STORY WRITTEN BY DAVID KLEINMAN
For 21st Century Media
If you can survive success, you can survive anything.
Vicki Peterson of The Bangles isn’t sure who inserted that factoid into the group’s biography but as far as she’s concerned, after 30+ years of steady professional work in the music industry, it rings very true.
“What comes with success are many unanticipated aspects of the business,” Peterson revealed in a recent phone interview. “When I was 14, starting my band, daydreaming about being rich and famous, is not the same as what actually happens. It’s a daily learning process and it can be very tough.”
The risks involved with accurately marketing a rough-around-the-edges girl group bringing something new and exciting to the mid-1980’s musical lexicon troubled Columbia Records executives who had the goal of mass-distributing their roster by mimicking proven success stories.
“It’s too confusing to have four women with four personalities and four points of view to try and to figure out to market this four-headed monster. They’re having their staff meetings and they’re like ‘Okay, what do you have?’ and they’re like ‘I have this, whatever. It’s Katy Perry meets Rihanna’, ‘Okay great, got it’, Peterson scoffed.
But The Bangles aren’t a poor man’s Go-Go’s, there originally was no lead singer and they didn’t willingly feature that all-too-familiar drum beat attached to so many band’s music of the era. They were four women ready to rock out in their own unique, hardcore way, and Peterson admits without hesitation that some of the band’s best material isn’t necessarily their studio-engineered album sound.
“People would be surprised when they come to see us, ‘Wow, you guys are a lot more rock than your records.’ It was just a matter of making things more straightforward and less relying on studio tricks and sounds. These days everything is stripped down, we’ve been doing things very much like the original guitar garage band that we started out as.”
The juxtaposition of listeners attending a Bangles performance at a state fair, whom are eagerly awaiting the hits they know from the public’s consciousness, is their small handful of upcoming East Coast listening room dates, including World Cafe Live on Oct. 4. This is where fans are more likely to know by heart the deep cuts, the B-sides and possibly even the unofficially released tracks.
“I think (Hoffs) did a solo thing at World Cafe Live but this is the first time for The Bangles,” Peterson, a former Philadelphia resident in the early ‘90s, said from her current home in Los Angeles, Calif. “ We’re doing this run of places like City Winery, places that are comfortable but still feel very intimate. We can still rock out but know the audiences can have a lovely evening and a nice glass of wine.”
Peterson readily confesses that her relationship with some of the group’s greatest-known hits wasn’t always as copacetic as when she performs them today. A large part of the reason for the group’s 1989 break-up is their #1 hit ‘Eternal Flame’ that debuted the same year. Peterson says the song “felt more like a soloist piece” due to the fact that it’s Susanna Hoffs’ vocals that can be chiefly heard on the ballad followed by her front-and-center visual presence in the corresponding music video.
Since regrouping in 1999 after a decade-long hiatus the devotees continue to come out in droves, often donning Egyptian headgear as an homage to their #1 hit ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ which she finds “hysterical”. As with any well-known artists, certain admirers of The Bangles have taken their enthusiasm to extremes, and one instance sticks out in particular in Peterson’s mind.
“One of my favorite ones happened in the ‘80s when a fan sent us an outfit that he had worn during a marathon or something. Yeah, that was a good one,” she chuckled. “It was quite odorific. He wanted us to sign it and send it back to him, I think it was accidentally thrown away. Bring your smelly wife-beater, please.”
Sans the dirty laundry, local supporters of The Bangles’ off-kilter rock n’ roll sound will have the scarce chance to hear a mixture of their unearthed earlier material as they prepare to re-release the original EPs and 45s to digital download. There’ll be the classic favorites with a twist, tracks from their newest record and even a few covers that might surprise concertgoers who never would of foreseen a Nas song coming from an all-girl group.
“We want to sound as good as we can and sing as well as we can for the audience but there’s a difference now in how we move, there’s a little less calisthenics. In the ‘80s I felt a compulsion to run around the stage, if I wasn’t in motion I felt like I wasn’t really entertaining. I still get drenched in sweat every night but I’ve learned it’s okay to just stand there and sing the damn song,” Peterson laughed.
IF YOU GO
The Bangles perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4 at the World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia. Tickets are $25. For information, call (215) 222 -1400 or check www.thebangles.com.