Like a hot, sweaty hurricane of unmistakable New Jersey-style barroom rock 'n roll came the Asbury Jukes, led by the inimitable Southside Johnny, to transform Clearwater's cozy Capitol Theater into a seaside Jersey joint for the first of their two bay area shows last Wednesday night.
A longtime fan favorite since his early days as a mainstay on the Garden State club circuit, Southside Johnny (Lyon) obviously has a steady stream of devoted followers all over the globe. By popular demand, a second show had to be added to the Capitol's schedule to accommodate all the transplanted Jerseyans who now call the Sunshine State home.
And, in true Southside fashion, he did not disappoint the near-capacity weeknight crowd that turned out to see him do his thing. Fronting a particularly tight and furious Jukes lineup that, in traditional fashion, featured a three-piece horn section, Southside led the band in his trademark raspy blues-soaked wail that has colored his sound since the mid-1970's.
Donning a simple black sports jacket, faded jeans and white buttoned shirt and shades, Johnny kicked the evening into high gear immediately upon taking the stage. Rousing the band as the ace showman he is, it wasn't too long until Johnny dipped into the archives of the Jukes songbook, which repeatedly sent the faithful crowd into an eruption of cheers and hollers, perfectly evidenced by his passionate rendition of the title track from his 1991 album, Better Days.
Never one to stick to a stale or regimented setlist, Johnny led the band into many of the evening's selections in spur-of-the-moment fashion. Trading glances and whispering to ace keyboardist and longtime Juke Jeff Kazee, Johnny seemed to be pulling songs from thin air as he cruised through the performance.
Johnny's soaring, gravely vocal style is best suited for rhythm and blues influenced rock. There's no finer example of this truth than hearing his dynamic rendition of the heavily Four Tops-influenced 1978 gem "I Played The Fool," which seems to have gotten better with age.
While he apologized for the state his voice was in from a recent bout with illness, it was hard to tell that Southside wasn't admittedly up to his normal game. A sparkling version of Little Steven Van Zandt's "Forever" made it easy to forget about any lingering sickness; Johnny nailed this one thanks to the excellent work of trumpet player Chris Anderson, trombonist Neal Pawley and especially sax player John Isley. "When the Jukes are in town, everything is better!" Johnny barked half-way into the show to a crowd that agreed wholeheartedly.
The playful, loose mood of the evening was evidenced by Johnny occasionally asking us what we'd like to hear. As is usually the case, he was met with an inaudible roar a few of those times. However, one shouted request was heard clearly and was instantly obliged. "Long Distance!" the person screamed and, in a flash, Johnny led the band into that 1980 gem.
A night of memories and good times flew by way too fast and, before we knew it, it was time for "I Don't Want to Go Home," the staple that usually comes towards the tail-end of a Southside Johnny concert. Two well-deserved encores brought the band back out onstage and ended with the signature Bruce Springsteen-penned anthem "Hearts of Stone" and a rip-roaring version of Sam Cooke's "Having A Party," which could have gladly gone on way into the wee hours of the night.
And when Southside signed off by shouting "See ya on Friday!" as he left stage close to 10:30 p.m., it was clear from the ovation that most in attendance would be repeat customers and would get their dose of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes once again before the week was over...and who could blame them?
One of the few guys left in the game who can sing his ass off, enchant a crowd with his charm and style, and deliver the goods night after night, Southside Johnny Lyon is a boda fide entertainer and a true showman, and no one knows it better than his diehard followers, who have supported him for nearly four decades. Age has done nothing to slow the dedication of the audience or of Southside's blistering performances as was glaringly obvious last week in downtown Clearwater.
Shake 'Em Down
I Played The Fool
Walk Away Renee
Talk To Me
Woke Up This Morning
Into the Harbour
Cross That Line
Can't Find My Way Home (sung by Jeff Kazee)
Nothing But A Heartache
Until The Good Is Gone
I Don't Want To Go Home
Hearts of Stone
We're Having a (Cowbell) Party
We're Having a Party (reprise)
Excellent review, sorry I missed the concert.
I was fortunate to see Bonnie Raitt. Her stage presence was heart warming and her…
loved it! Well worth the $$.