- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

Like so many other musicians, Concrete Blonde got together last September to support a Red Cross benefit for the September 11 disasters. It marked the end of an eight-year hiatus for the band, which plays tomorrow night at the 9:30 Club.
While that public reunion was a welcome return for fans, it was only possible after a series of very private meetings.
"We got back together after Johnette called me one night, literally out of her mind came over and stayed for a while," says guitarist Jim Mankay from his Los Angeles home. "We worked through a bunch of stuff together and the album is a result of that process."
The trio, consisting of Mr. Mankay, singer Johnette Napolitano, and drummer Harry Rushakoff, enjoyed mainstream success during the turn of the last decade with "God is a Bullet," from the 1989 sophomore release "Free," and their 1990 top 20 hit, "Joey," from their third studio album, Bloodletting."
This tour supports the group's eighth album, "Group Therapy" (Manifesto), a collection of 12 songs that sound like Concrete Blonde.
For fans of songwriter Napolitano's social musings, "Violent" offers a welcome dose of the singer's powerful vocals and emotional intensity. Written and recorded well before that fateful day, it proves eerily prophetic in its words "it's all so ready to get violent." "When I Was a Fool" offers the stylized, pit-of-her-soul reflections of an older, possibly wiser, Concrete Blonde.
"Johnette was and is the principal song writer, so the vision comes from her, her dreams and her experiences," says Mr. Mankay. "She set out to examine her state of mind, but that has always been what she does. The record, to me, is consistent with the older stuff, but the motivation is the same Johnette exploring the crevices."
Supporting Miss Napolitano's poetry and soulful vocals are Mr. Mankay's blues inspired guitar work, instantly recognizable as vintage "Concrete Blonde," along with drummer Harry Rushakoff's rhythmic backing.
The band found itself working together again after Mr. Mankay and Miss Napolitano contacted Mr. Rushakoff in rehab. Getting beyond past turbulence overweening egos, drugs and depression was easier than Mr. Mankay anticipated.
"There was a tendency, early on, to jump into some of those old patterns of anger and non-positive response, but because we were all working so hard we were able to go beyond that," Mr. Mankay says.
Concrete Blonde may have grown in age, ability and dedication, but this latest album is evocative of the dark, gritty rock 'n' roll that made the trio a staple of college radio in the post-punk era of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
However, the larger difference between "Group Therapy" and the band's past work is not in the words or the music, but in the musicianship, which Mr. Mankay says resulted from the band's attaining a new equilibrium.
"We are much more disciplined now, as far as our personal physical beings and music," he says.
This newfound maturity may be long overdue for a group in their mid-forties, but it seems to be working for Mr. Mankay, who equates working with the band as "winning the lottery twice."
"I tried to play with other musicians that called and said, 'We like what you play and we want to have some of that on our songs,' only to find it was not what they wanted at all," says Mr. Mankay.
"Musically, I exist in a very narrow niche, and if I am playing with other people, well, it is not any fun unless they are Johnette and Harry."
Revitalized and refreshed without the road weariness of past tours, Mr. Mankay finds that age has given the band the wisdom to define their tours. They travel for a couple of weeks and take a break, as opposed to the marathon nine-month jaunts of yesteryear.
The last time the group came through Washington, they appeared at the old 9:30 Club. Mr. Mankay is looking forward to revisiting those fans in the club's new environs.
"We are playing a longer set with plenty of familiar songs, and as much unfamiliar stuff as we can get away with," says Mr. Mankay. "And from what people tell me we are consistent and the audiences are happy."
What the band finds most amazing, however, is the number of concertgoers who are singing along to an album less than a month old.
"We just put out this new record and all of the people at the shows could not have bought it, yet they are singing along to the songs, like they know them," Mr. Mankay says. "It seems that in the past it would take a while before the albums caught on. All I know is that every show feels really great and we are gratified for the response."



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