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GIRLS ON FILM
January 25, 2012 - May 25, 2012
When Anastasia Pantsios photographed her first concert in 1969, women were a rarity in rock bands. She was one of three women who formed Kaleyediscope Photography in 1978 to market the photos they shot of musicians. As women became prominent in the rock’n’roll of the 1980s and beyond, Pantsios visually recorded the changing times. Her concert photos of rock’s talented women include Grace Slick, Tina Turner, Annie Lennox and many more.
This exhibition is part of Rock Through The Valley: A Collaboration of Art, Music and Fashion, organized by the Allentown Art Museum, Discover Lehigh Valley and other local partners. For more information, visit
Wolstein Center, Cleveland, December 2006
Gwen Stefani, whether with her band No Doubt or on her own, was always a joy to see perform, because she gave you the feeling she was enjoying herself so much. No matter how chic, sexy or flirty her image, she somehow seemed like a girl who just wanted to have fun, try on some pretty dresses and sing for all her friends.
SHIRLEY MANSON of GARBAGE
Agora, Cleveland, April 20, 2002
Bubbly Scottish singer Shirley Manson was spotted on a 1994 MTV program by one of the Wisconsin-based studio musicians who make up Garbage. He correctly identified the obscure singer as the magic ingredient that could propel the group to success, and they contacted her. Despite the group’s lack of a shared history and their geographic separation throughout their career, they exuded an ease and unity onstage that often eluded more organically formed bands, with Manson not a showboat but a catalyst.
Agora, Cleveland, April 8, 2002
Nelly Furtado unfortunately came out in the pop-princess era, a time of retrenchment for women in pop music. With her offbeat looks and eclectic, sophisticated musical influences, she didn’t fit the period’s star-making machinery.
COURTNEY LOVE of HOLE
Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, July 1995
She could have been a contender, but Courtney Love is her own worst enemy. She had an undeniable charisma, but her inability to edit herself usually ended up derailing her performances.
KIM DEAL of the PIXIES
Music Hall, Cleveland, September 22, 1989
Following in the footsteps of Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth, Kim Deal was no big deal in the Pixies, just a team player who played bass and contributed some vocals, while Black Francis fronted the band. It was still a relatively new role for a woman in a band, but it was on the verge of becoming commonplace when the Pixies headlined Music Hall in 1989.
SIOUXSIE SIOUX of SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES
Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, July 1991
A slot on the first ground-breaking Lollapalooza tour was perfect for Siouxsie and the Banshees, a major influence on a stream of punk-goth-industrial acts that were just beginning to hit the mainstream in the early Nineties. It was fitting that the British group shared the stage with Nine Inch Nails, who were spearheading that crossover, with Siouxsie displaying the goth-girl chic that millions of gloomy teens were soon affecting.
Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, September 1988
When Melissa Etheridge played Blossom in 1988 as an opening act, no one knew who she was, and no one seemed to think she’d amount to anything. At inter-mission, her record-label promotion man anxiously scanned the aisles looking for retail and radio people to bring backstage to meet her. He begged me to come back to the dressing room to make it look like he was doing his job. Etheridge was relaxed and down-to-earth. It was like talking to an old girlfriend.
BJÖRK of the SUGARCUBES
Peabody’s Downunder, Cleveland, August 8, 1988
When Björk performed with her band the Sugarcubes, she had an intriguingly elastic voice, but gave little sign that she would become the other-worldly creature of her solo career. Her simple dress was a far cry from her later swan ensemble, and the band’s music was rock-based and not at all abstract.
Newport, Columbus, Ohio, April 23, 1988
Lita Ford reinvented herself after her stint with the Runaways. With the Runaways, she was the moon-faced, plain-looking guitar player who provided a solid base for Cherie Currie’s jailbait sex appeal. She re-emerged in the Eighties as the rockin’ metal chick who resembled the Playboy centerfolds and strippers many of the hair-band guys were dating (in fact, she dated Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue and married Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P.). Despite that, she projected an unpretentious friendliness that seemed to appeal equally to the dudes and their dates.
