The Go-Go’s said goodbye to the road with a triumphant 19-song set Tuesday night (Aug. 30) at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, less than five miles from the Masque, the long-defunct punk club where the band began 38 years ago.
While the group hasn’t had a hit or released new material in 15 years, its impact is still being felt on pop culture. In recent months, an a cappella version of their 1984 hit “Head Over Heels” turned up in a Honda commercial. On the other side of the spectrum, guitarists Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey contributed chapters to Under the Big Black Sun, John Doe and Tom DeSavia’s chronicle of the L.A. punk scene. And their place in pop history is secure — they remain the first and, so far, only all-female band to play their own instruments to top the Billboard 200, a feat they accomplished in 1981, when Beauty and the Beat, their debut album, spent six weeks at the summit.
Along with the success came the typical rock ‘n’ roll excesses of substance abuse and infighting that tore the band apart during its initial run in 1985. Since then, the band has reunited, split and regrouped. They’ve vowed this trek — titled Going, Going, Gone: The Farewell Tour — is their last, although they may do occasional one-off dates and are working together on a jukebox musical featuring their music.
Tuesday night at the Greek, the quintet seemed to savor the bittersweet significance of its final touring gig on its home turf. The band took the stage to Grand Funk’s 1973 cock-rock anthem “We’re an American Band” with singer Belinda Carlisle pounding on a cowbell. With the song still playing, blue-haired Wiedlin stepped up to the mic and shouted along to the recording, “C’mon dudes, let’s get it on!” With that, they shifted gears into their own “Vacation,” the hit title track from their 1982 album, with the lyrics “Vacation / All I ever wanted / Vacation / Had to get away” taking on added weight.
A third of the set was dedicated to songs from Beauty and the Beat, from the B-side of their first single, “How Much More,” and the L.A. anthem “This Town” to the set-closing, one-two punch of their monster hits “Out Lips Our Sealed” and “We Got the Beat.”
The band also paid homage to its early punk days, pulling out “Fun With Ropes,” which Wiedlin described as “a little composition about bondage,” and another pre-Beauty oldie, “Screaming.” They acknowledged some of their outside excursions by playing a revved up version of Carlisle’s 1986 solo hit “Mad About You,” as well as “Cool Places,” Wiedlin’s 1983 collaboration with Sparks, during which Carlisle and Wiedlin sang in unison. They also gave a nod to the music they made this century by including a few songs from their last studio effort, 2001’s God Bless the Go-Go’s.
Still, the night wasn’t just about nostalgia. The band’s mix of surf guitars and drums, girl-group harmonies and punk energy — which served as L.A.’s answer to New York’s Blondie — still sounded fresh and continues to be a blueprint from other acts. That was evident in the sets by openers Kaya Stewart, the daughter of Eurythmics mastermind Dave Stewart, and locals Best Coast. The latter act’s singer/guitarist Bethany Cosentino acknowledged from the stage, “The Go-Go’s have been hugely influential on us and the whole world,” and wondered out loud if she’d cry during their farewell set.
While the band didn’t spend the night harping on about the show’s significance, it did acknowledge it several times of during the show, with Caffey at one point noting, “We wanted to end it where we started.” Along with the undercurrent of sadness, there were moments of pure joy. During its cover of the Capitols’ ’60s hit “Cool Jerk” — a song the band has released in three different versions over the years — the Go-Go’s invited friends and fans onstage to jerk along. When drummer Gina Schock took the mic to address the fans, the band surprised her with a birthday cake and sing-along to celebrate her 56th birthday a day early.
While all the band’s members are AARP-eligible, it hasn’t slowed them down much. Carlisle, the one-time cherub-faced, trash-bag wearing punkette, has retained her glamor girl good looks and refined the dance moves that became a staple of the New Wave era. Wiedlin still moved about the stage like a whirling dervish. Schock provided muscular beats throughout the evening, while Caffey moved from guitar to keyboards, giving the band more musical depth. Longtime bassist Kathy Valentine split from the band in 2013 on less than friendly terms. Her replacement Abby Travis, who also had a stint with the Bangles, did an admirable job filling in.
For an encore, the band did a stripped-down version of Miley Cyrus‘ “Wrecking Ball,” which seemed like a bit of an odd choice, given the band has plenty of worthy material in its own catalog it didn’t play. Perhaps they wanted to prove they were still hip to the current pop scene. Whatever the case, it came off well, as did the celebratory final encore of “Head Over Heels.”
When it was all over, the Go-Go’s stood arm in arm on stage — possibly for the last time. Tears were shed, both onstage and off.
The Go-Go’s Setlist at Greek Theatre, Los Angeles on Aug. 30
How Much More
Mad About You
Fun With Ropes
Skidmarks on My Heart
La La Land
Our Lips Are Sealed
We Got the Beat
Get Up and Go
Head Over Heels