Background: I have always been a big fan of pop music from the 1980's and recent improvements in how concerts are recorded has given this love of music a big boost compared to the really lame sounding concerts I used to hear on cable television so many years ago (which would either play the sanitized album versions with the bands lip synching or have all sorts of audio impairments that rendered many of them unlistenable for me). Modern technology has also allowed skilled engineers the ability to clean up older tracks considerably though I'll be the first to admit that more recent concerts have sounded a lot better to me (even if not as polished as studio tracks and their infinite retakes). Having reviewed some really good concerts in recent years by artists like Tori Amos, Kylie Minogue, Pat Benatar, Sugarcubes, Journey, Human League, Selena, Yoko Ishida, and Berlin; I've tried picking up other bands' works that I enjoyed. Well, one of my favorite groups from the 80's, a band comprised of some attractive (but more importantly, TALENTED) ladies called The Bangles has been touring of late and finally released a concert they shot at the House of Blues back in September of 2000 in the form of The Bangles: Return to Bangleonia and I'm pleased at the results to say the least.
The group was a big seller in the 1980's, the darling of soundtracks such as Goonies, Less Than Zero, and a host of smaller projects that included small acting roles as the quartet of attractive women were the rising stars in a field replete with wannabe's that couldn't play instruments and were known for being eye candy the producers could "construct" a winning formula with. The Bangles, on the other hand, were always competent musicians and their vocal talents harmonized enough that none of them could truly be considered the "lead" vocalist, even though the press and some promoters tried very hard to push Susanna Hoffs as such. Debbi Peterson on drums, her sister Victoria on guitar (along with Susanna), and Michael Steele on bass rounded out the recorded lineup for the group that was best known for such hits as Manic Monday, Walk Like An Egyptian, In Your Room, Hazy Shade of Winter, and Eternal Flame among others. As a sign of "making it big", the resulting parody songs heard on the radio (my favorite being a Boston DJ's Walk With An Erection proving to be the funniest), were numerous and the pressures of touring eventually took their toll on the ladies, resulting in them going their separate ways; Susanna releasing a couple of decent solo efforts but none of them reaching their previous levels of success. Ten years apart saw a mini-reunion of sorts as some of them got together for work on a few of the Austin Powers' comedies and the four then started recording again to result in a tour in 2000 for the concert being reviewed here.
Concert: The Bangles: Return to Bangleonia is a 71:45 minute long concert taken all from a single show. I know that it is increasingly popular to take a few songs from various venues on a tour, trying to get the best sounding versions or add more interest due to the improvised versions that occur on tours but I can't stress enough that such manipulation tends to perceptibly alter the chemistry and energy of the end result. Bangleonia was therefore a special effort, giving each of the gals a chance to shine with songs that catered to each of them as individuals as well as the group hits everyone wanted to hear. The addition of Greg Hilfman on keyboards was the only semi-noticeable irritant, Debbi picking up her guitar to play up front for a few songs (most notably for Going Down To Liverpool), and the others looking great as they sang & played in the comfortable venue (compared to the arenas they had once played, it sounded a lot better too).
