Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo Rock Twin River Event Center
By Jenn Russo
There is nothing quite like being transported back to a time when leather and stretch jeans were all the rage, big hair ruled the day and rock and roll was changing beginning to change its tune to an even edgier, more power-chord driven phenomenon that would forever change the genre. And for the first time, although there had been first “girl groups” and then some very powerful female rockers making their voices heard, there was a sonic siren who emerged ready to take on all aspects of the music industry ~ creating some of the most memorable songs and videos yet, all of which remain relevant today. I could barely believe that I was standing there waiting for Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo to take the stage more than 15 years after having seen them the first time, with a huge crowd beside me ready to welcome them to Rhode Island and kick off the July 4th weekend.
The stage boasted a large screen with a logo ~ a record with two arrows crossed through it and various instruments poking out of the back. Pat and Neil, celebrating their 35th anniversary as a touring act and their 32nd anniversary, opened the show with a sweet video story documenting their separate lives as musicians, the day they met, what they thought of each other, how they fell in love, and the history that they made together in their private and professional lives.
Audience members walked by me, heading to their seats with strobe-light fixed drinking glasses in hand, casting neon green and pink lights that gave the venue a disco hall feel. A crowd of all ages, styles and creeds buzzed with anticipation, mimicking the sound of amp feedback during a sound check.
Pat, decked out in stylish (would we have expected anything else?) fitted plaid pants and Neil, doing justice to a chest-baring white shirt, blasted through the crowd’s small talk with vocal and strum as powerful as it ever has been. Pat, dedicating the song “Girl” to “…all my sisters out there…,” got right into the swing of things. In fact, the entire room was standing by the time the duo hit the stage ~ or more accurately, the entire room was on its feet, but hardly just standing; girls, boys, men, women were dancing with complete abandon, and it was great. We had created out own little hip dance club somewhere in NYC and the entertainment just happened to be two huge rock legends.
Up next, the track “Sex” had almost an electronic, trance-inducing flow to it ~ and the erotic quality was not lost on the crowd. Judging by her moves, the girl sitting to my left would have been completely at ease on a stripper pole. As the last note of the song faded away, Pat affectionately touched Neil on the cheek. It was amazing to watch this musically powerful duo command the stage together, and equally touching to witness their interaction as a couple; it’s no mystery why both their partnerships have been so successful.
After several songs, old and new, Pat and Neil took out a couple of stools to sit on, joking that “This is the part where we sit down because we’re old,” which I think may simply have been their subtle way of getting others to sit for some slower jams. They proceeded to play several of my favorites, including one that Pat introduced with, “I’m sure all of you have done this at karaoke or sang into a hairbrush on this one:” “We Belong.” (I totally plead the fifth on the hairbrush thing, by the way.)
Getting back to their history as a couple, they shared some stories about how for several years they had penned songs about other people’s lives, other people’s problems, always other people. They hadn’t written anything personal about their own life until they wrote “Promises” about each other. This beautiful song caused more than a few tears in the audience and I saw a few couples holding hands, possibly remembering a first wedding dance together.
Another moving song included in the set was based off a promise. Pat recalled for us how she had been reading in the paper about a child abuse case and the subject was one she had never heard of before. She and Neil wrote a song that they promised they would play at every single show regardless of what other tracks they chose for a set, and they have stayed true to that vow since writing “Hell is for Children” in 1980 for their second album. Time has not dulled the impact of the song and today it continues to raise awareness of this terrible and heartbreaking issue ~ and to send chills down the spine of anyone who hears it. Giraldo’s wailing guitar almost screamed and cried the words “Help me” in the voice of a child and we could hear every moment of that child’s pain in the very music itself as well as in the lyrics.
Giraldo is a wise man ~ he cautioned the audience (obviously the men, primarily) to remember that a woman is almost always right and that members of the female persuasion can get angry sometimes. The twinkle in his eye and the smirk on Pat’s face showed their playful side, and the crowd rose to their feet as “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” kicked in. The energy of this timeless rocker permeated every inch of the room as people danced and jumped and sang each and every word of the chorus when Pat held the mic out to the crowd.
Another unforgettable hit, “Love is a Battlefield,” followed with Pat delivering perfect pitch on those high notes and Neil executing an amazing guitar solo that filled the space and left us all breathless. “Let’s Stay Together” is a song about brotherhood, they mentioned, as Neil took to the piano and Pat grabbed a tambourine. The performance felt like a jam session at an outdoor festival, very casual and fun with some Jerry Lee Lewis style performance on the keys. It was yet another example of the stylistic range these two talents are willing to explore and are so gifted at mastering.
I was bordering on being amazed that Pat and Neil had just put on a show that was as extraordinary as anything they’ve ever done in the last 3 decades, but then I realized that really, it was no surprise at all. Though the two of them walking off hand in hand into the sunset would certainly make for a beautiful visual, this couple clearly isn’t ready to do anything of the sort anytime soon…and thank goodness for that.
Very special thanks to Kim Ward