Monday, March 30, 2015


A revised and expanded version of my review of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes's two recent concerts was published on ParcBench on March 18 (see above link).  Thanks (again) to Gregory Zeigerson and ParcBench.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes Come Home Again

The first night was not even sold out.

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes ended a two-night stand at their famous birthplace, The Stone Pony, last night.  Friday night’s show was advertised as “Rare Jukes: All the Non-Hits, All the Time” (even though they did not have a hit).  Saturday night’s show was advertised as “Prove It All Night: The Music of Bruce Springsteen.”  At least Saturday sold out well in advance (prompting the venue to issue a disclaimer to the overwhelming response that no tickets would be released and that no one but Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes would be there), but that might have had as much to do with the songwriter of most of that night’s songs as much as the artist.

Anyway, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes can apparently no longer sell out an evening full of rarities at The Stone Pony on a Friday evening with relatively reasonable ticket prices (a special two-day “VIP” pass was available).  There is little (if any) causal relationship between this fact and the quality of their current performances, and I doubt there is much of a causal relationship between the absence of all of the members of their classic lineup and the available tickets.  It’s the Endarkenment.
As their fans (and anyone else who appreciates extemporaneous, colorful, melodic, and skillful live music) know, Uncle South and company are a cultural treasure for any fan of modern popular music.  As I’ve previously written, they may be the greatest bar band (that is saying something, and that is a compliment).  Their typical repertoire is a diverse array of classic R&B and rock & roll covers, early songs written by Bruce Springsteen and/or founding member Steve Van Zandt, and more recent songs written by the man legally known as John Lyon and others (usually longtime Jukes keyboardist/vocalist Jeff Kazee).  Obviously, this weekend’s shows had little of the typical repertoire (Southside thinks that calling them “concerts” is too high-falutin’), but a few welcome regulars showed up among the long-unplayed (and, in a few cases, probably never-played) rarities.
There were no openers.  The doors opened at 7 PM on freezing winter evenings, and a legendary New Jersey shore disc jockey (whose name I cannot recall) played geographically appropriate tunes (including Bon Jovi, John Eddie, and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band).  The club’s walls are still festooned with posters of past events and autographed guitars (I saw one the stupendous and unsung Jesse Malin left behind with his trademark slogan “P.M.A.”—positive mental attitude—from a 2007 performance I attended).  The club, which opened in March 1974, was concluding its 40th anniversary festivities (and was still selling related T-shirts).

