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Music Preview: Concrete Blonde reassembles for some 'Group Therapy'

Friday, February 15, 2002

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

The cover of Concrete Blonde's reunion album shows a hardwood chair outfitted with restraints you'd find in an old mental ward. The title is "Group Therapy."

Concrete Blonde -- Jim Mankey, Johnette Napolitano and Harry Rushakoff -- always had trouble fitting in in L.A.

It's meant as a smile, presumably, but the serious subtext is that the members of Concrete Blonde, like their darkly gothic rock, are a bit on edge mentally.

Guitarist Jim Mankey explains how playing with Concrete Blonde again may have kept him and his volatile partners -- singer-bassist Johnette Napolitano and drummer Harry Rushakoff -- out of the chair.

"I guess I wouldn't be telling stories on Johnette to say that one night, she called me at 2 in the morning. She needed someone to come get her, she thought people were trying to kill her. She was living at the beach for a while, wouldn't go back to her house. I went and got her and convinced her to go to a shrink. She got much better, of course, but all of us had our problems and it seemed like good therapy to play again."

They'd been down since 1994, when Concrete Blonde called it quits after the "Mexican Moon" tour and 12 years of mixed success that included five albums, the Top 20 single "Joey," and the kind of college radio play that "alternative" bands got back in those days. Concrete Blonde is generally referred to as coming out of the Los Angeles post-punk scene that produced bands like X, Wall of Voodoo and the Plimsouls, but Mankey doesn't exactly see it that way.

Concrete Blonde

WHERE: Club Laga, Oakland.

WHEN: Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.

TICKETS: $20 advance; $23 door. 412-323-1919.

BAND WEB SITE: www.concreteblonde.org


"There was this L.A. thing going on, punk or new wave, but nobody wanted to have anything to do with us. We weren't particularly punkish. We had a hell of a time finding people to play with us. We had one guy, he wore a surgical mask because he didn't want his friends to know who it was. Later on, we started getting some popularity and all these people still didn't want to have anything to do with us because, apparently, we were too commercial at that time. It may be my own bitter, misanthropic outlook -- and I'm seeking professional help to get me over that kind of thing -- but none of us were particularly sociable, and nobody wanted to have anything to do with us. So," he adds laughing, "[screw] them all."

This time around, they were determined at least to get along with each other. After they brought Rushakoff back into the fold, they rented three months of rehearsal space to begin working on the comeback. Mankey says it took about an hour and a half to get used to playing together again, and then it flowed like in the old days: Napolitano's mahogany vocals over the fat bass and somber jangle of the guitar.

"She would take whatever we came up with and come back the next day waving reams of paper, saying, 'Hi! I have lyrics!' She's of course the one with things to say."

Napolitano came in with songs like "Roxy," an ode to Roxy Music, the hard-rocking "Violent," a lament on modern times, and the more personal "When I Was a Fool," on which she declares, "I'm free to a fault/ 45/ playing guitar/ living my life/ I fly down the highway/ sun on my face/ I belong to nobody, I belong to no place."

"Group Therapy," released on the indie Manifesto Records, is not likely to be any threat to Creed on the charts, but it's getting good reviews and the band played a sold-out show this week in New York. Mankey, a native of Washington, Pa., says that he's been in other bands before, including Sparks, but that there's something special in the Concrete Blonde chemistry.

"Someone pointed out to me, 'There's a great intensity when you play together.' And I kind of stepped back and observed that there is more going on there, particularly from Johnette's performance. She puts every little bit of strength she can into every performance. I can see watching other performers that they care, but it seems like a job. For us, it's the only thing that seems to make us happy."

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