THRILLVILLE: Will "the Thrill" Viharo's weird, wild world of Pulp Fiction, B Movies, & the Lounge Lizard Lifestyle.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Thrillville Reviews: DEVO and BLONDIE Live at the Warfield, San Francisco, 9/10/12

I grew up in South Jersey for nearly the duration of the decade of the 1970s. For reasons that still make no sense to me, I was pretty much kicked out of the state by my stepmother right before the end of the Spring school semester in 1979, and sent out to live with my father in Los Angeles. That didn't work out either, so I found myself on my own. I went to University High in West L.A. for one semester, dropped out, got my GED, then went to work supporting myself in a series of low paying odd jobs, a lifestyle that barely sustained me until I was in my 30s. I sublimated my frustrations creatively, writing novel after novel, beginning with Chumpy Walnut. Then I met a friend of a friend of my father's, a young actor named Mickey Rourke, whose subsequent success inspired my own artistic ambitions. Mick and I hit it off right away partly because both loved Elvis, but there was new music all around me that truly resonated with my sense of youthful rebellion - short, fast, hard songs that reminded me of vintage jukebox rock 'n' roll, but edgier and timelier. It was punk and New Wave, music I barely knew existed back in Jersey, which was still stuck in the disco era. Bands like Blondie, Devo, Talking Heads, The Blasters, The Stray Cats, The Ramones, The Go-Gos and The Cramps had an enormous impact on my psyche and soul. They provided the soundtrack to my independence in ways the Bee Gees and Elton John simply could not, since those artists represented my past, whereas Blondie and Devo were the sounds of my future echoing back at me. And now, over three decades later, I'm in that future, finally realizing the dreams of my youth.

Former Blondie guitarist Nigel Harrison signed this cocktail
napkin for me at a LA Club in 1994

So it seemed appropriate that I finally got to see two of my favorite bands live for the first time at this point in my life, this past Monday night, September 10, at the legendary Warfield Theater in San Francisco. It was a dream double bill programmed from hipster heaven, and the first time these two groups have toured together, making the experience seem that much more fresh and contemporary. Most significantly, at least subjectively speaking, the show seemed to bring my long, bumpy life journey full circle. They were both incredibly vibrant, energetic, raw, tight, polished, and fully engaged with the audience, knowing exactly what we wanted - a nostalgic experience that didn't make any of us feel old, but ageless. They rocked as if no years had passed at all, especially Devo, seemingly springing from a futuristic time capsule. Debbie Harry - who along with original co-founders Chris Stein and Clem Burke are the only original Blondie members still active in the band - is still the Golden Goddess of Geeky Glamour, effortlessly cool, but nobody on that stage took themselves too seriously. That's pretty much my "review." And that's enough for me. I don't feel the need to break it down from a critical viewpoint, since for one thing, I'm no pop music scholar, just a fan. In any case, I viewed and heard it all through the prism of personal triumph. 

Devo at the Warfield

Blondie at the Warfield

Monica Tiki Goddess went to the restroom - and came
returned with this Devo lucha mask..
Though this was the first time I saw either band perform live, I did get a chance to see Debbie Harry perform with the Jazz Passengers twice in the mid-90s, in San Francisco and Los Angeles. At the latter gig, I actually went up to the stage and gave her a customized version of "The Date That Never Was," a makeshift photo album depicting places I would have taken her on a date, a romantic ploy I originally created for a girl who worked with me at the blood bank, where I was employed as a delivery driver while writing the first Vic Valentine novel, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me. The initial stunt was unsuccessful, but it did find its way into the book - and now, possibly the movie with Christian Slater. When I handed this bit of psychotic creativity to Debbie, she accepted it cautiously, then looked at with a bemused expression, put it down on her music stand, and took it with her when she left. If anyone would "get it," she would. What a class act.

I never got the chance to enjoy the glory days of CBGB back in New York, or the Mabuhay Gardens here in San Francisco, so this night at the Warfield was a distant but welcome source of consolation. But I made my detective Vic Valentine come directly from that scene, "vic"ariously experiencing the birth of New Wave, still in love with Debbie Harry. And I'm still mining inspiration from the music in our mutual maturity. Cheers.

Below are some of my favorite songs, all of which were performed live at the gig:

Monday, September 24, 7:30, No Cover