BY HEATHER CURNETT
Johnette Napolitano is 58 years old and doesn’t give a shit. I know this because she said so. She proved it when she ended her show, 6 songs in, by stumbling off stage at Denver’s Soiled Dove venue.
Not her finest moment, I’m sure.
Best known as the lead in Concrete Blonde, and for hits like Joey, Bloodletting, and God is a Bullet, Napolitano has been performing for over 30 years. Despite this vast experience, her sold out performance at the Soiled Dove Underground on March 7 was, sadly, one giant cringe moment. Napolitano did not appear to be fully in control of her faculties this night.
Let’s start at the beginning. Napolitano has a deep love of flamenco, and she invited local Denver band, Flamenco Underground, to open for her at the Soiled Dove. They delivered an incredible 45 minutes of music, dancing, and stories about the roots and meaning of flamenco. Napolitano came onstage during their final song to sing along as well. Her voice was amazing and blended beautifully with Flamenco Underground’s cantaor, Mark Herzog.
When Napolitano came out for her set, she appeared to be disoriented and distracted by her current album project, and the need to get back to it. She briefly started a couple of songs before needing to stop and talk about the new, as of yet unnamed, album being produced by Leon Russell.
Napolitano had a lot to say while she was on stage. There was a somewhat incoherent story about a mix up with baggage at DIA, a phone call from police, some random readings about life on the road from a book she wrote, an anti-war tirade, and a horribly embarrassing story about a tampon mishap. Like I said, it was a pretty cringe worthy night.
She soon became agitated by the many audience comments. They were hurled at her in love, as the sold out crowd consisted largely of long time fans, but they were hurled none the less. At one point she simply told the audience to stop talking to her. Can’t say I blame her for that one; they were starting to piss me off too.
She did sing. And when she did, that shit was powerful. After 30 plus years in the business, Napolitano still has total access to a full vocal range. She only sang a few songs, but the mood she was able to set with each was visceral. She sampled a new song, possibly called Joshua Tree, coming up on her new album. While listening, it occurred to me that, if heroin had a soundtrack, this song would be on it. Next, she expertly changed the mood completely with the delicate and hopeful “Sun”, from Concrete Blonde’s second album. She did some other Concrete Blonde songs as well, each of which sounded incredible with only Johnette and her guitar. She played Mexican Moon and Take Me Home. Her songs are raw. They’re jaded but also tender.
This was my first experience with Johnette Napolitano and, as described, it was not her finest moment. One thing that was very clear is that she is an incredibly talented, insightful, and unique artist. I get the impression that her shows generally have a pretty stream of conscious nature. The fans that I spoke to that have followed her over the years say that they’ve never had the same show twice. Lots of stories, and whatever songs suit her mood and the feel in the crowd is what Napolitano usually delivers. The fans that have seen her often said that she’s never walked off stage, but they didn’t appear to be too surprised about it either. They’ll catch her next time around for sure. Who knows, maybe I will too.
Ed. Note: According to media accounts, Soiled Dove Underground booking agent Rhett Lee subsequently announced that attendees could get refunds due to the show being cut short, saying in a statement, “Soiled Dove Underground is sorry the show didn’t go as planned, and we will be refunding all tickets. All credit card refunds will be automatically applied this afternoon. Anyone who bought tickets at the box office with cash will need to take their ticket stub to the box office for a refund.”