Review: Bananarama @ The Novo, February 20, 2018
Bananarama, the iconic British female pop trio formed in the 80’s, performed at The Novo downtown this past Tuesday, their first show in Los Angeles since 1989, impossibly. (A comically curmudgeonly LA Times review of that gig at the Universal Amphitheater survives online; a live bootleg recording of that show, a nice curio artifact, recently turned up online.)
The occasion of the tour is the reunion of all three original band members–Sara Dallin, Keren Woodward and Siobhan Fahey, who left the group in ‘88, four albums in, on the cusp of their first tour. Fahey later went on to release music as Shakespeare’s Sister, while Dallin and Woodward have kept Bananarama continuously active as a duo over the years. Fahey came back into the fold for well-received U.K. shows last year and they look poised to repeat that with a quick jaunt of four U.S. dates. (A nice Guardian piece talking to the ladies on the occasion of their reunion last year is here.)
The house was packed with a fun, motley audience–middle aged suburban couples, old school KROQ heads (whose ex-DJ Richard Blade, a local legend, served as opening act, his recent autobiography conveniently available at the merch table), sprinklings of younger hipsters, and the expected strong gay contingent.
The three ladies, backed by an able four-piece band serving the songs well, worked through a winning, high energy greatest hits set. Opener “Nathan Jones,” a Supremes cover, sets the tone–key cover songs and good doses of Black soul and R&B comprised a lot of their early catalog. Their dancey remake covers of the Velvelette’s (“Really Saying Something”) and Ella Fitzgerald “’Taint what you do (It’s how you do it)”, were included in the set. The biggest cover of all though, of course, is “Venus,” which has more or less become the definitive take of the original by Shocking Blue. It’s the peak of the set, held for near the end, packing a huge disco punch.
Originals served up tonight resonate and trace an evolution from 80’s New Wave to the 90’s U.K. disco renaissance–“Robert De Niro’s Waiting” to “I Heard a Rumour” and “I Want You Back.” After a brief encore break, the night ends with “Love in the First Degree,” a bonified gay disco anthem, pleasing wide swaths of the audience.
“Cruel Summer,” their U.S. breakthrough (it’s association with The Karate Kid often cited, perhaps overblown; it’s actually not on the soundtrack LP) is confidently delivered rather early in the set. It doesn’t sound like much from its era (or much since), completely its own animal, no mean feat. As it expected, it goes over massively, though maybe loses a little of its melancholy in a rougher, faster live version.
It’s almost all uptempo from end to end, a sound built on punchy grooves, synth string stabs, disco beats, funky Nile Rodgers style guitar jangle, kept the dance floor moving (if not quite dancing) throughout the near hour and a half set. One notable exception that slowed down the tempo: a cover of Fahey’s Shakespeare’s Sister solo hit “Stay”. Sung by the three of them in the Bananrama voice, it’s a lovely moment, to see the old friends come together over a great song by their returned prodigal daughter.
The ladies, it must be said, looked fantastic and fit, nimbly working through choreographed moves, clad in custom Swarovski bedazzled black outfits. At times, the backdrop graphics dropped in their own vintage video clips, with their distinct 80’s styles (all that glorious teased hair), making for a fun then-and-now presentation. Their signature in-unison singing style–still really not duplicated–was at the fore. Hardly any harmonies or solo spots, just the three locked in on a single melody, it’s all the more impressive in person. All in all, a welcome comeback and a thoroughly enjoyable show. Brava, ladies.
Photo from official Bananarama Twitter
Nathan Jones (Supremes cover)
Robert De Niro’s Waiting
Aie a Mwana (Black Blood cover)
Trick of the Night
Shy Boy/Boy Trouble
Really Saying Something (Velvelettes cover)
Stay (Shakespeare’s Sister cover)
I Heard a Rumour
More Than Physical
I Can’t Help It
I Want You Back
Venus (Shocking Blue cover)
Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye (Steam cover)
‘Tain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It) (Ella Fitzgerald cover)
Love in the First Degree
Bananarama | bananarama.co.uk