Time to go out on a limb! If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me, but I believe that the Go-go’s were the first all-female band to ever make a substantial impact on the charts. To be certain, there were plenty of successful girl groups such as the Supremes, the Ronettes, the Shirelles, and about a billion others, but I can’t recall another female band prior to the Go-go’s who experienced any real popularity. Sure, the Runaways were seminal, but they didn’t exactly sell skillions of records.
The success of the Go-go’s was fairly short-lived. They hit it big with their 1981 debut, Beauty and the Beat, but they rushed into the studio too quickly. Their follow-up - 1982’s Vacation - performed reasonably well on the charts, but it was hurried and somewhat slipshod, and it didn’t do much to maintain their reputation.
Their third record came in 1984 with Talk Show, and I think it’s easily the best of the bunch. Featuring the brilliant hit “Head Over Heels” as well as sharp rockers like “I’m the Only One” and “Turn to You”, Talk Show demonstrated how good the Go-go’s could sound with a little experience under their belts.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know how the band might have grown, for they called it quits not long after that. They split in 1985 and went on to pursue solo careers. Commercially, singer Belinda Carlisle did best with sappy pop tunes like “Heaven Is a Place On Earth” (which sounds exactly like Bon Jovi’s “Living On a Prayer”) while rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin carved out a minor niche for herself as well. The other three - lead guitarist Charlotte Caffey, bassist Kathy Valentine, and drummer Gina Schock - remained less prominent, though as part of short-lived band the Graces, Caffey delivered probably the best solo track with 1989’s “Lay Down Your Arms”.
The band actually attempted a return a few years after their split. They regrouped for a tour in 1990 basically to support their Greatest Hits album. That show marked the third - and so far final - time I saw them live. They opened for the Police in a January 1982 show, and I also took in a Talk Show era performance in 1984. Apparently they reunited again for a brief tour in 1994, and they also played handfuls of dates in both 1999 and 2000.
However, the big return waited for 2001. Not only did they embark on their most extensive tour since their glory days, but also they put out their first full new album since Talk Show. With God Bless the Go-go’s, the band returned to a public who really didn’t seem to care. The musical landscape has changed radically since 1984, but the Go-go’s haven’t, as the material on God Bless seems pretty similar to their prior work.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. The Go-go’s know their niche and they stick with it. The new material blends well with the older tracks. Honestly, my knowledge of the Go-go’s discography isn’t extreme, so I often didn’t know which tunes were new and which weren’t.
A little research shows that Go-go’s Live in Central Park, the DVD document of a summer 2001 concert, splits pretty evenly between old and new material. God Bless dominates the evening with eight songs: “La La Land”, “Unforgiven”, “Stuck In My Car”, “Apology”, “Automatic Rainy Day”, “Throw Me A Curve”, “Sonic Superslide”, and “Insincere”. Beauty and the Beat comes in second with six numbers: “Our Lips Are Sealed”, “How Much More”, “This Town”, “We Got the Beat”, “Automatic”, and “Skidmarks On My Heart”. Vacation provides only two numbers - the title track and “Beatnik Beach” - while poor little Talk Show pops up only once with the show-opening “Head Over Heels”. In addition, the Go-go’s finish the concert with a cover of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”.
This seems like a nice little mix of past and present, and the show moves at a good pace. As I mentioned, the stuff from God Bless integrates well with the older tunes. “Unforgiven” seems particularly catchy, even if it did involve the songwriting talents of drugstore punk Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day. The other seven songs appear listenable and fun, though they do somewhat blend into each other.
As for the older tracks, “Head Over Heels” remains a favorite. It really should be regarded as one of the all-time great pop tunes, as it approaches perfection within that genre. 17 years haven’t dimmed the sparkle of the tune; it still sounds great, though the DVD’s version isn’t particularly special.
Otherwise, “Our Lips Are Sealed” continues to offer a poppy and bright experience. “We Got the Beat” seems a little dull in its current rendition; perhaps the ladies are simply sick of that number. “Vacation” still bubbles brightly, though, and I like “This Town” quite a lot.
Central Park offers a reasonably solid representation of the Go-go’s live. They were never a terrific concert band, so don’t expect anything special. Nonetheless, they seem solid and professional, though I couldn’t help but wonder what bug crawled up Belinda’s ass; she appears detached and condescending for a lot of the show. Jane’s bright and peppy tone helps compensate, however. The other three largely stay in the background, so Jane and Belinda are left as our main onstage personalities. Belinda never could sing very well, and she experiences some mild vocal difficulties at times during the show.
I have to note that amazingly, almost all of the Go-go’s look better now than they did 20 years ago! Belinda always seemed piggish in the band, but she blossomed into a babe after they split. Hot off her appearance in Playboy, she appears pretty sexy here, and Jane’s turned into Winona Ryder’s older sister. The Go-go’s were never the prettiest band, but they’ve aged nicely.