CHRISSIE HYNDE of the PRETENDERS
Richfield Coliseum, Richfield, Ohio, March 1987
Like Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde assumed an asexual, tough-girl persona. Unlike Patti Smith, who just seemed oblivious to her femininity, Hynde always seemed uncomfortable with it. Like Smith, she was pulled toward submerging herself in the identities of the males around her. But Hynde’s image and legendary prickliness always took a back seat to her sultry, soulful, immediately recognizable voice that can make even the most light-weight material (of which she fortunately doesn’t have much) deeply moving.
Richfield Coliseum, Richfield, Ohio, August 4, 1987
Millions of words — including numerous doctoral theses — have been written about Madonna. I think they take her too seriously when she’s just good fun. The most intriguing thing about her is her knack for self-invention. She pioneered the use of recorded vocal tracks onstage (although she actually did sing over them); she was the first major pop artist to surround herself with a troupe of professional dancers. Lighting, costumes, makeup, videos edited just so, controversy to stir up public interest — she was her own clever Pygmalion.
Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, August 18, 1986
Considering her subsequent life and career turmoil, it’s bittersweet to see these images of a fresh-faced, dewy-eyed Whitney Houston, riding the first flush of success. Her self-titled debut, released a year and a half earlier, had generated three Number One singles, earned her a Grammy and made her a headliner at 20,000-seat
Blossom Music Center at age 23.
Music Hall, Cleveland, December 15, 1985
This was the only show where I actually fell asleep. Those velvet chairs at Music Hall are so comfortable, and Sade’s voice is so soothingly smooth. Her 1984 multi-platinum debut was one of the mellowest and most polite major hit albums until Norah Jones came along. Her sleek, almost stark look fit her appeal to a grownup NPR-type audience.
ALANNAH CURRIE of the THOMPSON TWINS
Public Hall, Cleveland, December 1, 1985
British synth-pop group the Thompson Twins featured three individuals so distinctive that the fact that one of them was a woman was almost unremarkable.
Keyboardist Alannah Currie’s explosion of blonde hair and oddball hats blended with the equally offbeat looks of percussionist Joe Leeway and guitarist-lead vocalist Tom Hamilton. The group enjoyed brief but intense success, which seemed to bring them back through town every few months or so.
Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, June 15, 1985
Aimee Mann’s morosely intellectual music and Berklee-trained musicality drove ‘Til Tuesday, a band that didn’t quite fit the flash and pizzazz of the early MTV era. While she adopted a striking look, there was a cool, almost introverted feel to her music and her presence that lent power to the band’s biggest hit, “Voices Carry,” with its narrative about a woman repressed by a controlling boyfriend. Mann has had a long career since then as a troubadour of quietly depressed relationships. She is shown with guitarist Robert Holmes in this photo.
MARIA MCKEE of LONE JUSTICE
Peabody’s Downunder, Cleveland, October 1, 1985
Before there was alt-country, there was cow punk. Maria McKee, lead singer of Lone Justice
, was the princess of the L.A. cow-punk scene in the early Eighties. She was far too fresh-faced and beautiful to successfully pass for a depression-era farmer’s wife in her flowered cotton housedresses. But she had a weathered ache in her voice that transcended eras and genres and laid a template for contemporary performers like Neko Case.
State Theatre, Cleveland, January 19, 1985
Cleveland is fortunate in being close to Detroit in one key way: its music fans had many opportunities to hear the Queen of Soul perform. Aretha Franklin is famously afraid of flying, but she didn’t need to leave the ground to get to Cleveland. With her gospel-honed voice that raises the rafters, she doesn’t need lights, special effects and costumes to put on a show. So the crowd at the State Theatre this night was stunned when she capped her show by whipping off the long skirt of her glittery outfit to reveal a bathing-suit-style outfit underneath. Aretha was full of surprises!
RICKIE LEE JONES
State Theatre, Cleveland, November 21, 1984
Rickie Lee Jones was something new when she released her self-titled debut in 1979. Media fascination with her cool, jazzy, hipster image helped propel the album to multi-platinum status. Like a lot of performers who adamantly march to the beat of their own drum, Jones maintained a devoted cult following that carried her far beyond her brief years of mainstream success. She is shown with her backup singer, Vonda Shepard, in this photo.
