Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Southside comes to Michigan

I have a t-shirt I've never worn. It announces "Peace, Love and Jukes," and the dates: March 2-4, 2001. The event was Jukestock, a weekend festival of all things related to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, held at a Holiday Inn in Tinton Falls, New Jersey.

Lori -- 7 months pregnant with Elianna at the time -- needed a doctor's approval to go with me. We took Aaron, just past his 4th birthday, to some of the events. I remember that, during a concert by Mark Pender's band, it was too loud for Aaron so I took him out of the concert room to the hallway... only to realize about a minute later that Pender was doing a Louis Prima routine and leading the band through the hallways -- right to where we had escaped!

The highlight, of course, was Southside's concert at the hotel that Saturday night for the 300 loyal attendees. A stunning 35-song set, highlighted by "This Time Baby's Gone for Good," and a monumental version of the Springsteen composition, "A Little Girl So Fine."

During a photo/autograph session the afternoon before the Jukestock show, I asked John when he was going to come to Michigan. He said something about a friend in Ann Arbor and how he'd like to make it here, but in the decade that passed since Jukestock, the only Michigan dates were in Traverse City and... Canada.

That finally changed Sunday night, 11 years to the day from the end of Jukestock, when Southside appeared at the Magic Bag in Ferndale. And, for the first time since 2001, and first time ever outside New Jersey, I finally got to see Johnny live again. No need to worry about whether John would draw an audience in Michigan; the theater was packed.

The band is nearly totally different than in 2001. Jeff Kazee is still on keyboards, but the other 6 members are all new (though guitarist Glenn Alexander reminded me after the show that he was at Jukestock himself, as part of Mark Pender's band; I didn't ask him if he remembered chasing me and my 4-year old son through the hallways while playing a song).

Southside looks older and his voice is far raspier than a decade ago. And, like too many of us, he could stand to lose a few pounds. But when he started to get warmed up -- and I'd say that was by about the 2nd verse in the night's 2nd song, "Love On the Wrong Side of Town" -- it didn't matter. And, of course, whenever John got out the harmonica, the playing was superb.

The setlist was a typical mix of songs from the The Epic Years, along with a few cuts from Better Days,a couple from his latest album, Pills & Ammo, and a few covers. His version of The Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee" was expected; much less so, takes on the Monkees' "[I'm Not Your] Steppin' Stone" and "Daydream Believer." Yet, despite the seeming similarity of feel, only 5 songs from Sunday night's show were also played at Jukestock.

Southside's banter was typical of him, if perhaps toned down from the good old days. I think he succeeded in getting one of the waitresses some extra tips, at least.

After the show John and the band signed autographs and chatted. I didn't ask when he'd be back; hopefully he'll make it a regular occurrence.

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