Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

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My friend Pat insisted (love those demands!) on us seeing a show together this year and bought tickets for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. That show happened to fall on the blizzard weekend and was rescheduled for a potentially beautiful May evening. This past Saturday, during the monsoon rainstorm, we ventured out to the Keswick Theater to enjoy the rescheduled show.

The opening act was Ginger Coyle, a local singer songwriter. For those keeping track at home this was now my third singer songwriter in two days and she could not have been more different than the previous two. She had a big voice; I mean a really big voice. Definitely too big for the Carole King cover she sung. But I liked her spunk and enthusiasm and even though I felt like I was being sung at instead of sung to; it was a good way to get ready for Southside Johnny.

Southside Johnny and his eight Asbury Jukes took the stage and wasted no time by launching into a rollicking Steve Van Zandt cover. I knew it was going to be a good show immediately. For those who are not familiar with Southside Johnny, he is considered the grandfather of the “Jersey Shore sound” and came out of the shore around the same time as another little known Jersey shore performer named Bruce Springsteen. His first three albums were arranged and produced by the co-founder of the band Steven Van Zandt, who is most known for his role on The Sopranos and, uh, playing with Bruce Springsteen! Growing up, it seemed he was always playing somewhere and every show he played at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, Springsteen would show up. Or, at least according to friends who would drive all those hours based on a rumor that was happening. Pat, who grew up in the Northeast, had the exact same recollection as I did, but he actually jumped in the car way more than I did. Ironically, I am not sure if I ever saw him live in concert or saw him 25 times. On some level I feel like I saw him every weekend because he was always playing. In fact, a friend said he played her prom in 1980s in Abington, PA. That can’t be true, can it? If any of my vast number of followers (or one of the 23) can confirm that or tell me we saw him together, that would be very helpful.

Back to the music. He has not lost it and is aging, if not well, certainly well enough to put on a great show for a couple of hours. I was thinking during the show of how to articulate in words the Jersey Shore sound, when he launched into Walk Away Rene. Boom- that is what it all about. Listen to that song and you will understand it too. He evokes those long days at the shore, getting sandy and brunt, hanging out on the boardwalk, chasing sunsets and love, dreaming about the future and escaping it all.

He is the most unassuming of the bunch, performing in jeans and a polo short. Meanwhile, the Asbury Jukes are an impressive bunch. Gotta love a full horn section and the saxophone player alternated tenor, bass and baritone saxophones throughout the night. There were tight guitar rifts and at one point the keyboardist and drummer were both banging away on the drum set. Southside’s scraggly, smoky, cigarette and bourbon voice brings it all together. There was lots of harmonica and just all around tight, tight blues sound. I heard so many influences throughout his show. At any one point, you could definitely hear, to name a few, J. Geils, George Thorogood, Tom Petty, Tom Waits and, if Eric Clapton’s “You Look Beautiful Tonight “is not a rip-off of Southside’s “Words Fail Me,” well, then, words fail me. And I mean that he influenced them, not that they influenced him. In fact, one of the folks we went to the show with said a couple of years ago, Southside did a full Tom Waits cover album set to big band sound. Get your head around that! I am psyched to check it out- Southside is crazy, and talented, enough to make it work. I love rock and roll and I love the blues and I love them together. I guess that is how I would articulate the Jersey Shore sound. This music reaches down into your soul and spits you back out, all accompanied by a tight and loud horn section. I like how I am closing this year by going back to my original musical roots. And I love that Southside Johnny was here with me.

I just wish the show was in a venue where I could dance the whole time instead of a seated theater. You want to hear him in a beach bar that you rode to in your one speed fat tired bike in flip flops, with the sounds of waves just beyond your reach, a hint of Coppertone in the air and the tightness of skin as a result of too much sun that day. That is the real Jersey Shore sound experience.

1 show to go, 13 days left…

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes Setlist, May 21, 2016



Graham Nash

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The ongoing debate of who is your favorite Beatle is as old as, well, the Beatles. But there is the little known discussion, the poor man’s debate as you will, of who is your favorite Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Younger. Over the years, though I occasionally flirted, and flirted hard, with Neil Young, I always returned to Graham Nash. Imagine my delight when I saw he was touring and would make a stop at the Keswick Theater.

There is that initial fear of seeing a musician who was so important to you at one point during your life. For me, Graham Nash’s “Songs for Beginners” album was the soundtrack of my activism during the 80s. His songs spoke to me. They were political, personal, emotional, but also hopeful. Again and again, I truly believed him as he sang, “we can change the world.” So while I was excited, I was also hesitant in case he did not live up to my memories. Turns out, there was no reason to be worried.

He came out on a minimal stage with one other musician, Shane Fontayne (who is no slouch), and said, “this is it for tonight.” Believe me, it was more than enough. One of the treats of seeing an artist without a lot of bells and whistles is that it usually ends being a very intimate affair. And this sure was. He had recently published his autobiography, so he was not only playing his songs, but also sharing the back story of the songs with us. It was like an audiobook with a soundtrack.   Throughout the evening, we learned the how song came to be, who he was hanging with, his anger, disappointment and hope about the world, what drugs he was taking, etc. He was absolutely charming.

Of course, all of this would have been for naught if his voice did not hold up. And there was the true delight of the evening. His voice has not only held up over the years, I actually prefer it. There is now a richness to his voice that is just not possible at 20 years old with minimal life experience. And it was one I prefer. With this voice, his songs did not seem dated nor out of touch, they seemed incredibly relevant.

I am looking forward to his upcoming solo album, because the songs he played seemed more personal than political. I think that, at 20, it is hard to share your emotions, but you can channel them through your political beliefs. At 70, there is no reason not to be vulnerable and I feel that he is writing and singing about emotions without the political as a cover. Don’t get me wrong, he sang a beautiful song written about Michael Brown on the year anniversary of Ferguson. But the majority of the new songs seem about him as a man with emotions, not as a man with political beliefs. Beautiful, just beautiful.

I went in wanting to see one of my past heroes and came out with a new appreciation for the man, his music and his life. What a wonderful surprise and treat. And, if you are wondering, I still strongly believe, as Graham does, that “we can change the world.”

34 shows to go, 297 days left…