Peabody’s Downunder, Cleveland, October 18, 1984
When I first saw the Bangles as an opening act at a small club in Toronto, they were a rag-tag punkish act. Once they had their hits, they were styled and groomed, with the adorable Susanna Hoffs plucked out as the star. Although the Eighties New Wave era was friendlier to women than the Seventies had been and produced the first prominent female bands, in the end, looks still mattered.
Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, June 18, 1984
Few breakthroughs of the Eighties superstar era were more startling than the comeback on a grand scale of Tina Turner, who had become an R&B legend of the
Sixties with her husband Ike. Unbeknownst to most of her fans, their musically productive relationship was abusive, and she left him in 1976. Though she was a terrific live performer, few could have predicted the meteoric success of her 1984 album, Private Dancer, which immediately vaulted her to the superstar ranks. She was probably more prepared than anyone who ever enjoyed such instant success to command headlining slots in arenas like Richfield Coliseum and amphitheaters like Blossom Music Center.
ANNIE LENNOX of EURYTHMICS
Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, August 9, 1984
Annie Lennox projected an icy, almost forbidding persona onstage, all sharp edges and bold, dramatic gestures. And her voice was commanding. But offstage she was quiet and diffident, letting musical partner Dave Stewart do the talking.
Music Hall, Cleveland, May 15, 1984
Laurie Anderson’s dry, cerebral wit and genial attitude keep her performance-art-based music from becoming pretentious. Coming from the art world, she introduces a variety of theatrical visual elements into her stage shows, including film and props.
Agora, Cleveland, April 25, 1984
When Cyndi Lauper exploded in the mid-Eighties on the back of her debut album, She’s So Unusual, everyone thought she’d be the keeper, Madonna the flash in the pan. While her colorful, thrift-shop ensembles and Betty-Boop-from-Brooklyn voice made her seem like an MTV-era novelty, the strength of her pipes was undeniable. Though her first big hit, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was a hoot, she could tear your heart out with tunes like “Time after Time.” Hearing her in concert, you’d forget the cutesiness and be moved by her powerful, emotive voice. And, in fact, she has been a keeper, if not a long-term superstar, with a faithful audience in the gay community.
Agora, Cleveland, January 25, 1984
Like most women heavy-metal artists Girlschool struggled with a bias against their gender throughout their career, which continues to this day with three of the four founding members. They made the inevitable (though half-hearted and brief) stabs at glamming up their image in the Eighties, but ultimately they were just a bunch of T-shirt-wearing headbangers. And, like most women heavy-metal artists, the band encountered more sexism in the industry than from audiences, which were always receptive to their hard-charging music.
CHRISTINA AMPHLETT of the DIVINYLS
WMMS Coffeebreak Concert, Agora, Cleveland, July 20, 1983
Australia’s Divinyls were one of many also-rans in the quick turnover of the Eighties. Only bad luck kept this hard-rocking outfit, fronted by brazen singer Christina Amphlett, from being better known. Amphlett’s frantic, confrontational performances were riveting, and Amphlett herself was a fierce ball of energy with a passion for connecting with people onstage and off.
TINA WEYMOUTH of TALKING HEADS
Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, August 8, 1983
It’s easy to forget what a pioneer Tina Weymouth was because she was so unassuming and even inconspicuous onstage. But that was the point. With the success of Talking Heads, she planted the idea that a woman could have a place onstage without being the hot chick singer or behind a keyboard. She set the pattern for a wave of women to come, like Kim Deal of the Pixies and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. This photo is from the ground-breaking Stop Making Sense tour.
Music Hall, Cleveland, April 10, 1982
Joan Jett emerged from the ashes of the Runaways to have a brief burst of solo success in the early Eighties. Her music and stage persona were really basic, and her range was limited, but that simplicity and directness felt fresh. She didn’t rely on sex appeal and pretty much blended in with her band. Maybe that’s why she was cited so often as a touchstone by the riot-grrrl bands of the Nineties.