Around 8:57 PM Eastern Standard Time on Friday, the great-uncle of the dwindling local music scene and his current sidemen entered through the side-stage door from the dark, frigid shore night.  Some of the most beloved long-time Jukes have long left for presumably higher-paying jobs, musical and otherwise.  Guitarist and songwriter Billy Rush is reportedly selling cars in Florida. Drummer and vocalist Kenny “Popeye” Pentifallo and keyboardist Kevin Kavanaugh surfaced on their annual Fourth of July weekend concert on July 3, 2008 in two of the local opening acts.  Pentifallo came across as a semi-retired musician who prospered in another line of work, and the youthful-looking Kavanaugh has since died young.  Baritone saxophonist Eddie Manion now works with a more famous New Jersey musical boss.  Trombonist and vocalist Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg and trumpeter and vocalist Mark “The Love Man” Pender moved to Los Angeles with Conan O’Brien (I don’t watch television, but one can apparently still see them on O’Brien’s TBS show).  Guitarist and songwriter Bobby Bandiera tours with a band called Bon Jovi, but he still occasionally shows up with his erstwhile band the Asbury Jukes (especially in the studio).  The ever-evolving Asbury Jukes lineup on Friday night consisted of Kazee, Tom Seguso on drums, John Conte on bass guitar, Glenn Alexander on guitar, Neal Pawley on trombone and acoustic guitar, Chris Anderson on trumpet, Doug DeHays on saxophones, and Doug DeHays on tenor and baritone saxophones.
DeHays started the festivities with an unplanned (or, at least, unsetlisted) rendition of the Star Trek theme (presumably inspired by Leonard Nimoy’s death).  It reminded this unfamiliar observer of “The Christmas Song” and more or less segued into The Soul Survivors’ “Expressway to Your Heart.”  I was expecting more obscure Jukes songs than covers (the women behind me screaming for “Paris” from 1979’s Mercury release The Jukes evidently were as well), but it is always a privilege to take an artful, artistic, and entertaining tour with this band.  Another highlight in the covers category on Friday evening was an impromptu rendition of Ray Charles’s (?) “Drown In My Own Tears” which South handed off to Kazee to sing.  (The frontman was drunker than usual and uncharacteristically took a long drink from a beer bottle.  He related in interviews that rehearsals for these performances were strenuous, and he seemed stressful on Friday night.)  Kazee’s vocals and smoldering organ piloted an indelible performance of the song.  Highlights from the obscure originals category included “Little Calcutta” (from 1988’s solo album Slow Dance, perhaps Southside’s only political song) and “When You Dance,” the long-lost Springsteen-Van Zandt composition written for the Bruce Springsteen Band in 1971 that ended up on the second Asbury Jukes album, the Van Zandt-produced This Time It’s For Real (Epic, 1977).  Pawley (known as “The Dude”) bought to life La Bamba’s desultory trombone sound effects from the record.  As on the recording, various band members chanted “La Bamba” to set up the familiar introduction.  The twist this time were introjections of “The Dude” on account of the current lineup.  (The reticent Pawley’s sobriquet may have something to do with his long hair, his laconic personality, or both.  He was born in the formerly great Britain but became a U.S. citizen after joining the band, apparently because they just could not have a Brit in this band of rootsy, U.S. R&B-inflected Americans.)  “When You Dance” is one of many songs that likely would have been a hit with the benefit of different marketing or packaging.  (Another such song, the Springsteen composition “Talk to Me,” was abandoned mid-song earlier in the evening but would return, intact, on Saturday.)  A semi-highlight, the rarely-performed-these-days “I’m So Anxious” (from The Jukes), was marred by forgotten lyrics, but the forgetful frontman salvaged it by instructing the band to rewind the song (while the band was playing), which the band adroitly did.  The incident reified how refreshingly chaotic a Jukes “show” is in these days of programmed lights and standard setlists—no one knows exactly which song, or even which song part, comes next.  And no matter which Jukes lineup is onstage, the lineup efficaciously steps in smoothly.  The familiar “The Fever,” the Springsteen reject from the first Jukes album (I Don’t Want to Go Home, Epic, 1976), didn’t seem to fit Friday’s theme at all, but it is always welcome (even in the shorter, different Asbury Jukes arrangement), and they virtually always play it.  Anderson’s puissant trumpet solo impressed.
Friday came to a close with a foretaste of Saturday.  South called out a few Springsteen songs scheduled for night two.  The main set closed with “Cover Me” (a maligned, contrived hit pop single originally written for Donna Summer).  It’s actually a first-rate song, and hearing it get the Asbury Jukes treatment (including the colorful, if truncated, horn section) was a pleasant surprise.  Alexander is a competent guitarist, but his Eighties-style tone (not to mention his long hair) betray a fish out of water.  Despite the distracting tone (which jarringly resurfaced occasionally throughout the weekend), “Cover Me” was fun (including Alexander’s solo).  The encore included “All the Way Home” (another Springsteen reject which surfaced in a different arrangement on Southside and the Jukes’ 1991 Impact Records release Better Days).  (“When somebody gives you a song, you do it,” Southside tersely explained.)  Alexander and Pawley played acoustic guitars, Kazee played accordion, and they strangely appended a sotto voce partial rendition of the obscure Springsteen barnburner “Where the Bands Are” at the end.  Night one ended with a puzzling “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” (which probably shouldn’t be performed by anyone other than Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band).  Inviting two audience members to sing along during different parts of the song contributed to the sense of incongruity, but Friday was mostly an enjoyably rare experience.

