some guy when it rains, rains, rains) and was very much conventional light rock music.

I actually read a short article about the Bangles a few months ago, about how they had gotten back together because they realized that they had always had a lot of fun playing music together and missed eachother and how the stardom had torn them apart, etc. And the article actually kind of endeared them to me and had me wanting to like them a little more than I had back in their heyday. But I guess in the end they are just a bunch of likeable ladies who make music that I don't really like.

But the rest the crowd seemed quite pleased. Everyone from Mr. Gump to teenagers to moms and kids were rocking along. After they played "Manic Monday," Mr. Gump changed his standing request to "Walk Like an Egyptian! Walk Like an Egyptian!" as if it weren't totally obvious that they would close the show with that song, their biggest hit. We wandered off to watch the hypnosis show before they satisfied his request, but I'm sure it brought the crowd to their feet.

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