WENDY O. WILLIAMS of the PLASMATICS
Richfield Coliseum, Richfield, Ohio, February 22, 1982
Of all the rockers who have left us, Wendy O. Williams is probably the one I miss the most. At best a marginal singer, she was a riveting performer known for over-the-top antics, including nearly naked performances clearly not intended to be erotic. With her Mohawk and electrical tape, her performances were a send-up of the sex shows she supposedly once did in New York’s Times Square. Still, on her first appearance in Cleveland at the Agora with her band the Plasmatics, she was arrested for “pandering obscenity.” Williams brandished chain saws and smashed TVs onstage, but offstage, she was one of the most normal and friendly people you’d ever meet in rock and roll. Usually when a performer is managed by a significant other, look out for trouble — but Williams’ manager-boyfriend, Rod Swenson, was just as decent and approachable as she was. Sadly, she committed suicide in 1998 after several previous attempts. As together as she seemed, clearly she had demons she was hiding.
Agora, Cleveland, December 1, 1981
The most appealing thing about the Go-Go’s, one of the first really successful all-girl bands, was that, unlike their counterparts the Bangles, they always retained a bit of a rag
ged edge. They relied on the sort of approachable she-could-be-your-sister-or-best-friend appeal that became the hallmark of women rockers in the post-Nirvana alternative-rock era.
PAT BENATAR and Neil Giraldo
Superbowl of Rock, New Philadelphia, Ohio, August 3, 1980
Pat Benatar was the ultimate hot rock chick of the Eighties. Her hard-hitting music was created in partnership with Cleveland-bred guitarist Neil Giraldo, whom she married in 1982.
CINDY WILSON of the B-52’s
Agora, Cleveland, September 24, 1980
The B-52’s espoused the retro, thrift-shop style later popularized by Cyndi Lauper. Their infectious, humorous music, coupled with their quirky clothes and the inflated early-Sixties hairdos Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson wore, made them a fun party band.
ANN WILSON of HEART
Richfield Coliseum, Richfield, Ohio, June 6, 1980
Heart crashed the early-Seventies male stranglehold on arena rock with their 1976 debut album, Dreamboat Annie, and singles like “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You.” Those songs are now such classics that it’s hard to remember how resistant mid-Seventies album-rock radio was to playing more than a minimal “quota” of tracks featuring a woman’s voice. The Wilson sisters offered a contrast: Ann Wilson fronted the band with the casual aplomb of her hero Robert Plant, while Nancy Wilson broke ground by being, for the most part, simply a guitar player in the band.
NANCY WILSON of HEART
WMMS Studio, Cleveland, June 6, 1980
The lengthy arena tours of the Eighties were never as exciting as fans thought. They could be lonely and boring, with lots of waiting and encounters with nervous fans saying the same things over and over. Nancy Wilson attempted to make the road more home-like by bringing her dog with her. Here she and her pooch visit a Cleveland radio station.
STEVIE NICKS of FLEETWOOD MAC
Richfield Coliseum, Richfield, Ohio, May 20, 1980
Few performers evoke as much passion among their fans as Stevie Nicks. She embodies an atavistic girlie fantasy with her long, swirly dresses and scarves and cloud of blonde hair. Yet despite her ultra-feminine look and sinuous movements, there was a raw, primal quality to her voice that made her as hard-hitting as any of her masculine peers.
Tomorrow Club, Youngstown, Ohio, April 27, 1980
Like many a “little girl with a big voice,” from Brenda Lee to Tanya Tucker to LeAnn Rimes, Akron’s Rachel Sweet got her start in country music. She was just 15 when she was signed to England’s very hip New Wave label Stiff Records and restyled into a rock-pop singer, a role that fit her like a glove. Sweet never assumed a “jailbait” image, like a Britney Spears; she remained the cherub-faced girl next door dressed in casual, non-revealing clothes. She was easy to get to know, and her friendly family — dad and sister Lia — often hung out backstage with her.
