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Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Wellmont Theater, Montclair, NJ: All my cares just drift right into space February 26, 2011

Posted by Anton A in American music, Southside Johnny.
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Southside and the Jukes returned to the Wellmont tonight for another rousing, rollicking evening. Like last year, they played a terrific 2 & 1/2 hour show. By somewhere past the midpoint they had most of the crowd on their feet, dancing their shoes off in their seats or down front by the stage. 

  

I can’t pretend to be a dispassionate critic here. After six years of not seeing this band – I have no idea how that happened but it did – last May’s Wellmont show made me a born-again fan. I saw the light that night and caught the Jukes six more times in 2010. I’m hoping at least to equal that this year. No matter what kind of trials and tribulations you’re going through, if you have a taste for the Jukes’ blend of soul-drenched horn-heavy R&B, they’ll leave you feeling exhilarated and glad to be alive when the night is over.

 

You won’t catch these guys playing the same show twice; regardless of who might wander in and out of the band on a given night, Johnny changes the set list every time. These musicians know each other’s moves so well, they can turn on a dime and respond to Johnny’s on-the-fly song choices at the drop-kick of a hat. You never know what you’re going to hear next at a Jukes show; one night’s encore may be the next night’s opener. That is such a rare thing.

 

The Jukes were traveling with one guitarist last night, the talented Glenn Alexander. I’d gotten used to their two-guitar attack last year, with Andy York and then Billy Walton adding more of a hard rock edge to their sound. Last night’s performance was no less of a careening thrill ride for having one fewer of the crew on board. They revved it up and dialed it down in response to Johnny’s cues, taking the audience on an energized trip through the sounds and melodies of several generations, some now starting to fade into history. Bless the Jukes for keeping those tunes alive.


 

The band benefitted from the usual excellent sound mix at the Wellmont, with each instrument and voice ringing clear and distinct. Glenn’s solo guitar allowed John Conte’s fine bass work, Jeff Kazee’s keys and Tom “The Goose” Seguso’s percussion to stand out a bit more, not to mention the amazing horn section.



 

 

Johnny seemed in rare form; his voice was as rich and strrong as I’ve ever heard it, his vibrato didn’t waver. Maybe it was the month off, or maybe Jeff Kazee has found him some new voodoo potion to soothe the vocal cords; whatever it was, Johnny fired it up early and stoked the coals all night.

 

I’ll note a few personal highlights; you can find the full set list here at the wonderful Jukes web site. Johnny’s cover of Walk Away Renee, as always, was an emotional stroll down Memory Street. Why Is Love Such A Sacrifice?, written by early Jukes guitarist Billy Rush, was strong and passionate. Cover versions of Nothing But A Heartache, spiced with Jeff’s fiery Farfisa-toned keyboard riffs, and You’re My Girl with blazing vocals from both Johnny & Jeff, left an almost painful grin on my face.

 

Johnny & Jeff did one of their patented comedy routines. Johnny: “Who are all those peoople standing offstage behind you? There are like 30 people back there.” Jeff, “I don’t know. I’ve never seen them before.” Johnny, “Are they your cousins or something? It’s like playing at Grand Ole Opry up here. Hmmm….. Oh Shenandoah….” And they were off into an impromptu version of the folk classic, which flowed seamlessly into a soulful rendition of Up On The Roof. The song took me back five decades to summer nights in Missouri, listening to the Drifters on my tinny transistor radio when I was a kid in 1962. I love the way that Johnny and the Jukes can stir up memories with an old song like that.

 

There were ripping versions of Johnny’s newest tunes from the Pills & Ammo album. You Can’t Bury Me and One More Night To Rock were full-tilt foot-stompers.

 

 

 All Night Long, their most Stones-like original tune, from the superb Better Days album, was outstanding, with Johnny wailing one great blues lick after another on the harmonica and Glenn matching him line for line.



 

 

A few songs later they played their versions of Happy and Loving Cup, just in case we hadn’t had enough Stones flavor for one night. We’re Having A Party marked the end of the main set; Mark Masefield, from Outside The Box, joined Jeff at the keys to add an extra layer of rocking piano to the first finale. 

 

You know you’re at a Jukes show when the Lead Singer yells, “Play me a surf tune!” in the middle of the encores and the band immediately breaks into a sonic tsunami of Wipe Out.

 

 

 

What a blast it all was. The Jukes know how to have fun and take you along for the ride. They’re the best tonic for whatever might ail you. I look forward to my next dose.

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