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Southside Johnny, The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ: Almost on the beach July 4, 2004

Posted by Anton A in American music, Southside Johnny.
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We drove down to the Jersey Shore this afternoon to catch Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes’ Fourth Of July show on the outdoor stage at the fabled Stone Pony in Asbury Park.

We first hit Belmar, a couple of towns further down, for what proved to be a rather humdrum seafood dinner at a place called Hamptons & Havens.  But the place had a huge enclosed deck with opened screen windows right on the Shark River so you could watch the boats go by & the drawbridge go up & down as the sun began to set.  A flavorful view even if the food was dull.

Drove up to AP, snaking through some of the local streets in the intervening towns to avoid the traffic out on Main Street.  Some really nice old homes in those areas, all with the huge front porches that seem to be a trademark of Jersey Shore architecture.

AP itself down by the shore looks even more like a war zone, with the Convention Hall up at the north end of the boardwalk looming over the blasted scene.  It’s the first time I’ve seen the place in daylight.  I understand that they recently did some demolition there to make way for a rebuilding project, so there may be even more rubble than usual right now.  Walk around the area, check out the painted faces on the boarded up amusement park, you can’t help but hear some lines from Born To Run in your mind  & maybe get a tear in your eye for bygone days.

And yet there are signs of life everywhere.  The local folks are still walking up & down the boardwalk and the beach, enjoying the sea air and the views of the ocean as folks always do.  The Atomic Bar & Grill and the Mayfair Snack Shop stand open like sentinel outposts in a row of boarded-up oceanfront shops.  I grabbed a cup of tea from the snack shop – a Tetley bag in microwaved water, yuck! – to sip while we strolled along the boardwalk before heading in to the Pony.  Still, everything tastes better by the ocean.

Bobby Bandiera’s band – which as far as I can tell is pretty much the Jukes without Johnny plus an extra keyboardist & guitarist – was playing on the outdoor stage, this was their CD release party – Bobby seems to have done a CD of 60s covers. 

You could hear the music pretty well from the lower end of the boardwalk.  Three young black kids, the oldest maybe 10 or 12, were walking up towards us just as Bobby brought out local legend Norman Nardini to share the guitar work on Over Under Sideways Down.  The beat got to them right away & they started dancing along & singing the “hey!” parts of the song all the way through as they passed us.  I just had to grin at the image of those kids grinning & boogieing along, totally digging the live Yardbirds music in the sea air on the boardwalk in this still half-ruined place.  That’s AP in a nutshell.

Into the Pony.  They’ve fenced off the south side of the property next to the club & set up a nice roofed outdoor stage, a few beer & food tents & picnic tables, altogether a good place to hear some music.  You get a huge swath of westward sky framed by the upper stories of a thriving housing project to the south and the upper stories of a blasted-out project building to your north.  That too is AP in a nutshell.

We caught the last few tunes in Bobby’s set.  Tasteful, competent, respectful versions of Here Comes The Sun and others, but I wasn’t too inspired until Johnny came out to play tambourine & do harmony vocals on a smokin’ Caroline.  That immediately kicked the energy up a notch & it just got better from there.

A quick change of a few personnel & we were off & rockin’ as darkness fell.  I can’t believe that this is the first time I’ve seen Johnny & the Jukes in all my years here.  It’s a pity.  He works a musical area that you can pretty much triangulate with Bruce (of course), early to mid-period J. Geils Band, & Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels.  Or maybe it’s Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett & Sam Cooke.  The spirits of early rock & roll, R&B, Motown, Stax/Volt, were all alive & well last night on the Jersey Shore.

We got a good dose of Johnny’s hits, of course – On the Beach, Talk To Me, This Time It’s For Real, The Fever, I Don’t Want To Go Home, This Time Baby’s Gone For Good, Havin’ a Party,  (the one disappointment was that he didn’t do Trapped Again – you never hear every song you want) – interspersed with a whole lotta rocking & reminiscing. 

La Bamba and Mark “Love Man” Pender, currently appearing with the Max Weinberg Seven on the Conan O’Brien show, were in the 5-piece horn section last night.  When the local fireworks went off, the band broke into an a cappella Star Spangled Banner, fronted by La Bamba in his best In The Year 2000 falsetto.  You’ve never heard a rendition of our national anthem quite like it, I assure you.

The fireworks were clearly pulling the crowd’s attention from the stage – you couldn’t watch both at the same time – so the band shifted gears for a while, Johnny started rapping about the psychedelic visuals & then took them into a soulful rendition of the Hendrix classic, If 6 Was 9.   I’m not sure if this was planned, but I guess it was since Bobby had brought his wah pedal & worked the thing like it was 1969.  They segued into Mellow Yellow, which turned into a huge crowd singalong; I guess it’s just one of those songs.

When the fireworks waned, Johnny took the band into a rousing In the Midnight Hour and handed the mike off to Love Man Pender for two verses.  That guy is a hoot and sings like a banshee!  If you’ve seen him on Conan, you know what I’d mean.  I was hoping that they’d segue into the song for which he’s best known, Screw You Canada!, but I was to be disappointed again.  Johnny had to wrestle with Pender to get the mike back at the end.  I think it was part of the act but I wasn’t totally sure.

Johnny did a great tribute to Ray Charles with an extended medley of Let’s Go Get Stoned, Hit the Road Jack and I’ve Got A Woman.  Man that took me back.  He also put together a nice Elvis medley of Jailhouse Rock, Hound Dog and Viva Las Vegas.  Cool stuff, I like a guy who knows his roots & takes the time to let you know.

For the second & final encore, Norman Nardini came out again to do some blistering lead guitar work on a Yardbirds-style Train Kept A-Rollin’.  A great evening perfectly framed by two classic Yardbirds songs.  Who’d have expected that?  Here’s to our roots, wherever they are.

Oh yes, Johnny’s set clocked in just shy of 2 & ½ hours.  That’s a Jersey Shore show for ya!

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