Cleveland Stadium, September 29, 1979
Ellen Foley was a fairly big deal in Cleveland, riding the coattails of Meat Loaf. She was his female foil on his breakout Bat Out of Hell album on Cleveland International Records, although Karla DeVito sang her parts onstage. During one of her frequent trips to Cleveland, she stopped by an Indians game at the old Cleveland Stadium to do a little promotion. Back then, it wasn’t too hard to find empty sections of seats to use as a photo backdrop.
Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, August 1978
This picture expresses to me a lot of what Linda Ronstadt was about. A self-effacing performer, she wasn’t about flashy showmanship but about inhabiting a tune with her supple voice and trying to do it justice. She had a knack for identifying quality songwriting, covering songs by Elvis Costello, J.D. Souther, Karla Bonoff and Warren Zevon. Country rocker, pop singer, New Waver, Fifties big-band thrush, Mexican senorita — she navigated all those identities.
Front Row Theater, Highland Heights, Ohio, April 11, 1978
The only lasting live performer to come out of the Seventies disco craze, Donna Summer transcended her gimmicky orgasmic first hit, “Love to Love You Baby,” to become an R&B icon. She had an affinity for elaborate costuming, which, at this show at the now-demolished Front Row Theater, included shedding several layers of very ornate dresses.
DEBORAH HARRY of BLONDIE
Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, April 9, 1978
With her broad cheekbones and big features, Blondie frontwoman Deborah Harry was born to be photographed. Like many artists who started in an underground scene, she was spruced up and glamorized when Blondie started to find commercial success. But Harry always had a knack for looking glamorous, even in her two-tone hair and cheap shift days. While in Cleveland for a performance, she was taken to Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights by her manager to do some shopping. Here she explores the offerings of a long-gone boutique upstairs from Record Revolution.
Agency Recording, Cleveland, January 27, 1976
I first heard of Patti Smith when my friend Peter Laughner brought me back a copy of her first volume of poetry, Seventh Heaven, from one of his frequent forays to New York City in December 1972. Her poems — many paeans to her pop-culture heroes — roiled with rangy rhythms that yearned to become rock and roll. Agency Recording, upstairs from the old Agora on East 24th Street in Cleveland, captured one of her performances. In this photo, she’s listening to a playback after a show. A version of the Who’s “My Generation” from this show appeared on the B-side of her single “Gloria” later in 1976.
SANDY WEST of the RUNAWAYS
Cyrus Erie West, North Ridgeville, Ohio, July 17, 1976
While singer Cherie Currie was the jailbait sex bomb, and guitarist Joan Jett was the tough chick, Runaways drummer Sandy West was the affable gal from around the ’hood, the one you called when you wanted to go out to drink a little beer and shoot a little pool. She did a lot of that on the road, making friends and hanging out with fans, approachable and just looking to have a good time.
JUNE BILLINGTON of FANNY
Public Hall, Cleveland, summer 1971
The early Seventies were not great years for women in rock, yet there were several all-female bands kicking around, including Birtha, Isis (not the contemporary band from Boston) and Fanny. Fanny, which included a pair of Filipino sisters, was the most successful, having several tunes that reached the bottom half of the Top 40 during their 1970-1975 run. They were as straight-forward and dressed-down as most of their contemporaries and didn’t really flaunt their sexuality much.
GRACE SLICK of JEFFERSON AIRPLANE
Grant Park, Chicago, May 1969
My first concert was also the first concert I ever photographed. It was a free, outdoor, festival-type concert at the old Petrillo bandshell in Chicago’s Grant Park. It was pre-Woodstock, very pre-Altamont, and everything still felt idyllic and rife with possibility. I always think of the Airplane song “Saturday Afternoon” when I think of this concert (even though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a Saturday): “Saturday afternoon/Yellow clouds rising in the noon/Acid, incense and balloons/People dancing everywhere/Loudly shouting I don’t care. . . .” The Airpl
ane was the first band I really loved. The late Sixties and early Seventies were a time when women were almost absent from rock music, and there were just two roles for them: long-haired, folkie girl and gutsy blues mama. Grace Slick was neither of those. She was the most singular female personality of the era. That elusive, distinctive quality attracted me.
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