A few minutes into the Go-Go’s set, Belinda Carlisle smiled and engaged the sold-out house at the OC Fair's Pacific Amphitheatre, “Who loves the '80s?” she asked. “Because we don’t.” Gina Schock punctuated the joke with a rimshot and the final night of the classic all-girl band’s summer tour was well underway.
Sure, it was a joke, but it did underlie a certain burden many bands have to carry. The Go-Go’s are punk and new wave pioneers who are technically still a recording act, but are so heavily identified with their early 1980s success that it’s easy to imagine “Our Lips Are Sealed” lost its charm for them sometime during the Reagan administration.
The July 14th show was a reminder that if the Go-Go’s were never quite a great band, they were certainly a solid and under-appreciated one. The classic lineup of Carlisle, Schock, Jane Wiedlin, and Charlotte Caffey – minus only Kathy Valentine, who left the band earlier this year in the latest Go-Go’s legal squabble – delivered one for the fans while offering a few surprises in the set and, refreshingly, a shout-out to their road crew by name.
Appropriately kicking things off with “Get Up and Go” and "Vacation,” the band breezed through the early part of the set before sparking the only thing close to a challenge to its audience. In introducing Carlisle’s solo hit, “Mad About You,” Wiedlin set up the song as part of their support for gay marriage and loving “whoever you love.” A few boos filtered through mostly cheers.
A slightly garage rock version of The Rolling Stones' “Paint It Black” gave a little pepper to the middle of the set, the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” gave some flavor to the end and the addition of one of their earliest tunes, “Running Back for More,” gave extra depth to the set overall. Perhaps the best addition of the night was combining “We Got the Beat” with Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Night” to close the main part of the show.
Despite all the rumored dysfunction within the band, the now 50-somethings have weathered it all pretty well and the sunny, upbeat music has never allowed them to sound otherwise. Even if they’ve grown a bit weary of it, it’s good to know the vacation can last a little longer.