Saturday, as advertised, was even less familiar (and even more crowded).  Taking the stage a few minutes later than the previous night with a larger lineup (two extra horn players and former drummer Joe Bellia on auxiliary percussion), the second night commenced with “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” (with a “Rosalita” coda tacked on to the end).  “All the Way Home” returned early, followed by a subtle reinterpretation of “Something in the Night” (which name checks nearby Kingsley Street and couldn’t have been omitted).  An early highlight this night was the familiar (to Jukes fans) “Trapped Again” (a Lyon/Springsteen/Van Zandt composition from 1978’s Epic release Hearts of Stone).  Mr. Lyon explained how he had written much of the song when he showed it to his friends.  They immediately had suggestions for improvements, and he wisely noted that one shouldn’t argue with those two when they thought they could improve one’s own song.  Saturday’s set combined songs most fans likely never thought they’d hear Southside sing with Springsteen compositions he regularly sings (“Talk to Me”—another Hearts of Stone track—was thankfully performed in full).  The set was mostly geared with obscurities for the savvy locals (“Cover Me” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” aside, which were reprised—near the beginning this time).  The jaunty “Kitty’s Back” benefited from the full horn section and Kazee’s organ solo (though it seemed slightly short compared to the marathon, extended-solo E Street Band performances of yore).  “Stolen Car” was played (in its familiar arrangement from The River—an earlier arrangement is a fan favorite).  A dolorous “Nebraska,” colored with Kazee’s accordion and Pawley’s and Anderson’s acoustic guitars, seemed out of place and less than effective (Southside vowed to depress the audience before the song started).  More subtle darkness followed with a nod to Springsteen’s recent disappointing full-bore Marxism (in this case, “Jack of All Trades”).  Then they welcomed Bandiera to the stage to close out the weekend.  (Some kind of impromptu vamp or piece accompanied the arrival of an unrecognizable, aged, and white-haired and -bearded Bandiera to the stage after a tardy appearance at that side-stage door.)  Bandier played skillfully, and his tone was more congruent than Anderson’s, but he didn’t move as much as he used to, holding his Fender in the air during solos like Arthur hoisting Excalibur.  The ebullient “Sherry Darling” inspired a crowd sing-a-long. (The River songs in general dovetail with the attitude and style of Southside and the Jukes—the leader even picked up a tambourine, which he rarely does.  Even the rarely performed and usually lackluster “Fade Away” was a high watermark of the weekend.)  The full run-through of “Talk to Me” benefitted from Bandiera, as did all three impromptu encore performances.  They kicked off the encore with another run-through of “When You Dance” and followed with the pre-Bandiera title tracks “This Time It’s For Real” and “Hearts of Stone” (the former a Van Zandt composition that worked anyway).
The Endarkenment oozes on, culturally and politically, towards whatever comes next.  (Hours earlier, a relative remarked offhandedly in a nearby restaurant that this is not a free country anymore.)  But those with the opportunity to see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes should take advantage of an opportunity to experience a dying art form as well as vestiges of a better culture.

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes
The Stone Pony
Asbury Park, NJ, USA
Friday, February 27-Saturday, February 28, 2015

February 27
"Rare Jukes: All the Non-Hits, All the Time"

Star Trek Theme
Expressway to Your Heart
Somebody to Love You
I'm So Anxious
Talk to Me [curtailed]
Little Calcutta
Ain't Gonna Eat out My Heart Anymore
No Easy Way Down
Cry to Me
Everybody Needs Somebody to Love
The Letter
Your Precious Love
Fannie Mae
The Fever
Ain't That Peculiar
Drown in My Own Tears
Ride the Night Away
When You Dance
Little by Little
Look on Yonder Wall
Woke up This Morning
The Dark End of the Street
Snatchin' It Back
Cover Me

All the Way Home/Where the Bands Are
You Can't Bury Me
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out [with audience members]

Southside Johnny: vocals, harmonica, and percussion
Jeff Kazee: keyboards, accordion, percussion, and vocals (lead vocals on "Drown in My Own Tears")
John Conte: bass guitar and vocals
Glenn Alexander: electric guitar and acoustic guitar
Tom Seguso: drumset
Doug DeHays: tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone 
Chris Anderson: trumpet 
Neal Pawley: trombone and acoustic guitar

February 28
"Prove It All Night: The Music of Bruce Springsteen"

Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?/Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Cover Me
All the Way Home
Something in the Night
Trapped Again
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Johnny 99
Stolen Car ["The River" version]
Prove It All Night
Kitty's Back
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Fade Away
You Mean So Much to Me
Jack of All Trades
vamp [welcoming Bobby Bandiera to the stage]
Murder Incorporated
The Fever
Talk to Me
Sherry Darling
Where the Bands Are

When You Dance
This Time It's for Real
Hearts of Stone

Southside Johnny: vocals, harmonica, and percussion
Jeff Kazee: keyboards, accordion, percussion, and vocals
John Conte: bass guitar and vocals
Glenn Alexander: electric guitar and acoustic guitar
Tom Seguso: drumset
Doug DeHays: tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone 
Chris Anderson: trumpet 
Neal Pawley: trombone and acoustic guitar
Joe Bellia: percussion
Bobby Bandiera: electric guitar and vocals ("Murder Incorporated" through "Hearts of Stone")
Crispin Cioe: baritone saxophone

Don Harris: trumpet and percussion

the marquee on Friday

the marquee and infamous tarp on Friday

"Sent from AOL Mobile Mail"  (I think one of the "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" audience singers let me take that image, and I thank her.)

Southside sings "Fade Away" (and I had my hands full, hence the lack of focus).

Thanks to the gentlemen who let me take this image.