If your memory of The Bangles begins and ends with their two breakout hits, “Walk Like an Egyptian” and the Prince-penned “Manic Monday,” you could be forgiven for assuming the all-female band was primarily a studio creation like so many of their fellows in heavy rotation on MTV circa 1986. But you’d also be quite wrong. Before the group schmaltzed up their sound to great commercial success with Wham!-era production, they were a scrappy four-piece from L.A.’s “Paisley Underground” scene of the early 80s, blending gorgeous three-part harmonies with greasy garage rock. The band split in the late 80s and reunited in the late 90s, though their latter-day incarnation has produced only one album, 2003’s Doll Revolution, named for a track penned for them by the great Elvis Costello.
The 90-minute set the group played to a packed State Theatre Saturday night was necessarily a nostalgia trip in terms of the setlist, but in its colied muscularity, the show also served as a persuasive reminder of their pre-MTV chops. Burning through a pair of their handful of hits (an angular rip of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” and “Manic Monday”) in their first ten minutes on stage, they dismissed the idea they’d need to hold them in reserve to keep the crowd captivated. Though the skirts and dresses Susannah Hoffs and sisters Debbi and Vicki Peterson wore were as skimpy as during the Reagan era — and the ladies remain plenty foxy in middle age — their sheer musicianship was the night’s biggest reveal. Hoffs’s guitar duels with Vicki rescued album cuts “Watching the Sky” and “In Your Room” from their synth-larded album versions, and if “Eternal Flame” remains a hopelessly maudlin ballad, as a vehicle for those still-shimmering three-part harmonies, it worked.
Then there’s “Walk Like an Egyptian.” A novelty song, sure, but a great novelty song. The set-closing version interpolated a passage of The Who’s “Magic Bus,” and the group followed it up with an encore of the Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard” — another unmistakble sign that even through they bring the glitz, their hearts are still in the garage.
A slighty shorter version of this review appears in today’s Paper of Record.