[live review] The Bangles at the Wilbur Theater

Guest blogger Clea Simon reports on the Bangles' show a the Wilbur Theater on Tuesday night;

Time, time, see what’s become of them. . . . Thirty years may have passed, but as amply proven on the new Sweetheart of the Sun, LA’s Bangles are still mining the best of ’60s pop, combining real rock guitar with girl-group vocals for a sound at once sweet and pure. Although the multipart harmonies of the Peterson sisters and rhythm guitarist/putative frontwoman Susanna Hoffs were slightly muffled on Tuesday in the cavernous Wilbur, Vicki Peterson’s guitar rang out — and enough of the mix came through to show the kinship between new songs (such as the album — and set — opener “Anna Lee [Sweetheart of the Sun]”) and old (notably the late-set “Hero Takes a Fall”).

In the 90-minute show, the trio (with Derrick Anderson replacing longtime bassist Michael Steele and keyboardist Greg “Harpo” Hilfman) interspersed tracks from the new disc, from drummer Debbi Peterson’s rave-up “Ball and Chain” (rockabilly, except for that trademark Bangles pop bridge) and the jangly ode to a Didion-esque depression, “Under A Cloud,” with their usual well-chosen covers (Katrina and the Waves’ “Going Back to Liverpool,” Big Star’s “September Gurls,” and the Nazz’s “Open My Eyes,” among others).

But not all was sweetness and jams as the quality of both the classics (Jules Shear’s “If She Knew What She Wants” anyone?) and the new material (produced by Matthew Sweet, that master of power pop) also served to expose the relative flatness of the band’s radio hits, especially the Prince-penned “Manic Monday” and the treacly “Eternal Flame,” both simplistic Hoffs star vehicles that bury the collaborative soul of the band.

Still, it was hard to dislike that other chart-breaker, “Walk Like an Egyptian,” which was buoyed by the insertion of the Who’s “Magic Bus,” if not by local memory of a certain Swinging Erudites’ parody. In terms of mass popularity, nothing on the new album is likely to eclipse those earlier chart-toppers, but if the core trio keeps on playing rock for grownups, it’s a good bet they’ll die before their music gets old.

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