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Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Wellmont Theater, Montclair, NJ: Everybody was singing April 21, 2012

Posted by Anton A in American music, Southside Johnny.
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Southside Johnny and The Jukes returned to the Wellmont for a night of unabashedly emotional rock & soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnny set the tone for the evening at the start by announcing a song in tribute to “an honest musician.”  The band slammed a home run with their fierce version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.  I liked the way they bracketed the show with Band songs opening and closing the main set, and then Ophelia as the penultimate encore.  Ironically, Levon Helm’s next show was to have been at the Wellmont before he collapsed and went into his final decline.  You could almost feel his spirit hovering over the stage.  God rest his soul.

New horn man John Isley, replacing both Joey Stann and Ed Manion on tenor and baritone sax, acquitted himself well.  Johnny always finds the perfect musician for each part in the ensemble. 

 

Jeff Kazee left the keys to help out on the drums early in the set.

 

 

 

During the unison horn section solo in Without Love, Johnny asked the guys to change it up and play the solo as a round; they fell into a near-flawless rendition on the spot.  Truly impressive.

 

 

After the best version of Till The Good Is Gone I’ve yet heard, Johnny asked a fellow in the crowd for requests.  Someone else responded, Johnny immediately told him, “Shut up, I didn’t ask YOU!”  The original questionee asked for “Everything,” as in I Want Everything, whereupon Johnny asked the band to play everything they know, each member playing something different.  The resulting cacaphony, with familiar melodies weaving in and out of the din, was both hilarious and brilliant.

This was something other than the usual Jukes show; it left me with both the usual huge grin and a bit of a tear in my eye for old Levon.  I thank the stars that we still have a few honest musicians like these guys on this plane.

 

 

Here’s the set list: 

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Broke Down Piece Of Man, Woke Up This Morning, I Played The Fool, You Can’t Bury Me, Help Me, Walk Away Renee, This Time It’s for Real, Paris, Tango ‘Til They’re Sore, Love on the Wrong Side of Town, Till The Good Is Gone, Everything (each band member playing every song they know all at once), Talk To Me, Harder Than It Looks, Gladly Go Blind, Forever, Strange Strange Feeling, Without Love, All Night Long, Princess of Little Italy, Chest Fever / The Fever, The Weight

Encore: I Don’t Want to Go Home, We’re Having a Party

Second encore: Ophelia

Third encore: Hearts of Stone

More photos are available here.

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Southside Johnny & The Poor Fools, Mexicali Live, Teaneck, NJ: When the night has come March 17, 2012

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Southside Johnny brought his Poor Fools to Mexicali on Saturday night. What a joy for us fans, to be able to see musicians of this caliber in such an intimate setting.

 

 

 

From the first notes of an imaginatively bluesy version of Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, we were led on a journey through songs familiar and unknown, versions old and new.

 

 

Who would expect a hard rocking version of I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight? Johnny and the Fools have an uncanny knack for twisting a song around and making it their own.

 

 

As usual, the Fools were all over their various instruments.

 

 

 

It’s a treat to see Johnny playing guitar, expanding on his lead singer role with the Jukes.

 

 

 

I love the way they each take turns on the drums, bringing their own styles to the beat of each song.

 

 

This marked the first night that I’ve seen John Conte pick up a banjo.

 

 

 

Johnny and the Fools gave us another rousing evening. There are more in my future, and to my mind that’s a good thing.

 

 

 

 

The set list:

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, Love On The Wrong Side Of Town, Lead Me On, Postcards From Hell, Let’s Have A Party, Strange Strange Feeling, Down Home Girl, Can’t Let Go, Beneath Still Waters, All The Way Home, Ophelia, My Old Kentucky Home, Rosa, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, Parchman Farm, Johnny Too Bad, Princess of Little Italy, Stand By Me, I Don’t Want To Go Home, Ain’t No Free, Promised Land, The Fever, Walk Away Renee, Mind Your Own Business

Encore: Trapped Again

More photos can be found here.

Southside Johnny & the Poor Fools, Sharp Theater, Ramapo College, Mahwah, NJ: I got a soul that I won’t sell January 27, 2012

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Southside Johnny began a new performance project late last year, dubbed Southside Johnny and The Poor Fools. They’ve played ten shows now; more are scheduled in between Jukes gigs. The new venture delves into the sort of acoustic-electric roots rock / Americana that one might associate with The Band, Bob Dylan, latter-day Hot Tuna, and various Brothers acts (Wood Brothers, Felice Brothers). It’s both a departure from Jukes music and a natural extension of Johnny’s catalog.

