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Bananarama peels back the hits, heals old wounds before Bay Area audience

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A reunited Bananarama presented a united front on the San Francisco stop of their first-ever U.S. tour on Wednesday. (Courtesy Wendy Carig)

Friendships can make a band like Bananarama. But they can also break it when one member is at odds with the others. That’s what happened in 1988, when Siobhan Fahey left the famous trio, which emerged out of Britain’s post-punk scene in the early 1980s. Whether, as she’s alternately claimed in previous interviews, she felt excluded from band members Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward’s longer-term friendship, became disenchanted with the dance-pop direction the band was going in or couldn’t endure their sexist ex-producers Stock Aitken Waterman any longer, any outstanding issues were resolved before Bananarama took the stage at the Warfield on Wednesday.

What made seeing the three women, who famously rocked gas station attendant uniforms in 1983’s “Cruel Summer” video, onstage together — in glitzy sequined black shirt and pant sets, no less — so remarkable is not that it’s their first tour in 30 years, but their first ever. It turns out that Bananarama was only a studio band in its heyday.

After opening with their rousing cover of The Supremes’ “Nathan Jones,” a bouncy breakup song about a partner that’s been “gone too long,” Woodward announced that it had been forever since she and Dallin toured San Francisco as a duo after Fahey left the group. The prodigal daughter, however, was quick to retort, jokingly: “But it was without me.”

“Oh, she’s sulking already,” Woodward fired back, in jest.

But there wasn’t time for teasing when the Guinness Book of World Records winners for most successful female band with the most charting singles had to work their way through dozens of hits, including three U.S. top 10s: their 1983 breakout hit “Cruel Summer,” 1986’s No. 1 “Venus” and 1987’s hi-energy dance floor filler “I Heard a Rumour.”

And toil they did across the almost two-hour show, singing in unison and dancing in harmony like the ’60s girl groups that inspired them, from The Supremes to The Crystals, The Chiffons and The Shangri-Las, rounded out by a four-piece band that added a rock edge to the otherwise poppy dance tracks.

The audience of mostly 40- and 50-somethings gave as good as they got, moving ecstatically throughout the show, but particularly during the “disco section,” filled with hugely successful high-energy tracks from Bananarama’s Stock Aitken Waterman period, including “More Than Physical,” “I Heard a Rumour,” “I Can’t Help It” and “I Want You Back.”

“There are some good dance routines out there,” Woodward acknowledged. “We’re really breaking a sweat tonight. It’s brutal. We can’t breathe. See what we do for you.”

But how could the audience tell when Bananarama, now well into their 50s, appeared to perform their tight routines as effortlessly as they did in their classic music videos?

More noticeable was all the hugging among the three women throughout the show. But the emotional high point came when the band sat down to sing its sole ballad, “Cheers Then,” about a friendship whose “good times came to an end.”

“This one brought a tear to my eyes for the first couple of weeks [of the tour],” Dallin said, presumably reflecting on Bananarama’s loss of Fahey for almost three decades. But as the band sang the poignant track and younger photos of the trio in happier times flashed on the screen behind them, it was clear that they’ve achieved a new beginning.

From the looks and sounds of things, there are happier times ahead for these three friends and bandmates.

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