CD Review: Lita Ford – The Bitch is Back Live

Lita Ford – The Bitch is Back Live
All Access Review: B+

Lita Ford - The Bitch is Back ... Live 2013
Polite society may not approve of today's liberal usage of the word “bitch.” Lita Ford has lived her life in a different kind of world, one where sticks and stones are occasionally used to break bones, but names couldn't ever hurt her.

On her last studio record, Ford wrote of coming to the realization that she'd been living like a runaway her whole life. And, of course, the title, Living like a Runaway, had a lot to do with the hard-luck story of the teenage punk rock girl group The Runaways she was a part of in the 1970s, but there's more to it than that.

Away from the stage, Ford has endured great tumult in her personal life, especially in recent years. Getting through it requires the kind of resilience one gets from being as independent or brave enough to escape a troubled home. In other words, being a bitch is sometimes necessary for one's survival. Making 2012’s intensely personal Living like a Runaway was not only therapeutic for Ford, as she opened up about a lot of stuff, but it also served notice that those who'd written her off as a relic of the ‘80s were dead wrong. The bitch was back, having penned and recorded some of the most affecting and edgy rock ‘n’ roll of her career, and the crowd who welcomed her to the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, Calif., in early October of 2012 was glad she hadn't burned out or faded away just yet.

How appropriate then that she should kick off her latest concert album, The Bitch is Back Live, with the defiant Elton John song of the same name. A ballsy rocker dripping with attitude, Ford's version is unrepentant and has a thick skin, not veering far from the raucous spirit of the original, even if the choruses are delivered in a surprisingly tame and reserved voice. She must have been saving her strength.

The rest of The Bitch is Back Live holds nothing back. "Hungry," off 1990's Stiletto LP, sounds even more lewd and lascivious than it did back then, as Ford and her band, featuring Mitch Perry on guitar, Bobby Rock on drums and Marty O'Brien on bass, make its hot grooves perspire and its sinful melody slither and slide in the most seductive manner possible. Sex is not the only thing on Ford’s mind, however. In bringing out the heavy artillery of "Devil in My Head," "Relentless" and "Hate" off Living like a Runaway, Ford and company couch darker, more disturbing lyrical themes of temptation and violence in meaty, mauling riff grinds that plow these evils under as if they were sites of some horrific tragedy.

Still, this is a party, with an undeniably communal vibe, and Ford raises hell on "Kiss Me Deadly," hitting all of its confetti-strewn, sugary pop notes to close out the night. Ford expresses her love for the "roaring guitars" of "Hungry" and the dueling guitar "dive-bombs" of the sinister and melodic “Back to the Cave,” before begging all in attendance to check out the powerful words to “Hate.” And when Ford gets to “Can’t Catch Me,” the little ball of thrash-metal fury she wrote with Motorhead hellion Lemmy Kilmister while on a bender, nobody’s the least bit surprised that its ramshackle rumblings and blitzkrieg riffage has shaken the Canyon Club’s foundations.

As intimate as live recordings get, with plenty of audience reaction captured in pristine clarity, The Bitch is Back Live sees Ford playing with the reckless swagger and raw energy of a teenager who doesn't know what life's about yet. Trading well-executed licks with Perry, Ford causes her guitar to scream its orgasms, but when she sings, she's part little girl lost in the world and part worldly madame who's seen it all and then some. Her voice can be soft and alluring when it has to be, but when she wants it to scratch and claw like a wildcat, it's certainly capable of turning feral or moody, as it does in the hit “Close My Eyes Forever,” which loses some of its Gothic romance here while gaining more emotional heft.

Some of Ford’s songs have always had parts that flat-lined, and in the harsh glare of a live performance, these flaws are magnified. The flaccid “run baby, run” chorus of the song “Living like a Runaway” is a prime example, but Ford is also capable of exhibiting toughness and heart in songwriting that is always accessible and easy to relate to, just like that of her old partner Joan Jett. Ford, though, is metal’s queen, and as such, she demands a sound that’s thick and crushing, but also tuneful. She’s ready to take back her throne.
-           Peter Lindblad

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