 

With the Poor Fools, Johnny performs more songs by other artists than with the Jukes, as well as imaginative reworkings of his own material. The endeavor sheds new light on Johnny’s roots and adds perspective to the familiar tunes; the segue from Spanish Harlem into I Don’t Want To Go Home, for instance, lets you hear directly the relationship between the two songs, in particular the bass line.

 

 

The Poor Fools started out last year with current Jukes Jeff Kazee on keys

 

 

 

and John Conte on bass,

 

 

 

 

plus guitarist Tommy Byrnes (music director and guitarist with Billy Joel) and violinist Soozie Tyrell.

With Soozie off preparing for the upcoming Springsteen tour, Neal Pawley has stepped in from the Jukes to play guitar, mandolin, banjo, drums and occasional trombone.

 

 

Everyone in the Fools plays pretty much everything at some point in the evening; as my friend Mike said, these guys are “scary talented.”

 

 

 

 

 

They all took turns on the drums except for Johnny (it’s rumored that he has some talent even there but we weren’t to have that treat).

 

 

Johnny played bass on one song,

 

 

 

 

Tommy Byrnes hit the keyboards on a couple of tunes,

 

 

 

Jeff Kazee stepped out on accordion a few times….

 

 

 

It’s an amazing display of musicianship.

 

 

 

The set list:

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, Postcards from Hell, Cross That Line, All the Way Home, Little Calcutta, Love on the Wrong Side of Town, Down Home Girl/Something You Got, Can’t Let Go, Aint No Free, Beneath Still Waters, Bartender’s Blues, Ophelia, The Fever, Spanish Harlem/I Don’t Want to Go Home, Umbrella in My Drink, Rosa. Comes to Me Naturally, Strange Strange Feeling, Trapped Again

encore:

Walk away Renee, My Old Kentucky Home (Turpentine and Dandelion Wine).

The Poor Fools are a quieter, more laid back experience than a Jukes show, but no less engaging or soul-satisfying. I can tell that this outfit is going to be as essential to my psyche as the Jukes are these days. I look forward to many more shows.

 

More photos, 75 in all, can be found here.

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

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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.

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes in Jersey and New York: Two more nights to rock September 25, 2010

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This was Southside Johnny weekend here in the NJ/NYC area. Last night Johnny & The Jukes inaugurated the bandshell and amphitheater at the new section of Overpeck County Park,  up in the town of Ridgefield Park. The park was a quick ten-mile drive from my house, couldn’t have been more convenient. I plotted my route through the apparent maze of roads & highways around the park with the help of Google Maps; it proved to be easy to follow and, wonder of wonders, the signage along the way was excellent.

They’ve done nice earthworks at the amphitheater, building a genuine bowl-shaped area so that the lawn-chair-&-blanket people can see over each other. A little flat area immediately in front of the stage was roped off for the ardent fans who wanted to stand and rock. I was able to walk right down and hang a dozen feet from the stage. That was a treat.

Johnny and the band brought the goods, as always. New bassist Skip Ward was on the job in place of John Conte. It never seems to matter; Johnny has a group of seasoned, skilled players to draw on. They’re tight when they need to be and loose when you want ’em that way. They always put a grin on my face.

Unfortunately I was not prepared, map-wise, for the trip home. The cops had closed off the south entrance to the park after the show, so I could not retrace my route. I asked a cop how to get where I needed to go, but he gave me bad directions such I that wound up driving in a huge 7-mile circle through darkest Englewood, only to find myself right back where I started. Found my way at that point, thankfully.

 
Tonight the band and the fans took over BB King’s, on 42nd Street, for a couple of hours. It was a general admission / standing room show; they’d cleared the floor of the usual jammed-in tables and chairs, which was a welcome change. This place is such a contradiction, coupling what may be the best sound system in an NYC club with practices and attitudes that scream “CLIP JOINT!” in every other respect. I won’t go into the litany of aggravations I’ve had at previous shows there.

Tonight’s scam was an unadvertised midnight rap event that slapped a 10:00 curfew on Johnny’s show. Maddening. You go onto the club’s website, see that Johnny starts at 8:00, you’re thinking you might get another sweet 2 & 1/2-hour show, but nope, that’s not gonna happen at BB King’s when they have a chance to turn the room over twice. Bastards.

Anyway, that aside, I’ve never heard any band sound better than they do in this miserable place, and that held true for the Jukes. The 2-hours-flat show was a blast. Bobby Lynch was sitting in on the keys for Jukes stalwart Jeff Kazee; Johnny said something about Jeff being down in Baltimore earning a lot of money at that moment.