Live in Central Park offers a workable but somewhat bland concert presentation. It’s a very standard affair that captures the event with reasonable accuracy but it does little to enhance the presentation. The editing seems a little awkward at times, but at least the show omits the standard rapid-cutting that mars many of these kinds of presentations. The video relies too much on the cliché swooping camera movements, but overall it appears fine.
If you get the feeling I’m not exactly enthusiastic about Go-go’s Live in Central Park, you’re correct. I like the band and I like the DVD, but neither really does a lot for me. Nonetheless, I think that this is a good program that helps remind us how entertaining the Go-go’s can be at times.
Go-go’s Live In Central Park appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not without any concerns, the picture generally looked quite attractive and it nicely represented the concert.
Sharpness usually seemed solid. I detected some light softness during a few wide shots, but those issues were rare. Overall, the show seemed distinct and well defined. Some examples of jagged edges appeared occasionally, but they also remained minor, and I saw no concerns related to moiré effects or edge enhancement. Source flaws appeared to be absent during this presentation.
Colors came across as nicely warm and accurate. All of the Go-go’s dressed in black with the exception of Jane Wiedlin’s orange shirt, so the palette was somewhat limited. Nonetheless, Wiedlin’s top looked great, and the colored lighting seemed to be clear and vivid at all times; I saw none of the heaviness that often mars concert presentation. Black levels appeared reasonably deep and rich, while shadow detail was clear and concise. Ultimately, Central Park failed to boast the stronger clarity of releases like Bruce Springsteen’s Live In New York City and Sting’s …All This Time, but it offered a solid picture nonetheless.
Also very good were the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks of Go-go’s Live in Central Park. While it’s nice that the disc offered the choice, I couldn’t detect any very significant differences between the two. The DTS version seemed to provide somewhat deeper bass, but otherwise, the two seemed identical
Although the audio started a little poorly, it quickly rebounded and offered a satisfying experience. Early in the show, the mix seemed somewhat dense and murky. Belinda’s vocals got a little buried and the track lacked the airy precision I’d expect. However, the situation soon improved. As with most concert productions, the soundfield favored the forward spectrum. Belinda’s vocals remained nicely anchored in the center, while others - most usually Jane - popped up in logical locations on the side. The guitars of Jane and Charlotte split clearly to their appropriate spaces, while bass and drums filled a more vague but still sensible middle ground.
The surrounds mainly provided general reinforcement of the music and didn’t seem to include any split-channel material. My only real complaint about the soundfield came from the execution of crowd ambience. This seemed somewhat artificial; when a song ended, I heard cheering from the front that then seemed to rush toward the rear. Happily, this tendency subsided after the first few songs and failed to be a concern for most of the show.
As I noted, the audio sounded a little murky early in the show, but this quickly subsided, and most of the concert offered clear and vivid music. Once she emerged from the mix, Belinda’s vocals appeared warm and natural, and the other singers also showed similar tones. Guitars displayed nicely choppy and clean tones, while drums sounded concise and tight. Bass response was very good throughout the show, as the program provided deep and rich low-end. Overall, the audio of Central Park wasn’t good enough to enter “A” territory, but it still seemed satisfying and merited a solid “B+”.
During the almost five-year existence of DVDs, music releases have remained the ugly stepchildren of the format. They’ve been treated poorly with a lot of sloppy, bland discs. Happily, 2001 marked a change in that trend, as we’ve started to see many more excellent releases. Sets like U2’s Elevation and Springsteen’s Live In New York City packed lots of good extras, and these kinds of features are becoming more commonplace.
Central Park isn’t up to those standards, but it does offer a surprisingly compelling behind the scenes piece that follows a day in the life of the Go-go’s. We watch the women as they get their pre-show makeup done and then accompany them on the van ride to the gig. Lastly, we watch them interact with media and fans and put on the concert itself.
All of this may sound humdrum, but it’s actually quite interesting. I won’t call the 25 and a half minute documentary “warts and all”, but it’s fairly candid; it really does feel like a “behind the scenes” glimpse and doesn’t come across as manufactured. Some members seem borderline nasty, while others are more genuine and fun. It’s a very cool little piece that I’ll definitely check out again.
In Retrospect is decent but not quite as good. This four-minute and 25-second program essentially acts as a promotional clip to tout the return of the Go-go’s. We hear about their reunion and the making of their new album. It’s interesting but not anything special. Note that this snippet appears as the fourth chapter in the “behind the scenes” program as well as on its own. I have no idea why that occurs, but it does!
The Go-go’s never were a great band, but they offered some strong tunes and created a mark for themselves as one of the very few successful female bands. Live In Central Park heralds their return with a pretty solid performance that captures old hits as well as new material. The band sound fine and the show moves at a nice pace. The DVD provides very good picture and sound as well as a compelling documentary. Go-go’s fans will be very pleased with this fine DVD.