The 38-year history of the Go-Go’s is as dynamic as the group itself, full of spectacular highs and painful lows. Together, the classic lineup of Belinda Carlisle (lead vocals), Jane Wiedlin (guitar and vocals), Charlotte Caffey (lead guitar and keyboards), Kathy Valentine (bass), and Gina Schock (drums) went from topping the US charts with their debut album Beauty and the Beat to fighting drug addiction and each other, ending in the band’s total breakup in 1985.
Since then, however, the Go-Go’s have made some impressive rebounds, reforming for several reunions and even a new studio album in 2001. The band has been on the road regularly since 1999, delighting crowds around the world, but now they finally seem to be saying goodbye for good with this summer’s Farewell Tour. Except Valentine, who departed in 2013, the original members are back by popular demand, taking their unforgettable hits and unmistakable new wave pop sound for one last go-round.
Being a longtime fan who had never before managed to see the band live, I made the three-hour trip down to Huber Heights, Ohio, for what may have been my last chance to witness the Go-Go’s in action. While I was thoroughly excited, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, as there is always a part of me that worries about being disappointed when going to see a favorite artist for the first time. I was certainly not prepared for the boundless energy and commanding presence that the Go-Go’s displayed throughout the night.
Right away, I learned these talented musicians are every bit as exciting as they’ve always been. Carlisle has maintained her voice nicely and is an enchanting frontwoman, using the entire stage and working it like a pro in her confident, sultry way. Meanwhile, Wiedlin puts everything she has into her performance, jumping around and goofing off with her bandmates without missing a beat. Likewise, Caffey and Schock are consummate musicians, carrying each song along with solid rhythm and slick solos and embellishments.
Although it can be fairly easy to space out or get distracted during a concert, even if you adore the artist performing, this was the rare show that I was completely enthralled in from beginning to end. The Go-Go’s grabbed everyone’s attention right from the start, running onstage to Grand Funk’s “American Band” and opening with one of their biggest singles, the incredibly infectious “Vacation,” which got the whole audience immediately pumped for a fun-filled evening.
As is the case for most bands with a few albums under their belt, the Go-Go’s featured a wide variety of tunes on their set list, including the massive hits “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat,” fan favorites like “Fading Fast” and “How Much More,” some later releases like “Insincere” and “La La Land,” plus a few totally unexpected gems. There were so many moments that I could have chosen as my favorite, but it came down to what was, for me, one of the most unexpected.
As many die-hard fans know, the Go-Go’s started out as a straight-up punk rock band, and I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the grungy bootleg recordings of their fierce LA club shows from the late ’70s. Fortunately for all of us old-school Go-Go’s fans, the band decided to include a few songs from their early days on this tour. “Screaming” and “Fun With Ropes” sounded just as hard-hitting as they did almost 40 years ago and definitively proved that these ladies can still kick some serious ass.
Of course, the Go-Go’s rock just as hard when it comes to timeless pop, as shown in one of evening’s anticipated highlights “Cool Jerk.” Hearkening back to their 1982 cover of the Capitols’ hit, the Go-Go’s have a tradition of playing the song at every concert and inviting a few audience members to join them onstage to show off their best moves. Even those of us who weren’t lucky enough to be chosen had just as much fun participating in the massive dance party from our seats.
In fact, the entire crowd maintained such fantastic energy throughout the concert that Gina Schock actually took a moment to say how impressed she was with our enthusiasm, which subsequently came out in full force when we celebrated Belinda Carlisle’s birthday with a cake and a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
From start to finish, the G0-Go’s show was absolutely full of great surprises. There were nods to Carlisle and Wiedlin’s solo efforts, including “Mad About You” and an especially fun cover of Sparks’ “Cool Places,” which featured Wiedlin on the original record. They also returned for a well-deserved encore with a haunting, mournful cover of “Wrecking Ball”– yes, the Miley Cyrus hit– segueing into “Head Over Heels.” Although I had actually expected them to open with this song, it turned out to be the perfect way to top off such a memorable, high-energy show.
By the end of the evening, I found myself sincerely hoping this would not be the Go-Go’s final tour after all. Though the desire to quit while they’re still having fun is completely understandable, these ladies seem to have more than enough spirit and musical prowess to keep them going for quite a while.
If you have the chance to catch one of their last few dates, rest assured that you won’t regret your ticket one bit. The Go-Go’s have truly earned their devout following over the years, and whether or not they continue to tour in the future, they’re sure to keep gaining new fans as their amazing musical legacy lives on.
The Go-Go’s wrap their Farewell Tour on August 30 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, CA.