When L.A. new-wavers The Go-Go’s announced that they were embarking on their farewell tour in 2016, many fans misread that as meaning they were calling it quits for good as a band. In fact, “farewell tour” simply meant a “farewell to touring.” And that’s a blessed relief.
“We decided if anything really special came along we would do it, but it would have to be really special,” says Belinda Carlisle. “When we were offered these shows, we decided that it would be something really unusual for us and something that is just special. So we’re back for these three shows and some warm-up shows, but no more touring.”
The shows Carlisle is referring to are the three The Go-Go’s are playing at the Hollywood Bowl, accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, on July 2 and 3, building up to a fireworks spectacular on July 4. It genuinely does sound awesome — the sort of shows that certainly could tempt a group of rock & rollers out of temporary retirement.
“Everybody has their own projects, everybody lives in different parts of the world, and we’ve done The Go-Go's,” Carlisle says. “We all thought that it was great to leave it with a little bit of dignity, and like I said we’ll come together if something comes up that’s unusual, fun and special.”
All five band members have different priorities nowadays and, while the love for the music hasn’t gone away, the passion for spending hours on the road traveling from venue to venue has.
“On tour, if it goes on for a while, it can be like slogging it out,” Carlisle says. “But yeah, everybody’s really fresh, I’m sure these shows will be great, as opposed to being on the road for three or four months, and just going through the motions. Not that we ever did, but bands, especially us, we get tired on the road. Especially with Kathy [Valentine] back, too, I think everybody’s going to be really happy about it.”
The return of Valentine does add a tasty twist. It’s only five years ago that she sued her then-former bandmates for breach of fiduciary duty and abuse of control — that case was settled out of court in 2014. 2018 sees a fully reunited Go-Go’s, obviously minus the touring. Don’t expect them to record again anytime soon, either.
“We’ve done that,” Carlisle says. “We made four great albums, and I don’t think anybody really wants to do that. It’s too labor-intensive, and like I said, everybody has their own lives. I’m pushing 60, Kathy is pushing 60, everybody else is 60 or over, and we have other things going on. That takes months and months, and sometimes a couple of years for a project from its beginning to its end. No, nobody wants to do that.”
That’s fine — The Go-Go’s have already given us more than enough. The importance of The Go-Go’s, as well as a few other bands such as The Bangles, can’t be understated. In an oversexualized 1980s local rock scene, these talented, strong women battled through a wall of misogyny and did things their way. They pointed the way and countless others followed their path. However, Carlisle believes that we’ve taken a step backward since then.
“I think now especially, maybe The Go-Go’s and The Bangles couldn’t happen because everything is so sexualized,” she says. “We did it our own way. We never compromised — the concepts for the album covers were all our own and we were lucky that we had 100 percent artistic control. In that respect, The Go-Go’s and The Bangles are trailblazers. But it’s kind of gone backward, as far as the sexuality in music. We went to the Billboard Music Awards a year ago, and we’re no prudes but we’re sitting in the second row watching all these women onstage, and everything was like humping and grinding, and we were just like, ‘This is kind of uncomfortable and weird. It doesn’t have to be that way.’ It’s a big shame. So maybe it’ll come round again to a place where the music, instead of coming out of a talent show or being put together for marketing and money, and it’ll cycle back to the clubs and garages, and a more organic place for both women and men, girls and boys.”
The clubs and garages is exactly where The Go-Go’s sprang from, though that seems a long time ago as they prepare to play the massive Hollywood Bowl. Carlisle says Los Angeles always has a special place in their hearts, but performing with the L.A. Philharmonic — that was the clincher.
“We did it once before a few years ago and liked the idea of doing again, not just for one or two songs but for an entire set,” she says. “That just sounded like something that we wanted to do.”
The group will be keeping it simple for both themselves and the orchestra by playing the same set each night, but still, these shows are going to be epic. In a similar culture blend, the forthcoming Go-Go’s Broadway musical, Head Over Heels, opens next month.
“That’s been a project that’s been eight years in the making, so we’re super excited about that,” Carlisle says. “We’ve put a lot of work into it, and we still have a lot of work with press and stuff. That’s the next big thing coming up for the band, and probably the only thing on the horizon.”
Outside of the band, the members all have their own projects. Carlisle’s solo career might not be hitting the heights of her “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” peak but that’s kind of by design. She’s doing what she wants to be doing, and that includes last year’s Wilder Shores album, which saw her working with chanting.
“I’m into chanting and I have been for a long time, and Kundalini yoga,” she says. “I did a mantra album. Normally when they’re recorded they’re linear, so I chose nine that were effective for myself but put them into a pop song format. So you have repetitive mantra but it’s broken down into verse, B-section and chorus. You put it on and it sounds like a pop album from the other room. It is a pop album, but you listen closely and think, ‘What is she singing and what language is that?’ It’s actually a [Sikh script] called Gurmukhi that I’ve studied for the past 13 or 14 years. It’s not for everybody, that’s for sure.”
It certainly makes for interesting contrast to her Go-Go’s commitments, and that’s the way Carlisle likes it.
“I think we all like to challenge ourselves individually,” she says. “To keep doing The Go-Go's, it’s great and we’re all really, really grateful. But I think that recording and slogging it out is just something we’re not interested in doing. I wing it as I go along. I live in Thailand. I have a really nice life. I have a great back catalog I work from, and work as little or as much as I want. I’m really blessed in that way.”
The Go-Go’s play with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins (conductor) and the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, July 2, Tuesday, July 3, and Wednesday, July 4, at the Hollywood Bowl.
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