I listened primarily to the 5.1 track (it had a 448 Kbps bitrate too) and while I wished the show had been in anamorphic widescreen as it was shot (at least the cameras looked widescreen and the credits mentioned it as such), the camera work and edits were not obtrusive at all compared to many similar productions. The effect of the candles burning on the stage was a bit strange but as the gals mentioned in the commentary (the three left in the band at least), it worked for them and lent something to the mood they were seeking to set. Sonically, the vocals sounded real and not canned, no obvious lip synching going on for the purists to fuss about; proving yet again that the ladies are a top notch live band rather than an overly produced studio band as most of their peers turned out to be. The tracks in order were:
1. Hazy Shade Of Winter
2. Live BANGLES
3. If She Knew What She Wants
4. Between The Two
5. The Rain Song
6. Manic Monday
7. Here Right Now
8. September Gurls
9. Going Down To Liverpool
10. I Will Take Care Of You
11. Get The Girl
12. In Your Room
13. Stealing Rosemary
14. Angels Don't Fall In Love
15. Hero Takes A Fall
16. Walk Like An Egyptian
17. Pushin' Too Hard
18. Eternal Flame
19. Manic Monday (acoustic version in the extras section)
20. Ride The Ride (acoustic version in the extras section)
Whatever the reason for their reunion when this was shot, Michael Steele left the band a few years ago IIRC, sometime after their warmly received Doll Revolution (though it was under represented on this concert, perhaps the majority of songs from the 2003 release not quite worked out when the concert was shot in 2000) to pursue more time with her family. In this sense then, the line up for the concert was the same as for the hits recorded years prior and that alone is increasingly rare these days as egos clash and personalities that flared years ago have never reconciled as The Bangles did for this one. I would have preferred it last longer and have some of the covers fans have reportedly appreciated at their concerts over the years but I doubt anything they ever do from here on out with be quite that same with the absence of Michael so taking it as a whole, I found this an easy concert to rate as Highly Recommended; thanks to the talent of the ladies, the extras, and the way the project was handled overall.
Picture: The Bangles: Return to Bangleonia was presented in a letterboxed color offering by director Kerry Asmussen, edited by Paul Hendrix, and produced by Katie McNeil (with the DVD handled by Shawn Amos). The ending credits mentioned a lot about it being shot in HD so I was a bit disappointed that it was not in anamorphic widescreen but perhaps they are saving that for a future release in Blu-Ray or HD-DVD. The colors were accurate, there was no edge enhancement, and the clarity was substantially better than many concerts I've seen shot over the years; the ladies looking just fine as the heat of the moment had them sweating real sweat and looking the part.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of tracks including a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround in 448 Kbps or a standardized DD 2.0 in 224 Kbps. The concert venue was acoustically fair and most of the songs sounded good, though not studio perfect (as some people complain about). There was some minor distortion in one of the channels during a few sounds but the remixed 5.1 tracks actually had a lot of head space and separation; making it the clear winner for me to listen to this time. The clarity of the vocals was handled nicely and the balance between the instruments and vocals among the best I've heard from an 80's band in concert. I noticed no lip synching going on as newer bands are known for in concert and I hope they recorded other concerts using the same crew given the results here.
Extras: The best extra in many ways was the audio commentary by the three remaining band members from the recording line up (Susanna Hoffs and the Peterson sisters), recorded more recently than the concert itself. They went into a lot of detail about the band's history, where they are going now, and even made some comments about their interesting gig in Houston (where they were brought in to commission a freeway overpass to adoring fans, despite structural problems that almost ended their collective careers). It lasted the entire length of the concert and added some solid value for this fan. Along the same lines was a 16:21 minute long interview by Susanna Hoffs and the Peterson sisters on a couch. There was some material repeated from the commentary but most of it was not talked about on the track so it proved to add value as well. Fans will also like the inclusion of two "sort of" acoustic versions of Manic Monday and Ride The Ride; I say sort of because the gear was all plugged in and Susanna made it clear that she greatly prefers electric guitar for the driving power and liberated feeling it gives her. Lastly, there was a photogallery included and a paper insert complimenting the double sided DVD cover.
Final Thoughts: The Bangles: Return to Bangleonia was a nice bit of nostalgia but it served notice that the Bangles are not through yet, a recent tour well underway even if they are skipping most of the country this time (many 80's bands seem content to play in limited concerts on "Nostalgia Tours" with contemporaries that provide shorter sets; something the group claimed they did not want to do). If you're a fan of the ladies, you'll undoubtedly know that their official website goes into great detail about their projects, biographies, and history so check it out at The Bangles Official Website for more information on the band. As far as The Bangles: Return to Bangleonia is concerned then, the audio, video, and extras all made this affordable DVD concert a winner in my book; making me wonder if they will ever release a complete set of their recordings from when they were called The Bangs up until their recently recorded stuff, maybe even some of the reported jam sessions that proved they could wing it with the best in the industry. Until then, this one should tide us all over a spell so check it out.