Johnette Napolitano at Soiled Dove, 11/27/13
JOHNETTE NAPOLITANO at THE SOILED DOVE | 11/27/13 After opening with "The Real Thing," a Concrete Blonde limited edition, single, Johnette Napolitano looked down at a woman sitting in front of her next to the stage and asked if she was okay. The singer, playing her last show of the year, wondered because the gal was knitting. "You're knitting," Napolitano said. "That rules! I have it made when people are fucking knitting at my shows. That's the fucking coolest thing. Well, I hope you're knitting me a chastity belt or something."
Sure, it's a little strange to see some woman kitting about five feet from the singer of Concrete Blonde, but this was no everyday show. Napolitano, by no means, just cruised through a set list during this acoustic show; she told stories, interacted with the crowd and read from her 2010 book, Rough Mix, which includes short vignettes, lyrics and accompanying stories about those songs.
Napolitano launched into the Concrete Blonde hit "Joey," but then stopped and said, "I shall use this opportunity to read from my book. It's a little early in the set, but I didn't expect to see a knitter." She then read a passage about her and Marc Moreland -- who collaborated with Napolitano in Pretty and Twisted, and was also a founding member of Wall of Voodoo -- and recounted the time they were knocking back shots and drinking beer in a bar somewhere. Could have been in Europe, London or Mexico, she said, as the insides of bars in the dark look pretty much the same. Moreland had asked her if "Joey" was about him, and she said it was.
A packed crowd seemed to thoroughly dig "Joey." Napolitano was quite commanding on the tune, especially on the choruses. While she had been standing for the first two songs, Napolitano sat down on "Lady Day," her ode to jazz singer Billie Holiday and followed it up with "All About Eve," a song about one of her favorite films of the same name. After a great rendition of Concrete Blonde's "I Don't Need a Hero," Napolitano looked down at the gal who had been knitting, and said, "You know what I like is that you don't have a cell phone in my face. You can knit all you want."
A few songs later, Napolitano stopped about halfway through "Ghost Riders in the Sky" to note, "This song is so goth," before getting back into it. "Every once and a while," she said after the song, "I like to channel the spirits of Johnny and Waylon. Just so happens we use the same black hair day -- that's for fucking sure."
For the last few years Napolitano has been working on a project called "Crib Girls," which is about prostitutes in the Old West, "who were many things but that but were forced to do that," she said. While the song, which has a girl called Soiled Dove, is still a work in progress, she played a few verses of it and then told us how, the morning before, she had woken up in her Denver hotel room, and she had the two verses to finish the song in her head.
After reading through the lyrics of "Hollywood and Vine" (a duet she wrote with her friend Mike, who sings Sinatra) from Rough Mix, Napolitano did a stunning take on the Concrete Blonde balled "Sun," before going into "Rosalie," which she said was the first song she wrote after moving to Joshua Tree.
The crowd cheered enthusiastically during the opening chords of Concrete Blonde's "Mexican Moon," which turned out to be one of the most energetic cuts of the night. She then read a story about a stay at the Driskill Hotel in Austin that inspired her song "Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man."
Napolitano closed out the set on a heavy and melancholic note, doing "Smile," made famous by Judy Garland, and "Tomorrow Wendy," the Andy Prieboy song about the first woman in America who had AIDS and who chose suicide rather than suffering from it. For the encore, Napolitano brought out percussionist Carl Sorensen, who had been performing with opener Eric Halborg, to play cajon (box drum), while she rapped fervently on "Roses Grow" and danced around the stage.
Personal Bias: This was such an incredibly intimate show, it almost felt like Napolitano was playing at a friend's living room. Random Detail: Napolitano mentioned she had only packed one pick, and it was a special one that had "PJ" on it, for Pearl Jam. Turns out, Mike McCready flew Napolitano out to his wife's party to surprise her. By The Way: Singer and guitarist Eric Halborg and percussionist Carl Sorensen, who both play in the Swayback and Dragondeer, opened the show by performing a superb set of material from both bands.