A choice piece of audience interaction: Johnny kept asking the crowd what they wanted to hear and sometimes played what they wanted. At one point he walked over to a particualrly loud guy and said, “We’ve already played two songs you asked for, if you ask for one more, I’m gonna make you move to the back to the room. Or else you’re gonna buy beers for everybody here,” drawing a circle with his arm.

After the next song tbe guy was back at it. “OK, that’s it. Waitress! 20 beers, right down here!” He wasn’t joking. A waitress showed up with a bucket of beers & Johnny made the guy pay, though not without adding some bills from his own pocket.  Relenting a bit as they settled the tab, Johnny asked the guy, “How much did you pay? Eighty bucks? OK, I’ve gotta give you some more.” Reached into his pocket, pulled out a couple more bills, handed them down.

Then, with that wry grin of his: “Damn! That’s all I’ve got? That’s the way it happens every time. You come into New York with a pocketful of money and leave with nothing but a pocketful of memories.”

Love that guy.

Seriously, for my money, Johnny and The Jukes are the most inspiring live act out there right now. The setlists below (my thanks to the fans at the Southside Forum for these) will give you an idea of how they shake things up from night to night. Don’t be surprised to see me at their show up in Westchester in two weeks. I’ve got a fever and the only cure is MORE SOUTHSIDE!

9/24/2010
The NEW Overpeck Park
Ridgefield Park, NJ

Forever
You Can’t Bury Me
Passion Street
I Played the Fool
Walk away Renee
Woke up This Morning
Coming Back
Got to Get You off of My Mind
Talk to Me
Lost
Harder Than It Looks
Love on the Wrong Side of Town
Hearts of Stone
Tango Till They’re Sore
All Night Long
This Time It’s for Real
You’re My Girl
Lead Me On
Fever
Trapped Again
I Don’t Want to Go Home

First Encore:
One More Night to Rock

Second Encore:
We’re Having a Party

Band Lineup:
Vocals, Southside Johnny
Keyboards, Jeff Kazee
Guitar, Billy Walton
Bass, Skip Ward
Drums, Tom Seguso
Guitar, Glenn Alexander
Baritone Sax, Ed Manion
Trombone and Guitar, Neal Pawley
Trumpet, Chris Anderson
Sax, Joey Stann

9/25/2010
B.B. Kings Blues Club & Grill
New York, NY

Happy
I Played the Fool
Love on the Wrong Side of Town
Lead Me On
Harder Than It Looks
Take It Inside
Gin Soaked Boy
Paris
Woke up This Morning
Cadillac Jack
Better Days
Talk to Me
Into the Harbour
Cross That Line
All Night Long
Tango Till They’re Sore
One More Night to Rock
Without Love
I Don’t Want to Go Home
Fever
Trapped Again

Encore:
Forever
We’re Having a Party

Band Lineup:
Vocals, Southside Johnny
Keyboards, Bobby Lynch
Guitar, Billy Walton
Bass, Skip Ward
Drums, Tom Seguso
Guitar, Glenn Alexander
Baritone Sax, Ed Manion
Trombone and Guitar, Neal Pawley
Trumpet, Chris Anderson
Sax, Joey Stann

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Tarrytown Music Hall, Tarrytown, NY: Hot Fun In The Summertime July 22, 2010

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This time I thought I’d let some pictures do most of the talking, but first I’ve got to note what a stellar night it was for cover tunes. There was the Sly & The Family Stone hit from 1969 referenced in the post title; that followed seamlessly from Walk Away Renee, the haunting Left Banke tune that Johnny has made his own. A few songs later, we got Nothing But A Heartache, the 1968 hit from the Flirtations that’s become another Jukes staple. Towards the end of the main set, Johnny took a quick break while Jeff Kazee treated us to his rendition of Looking For A Love, the song that put the J. Geils Band on the map.

Those four songs vibrated with passion & musical history, but the Jukes had more fun in store for the second encore set. The band came back on stage; Johnny started some banter about “What day is it today, it’s Thursday? Hey do we know any Thursday songs?” Somebody started playing the Ruby Tuesday riff and before you knew what was happening, they were off into Ruby Thursday, with Johnny and Jeff Conte trading the vocal lines. They played the song all the way through in spite of a few lapses in the lyrics, then went into Rainy Days and Thursdays, the Mamas & Papas gem Thursday, Thursday, and a stinging rendition of Elton John’s Thursday Night’s Alright For Fighting. Who else could bring off such a tour de force on the fly? Pure summertime magic.

The full setlist can be found here on the Southside website.

And now, the photos. As always, click to enlarge.

