Correction to This Article
The review incorrectly referred to "Manic Monday" as one of the band's two biggest hits. "Eternal Flame" and "Walk Like an Egyptian" were No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100; "Manic Monday" reached No. 2.

The Bangles Display Their Rock Origins at State Theatre Saturday Night

Monday, May 25, 2009

If your memory of the Bangles begins and ends with their two biggest hits, "Walk Like an Egyptian" and the Prince-penned "Manic Monday," you could be forgiven for assuming the all-female band was primarily a studio creation like so many of their peers in heavy rotation on MTV circa 1986. But you'd also be quite wrong. Before the group schmaltzed up their sound to great commercial success with Wham!-era production, they were a scrappy four-piece from the Los Angeles "Paisley Underground" scene of the early '80s, blending gorgeous three-part harmonies with greasy garage rock.

The muscular 90-minute set the group played to a packed State Theatre on Saturday night was a persuasive reminder of their pre-MTV chops. Burning through two of their handful of hits (an angular rip of Simon & Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade of Winter" and "Manic Monday") in their first 10 minutes on stage, they dismissed the idea they'd need to hold them in reserve to keep the crowd captivated.

Though the skirts and dresses remain as skimpy as they were during the Reagan era -- and Susannah Hoffs and sisters Debbi and Vicki Peterson remain plenty foxy in middle age -- the band's musicianship was the night's biggest reveal. Hoffs's guitar duels with Peterson rescued album cuts "Watching the Sky" and "In Your Room" from their synth-larded album versions, and if "Eternal Flame" remains a hopelessly maudlin ballad, as a vehicle for those still-shimmering three-part harmonies, it worked.

Then there's "Walk Like an Egyptian." A novelty song, yes, but a great novelty song. The set-closing version interpolated a passage of the Who's "Magic Bus," and the group followed it up with an encore of the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard" -- another reminder that even through they bring the glitz, their hearts are still in the garage.

-- Chris Klimek

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