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Wellmont Theatre, Montclair, NJ: Still havin’ a party May 7, 2010

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A couple of weeks ago I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to go see Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes at The Wellmont Theatre in Montclair. I’ve been rained and snowed out of too many shows that I’ve paid for way in advance, so I was holding off for this one. With no major storms on the horizon, I went on line and made the fateful click.

It proved a fine decision. The venue is an easy 20-minute drive over to a town I know well. I arrived early enough to savor a few pleasant minutes at a local cafe just up the hill from the theater, sitting at a sidewalk table with a cup of their superb coffee, checking out the stream of passersby all duded up for Friday night, and watching the sunset colors play across the sky above Bloomfield Ave.

Feeling well refreshed, I strolled down in time to catch most of the opening set by the Bob Polding Trio, who also hail from the current Jersey Shore scene. They are Polding singing his songs and playing acoustic guitar, Peter Wood on guitar, and the very talented Gary Oleyar on fiddle & harmony vocals. Most of the songs seemed to be some variation of G-Em-C-D, but the guitar textures were rich, Polding has a good voice, like a deeper Jon Bon Jovi, and Oleyar kept it interesting. I enjoyed everything they did.

Johnny & the Jukes showed up a few minutes after 9:00. They played for 2 hrs & 20 minutes. It’s impossible not to have a good time when they’re on stage. Some excellent cover tunes – a Solomon Burke number, Walk Away Renee (total showstopper), Up On The Roof, Happy, Hard Day’s Night – were sprinkled among a cavalcade of Southside Johnny classics. There were four new songs, which sound as strong and gutsy as anything in his back catalog. These guys straddle the intersection of 60s & 70s soul, R&B, pop and rock, and add that distinctive Jersey Shore touch (please, don’t even think about the TV show in this context); in the course of an evening they cover a huge swath of our popular musical heritage.

This version of the Jukes is, to my ears, crisper than the group I saw backing him six years ago. Much to my surprise, who should turn up on rhythm guitar but Andy York from John Mellencamp’s band. Fans of the great Ian Hunter know Andy very well. Andy always gets himself into interesting situations when Mellencamp is on hiatus; he also plays on Johnny’s new CD, to be released in June.

A very skilled fellow named Glenn Alexander does most of the lead work, but Andy & the unnamed bassist really anchor the band’s sound. Jeff Kazee, on keyboards, has a strong tenor soul voice. He could easily front his own band; his high harmonies make for some thrilling vocal textures.

An excellent drummer & 4-man horn section round things out. They all get a couple of solo turns as the night progresses.

Johnny paces the stage like a cranky old lion, shakes and quivers when it’s time to squeeze every last drop of emotion out of a lyric, cadges drinks from the audience, brings the band up and down with quick gestures: the quintessential front man with a heart full of soul.

It can seem like a genially ramshackle show. You sometimes get the feeling that Johnny is making up the set list on the fly. It was amusing, watching them trying to get Hard Day’s Night off the launching pad. Andy hit the opening chord & went into the song with Johnny hopelessly off key; they tried that twice. Johnny then said, “No, I’m not finding the key, I’m not like you, I can’t just change the position of my fingers on my throat. You start it off and I’ll follow.” Andy hit the chord a third time and belted out the first lines; Johnny quickly found the key; they delivered a ripping version of the song, complete with terrrific three-part harmonies.

Johnny uses his years of experience and strong sense of stagecraft to lead the band through one crescendo after another. It’s an inspiring show. I won’t wait six years to see them again.

P.S. This is funny: throughout the show I was thinking how much the bassist looks like New York Dolls guitarist Steve Conte.  After writing the above, I went to Southside’s website and learned that he is, in fact, John Conte, Steve’s younger brother.

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ: Only one place to be, on the beach July 4, 2004

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We drove down to the Jersey Shore in the afternoon to catch Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes’ 4th of July show on the outdoor stage at the fabled Stone Pony in Asbury Park.

We first hit Belmar, a couple of towns below Asbury, 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. It was a flavorful view even if the food was dull.

We drove back 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 – as far as I can tell, Bobby has 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 & 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 in this area. 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, 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 rockin’ & reminiscin’.

Former Jukes La Bamba and Mark “Love Man” Pender, currently appearing with the Max Weinberg Seven on the Conan O’Brien show, filled out the 5-piece horn section. When the local fireworks went off, the band broke into an a capella 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 If 6 Was 9. I’m not sure if this was planned, but I guess it was cuz Bobby had brought his wah pedal & worked the thing like it was 1969. That segued into Mellow Yellow, which for some reason turned into a huge crowd singalong; it’s just one of those songs.

As 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 & 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 you!