I saw Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the Dakota last night
First things first – the Dakota is a great place for an evening out. They make a mean old fashioned.
And just to make sure quality of the first one wasn’t a fluke, I had two more. All of ’em checked out.
The food is pretty righteous, too – although oddly enough, the french fries that came with the outstanding House Burger were cold and not very tasty.
Can’t win ’em all, I guess.
Anyway – if you’ve been reading this space for a while, you’ve familiar with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. They hit their commercial peak in 1978 with the album Hearts of Stone – sometimes called “the best album Springsteen never recorded”, which is a bit of an overstatement; Springsteen wrote half of it (and a great half it was; I reviewed the album ten years ago in this space).
The Jukes have been together since the early seventies – although “together” is kind of relative, since over a hundred musicians have been members of the Jukes at one point or another, including Miami Steve Van Zandt, who produced their first two albums and only left to join the E Street Band in 1975.
Even in their heyday, of course, the Jukes were something of a retro anachronism – a band specializing in horn-driven Stax/Volt soul during the height, respectively, of the singer-songwriter era, Disco, punk, New Wave, synth pop, heartland rock, hair metal, new-jack hip-hop (which dominated the charts when the Jukes had their solitary Top-40 single in 1991, thirteen years after their commercial heyday, with “It’s Been a Long Time”, a musical favor called in with “Southside” Johnny Lyon’s pals, Springsteen, Van Zandt and Jon Bon Jovi) and on and on; by the time they grazed the top forty, they were a borderline nostalgia act. Not only is Lyon the only member left from their seventies glory days, he’s the only member left from twenty years ago.
But don’t let that fool you. They do a fantastic show. Lyon, 69, has always been one of rock and roll’s better lead singers, and while his voice has an extra dollop of gravel after fifty years of leading bands, he hasn’t lost a note (of power, anyway; he joked about his range “I’m a little like Tom Waits these days”.
The setlist was thick with old favorites, with a generous helping of R&B museum pieces delivered with a galloping, sloppy affection, and a few of the band’s newer songs thrown in for good measure.
- The set opened with “Until The Good Is Gone”, a soul-rock opener from Van Zandt’s classic Men Without Women – a group of songs Van Zandt originally wrote for the Jukes, and recorded with the Jukes’ horn section of the day (who went on to be part of the Max Weinberg Seven, and are now touring with Springsteen). .
- “This Time Baby’s Gone For Good”, from Hearts of Stone, one of the most glorious heart-on-the-sleeve breakup songs ever.
- “Sweeter Than Honey” – an R&B classic cover from their first album, which was covered by dozens of R&B artists in the day.
- “Promises to Keep”, off of one of the Jukes newer albums.
- “Love on the Wrong Side of Town” a Springsteen penned song from ’76’s debut album that could have been a Four Seasons song – and that’s a complement.
- “Cadillac Jack”, a blues-rocker from one of the Jukes’ newer albuums
- “I Played The Fool”, another one from Hearts of Stone – one of my favorites, actually (link is to a version from the Capitol Theater in Passaic NJ in 1978, on the Hearts of Stone tour with the band’s definitive lineup – Lyon, Kevin Kavanaugh on keyboards, Billy Rush and Joe Gramolini on guitars, the great Al Keller on bass, Kenny “Popeye” Pentifallo on drums, and the original Miami Horns)
- My Whole World Ended the Moment You Left Me, a David Ruffin deep cut given a raw, horn-driven treatment.
- Walk away Renee – the version the Jukes did from one of their mid-eighties albums. It’s a bit jazzier than the Left Banke’s original.
- Words Fail Me – a slow-burn ballad off of a more recent Jukes record, a duet with keyboard player Jeff Kazee.
- Trapped Again – another Hearts of Stone classid.
- Spinning, another newer Jukes song with a powerful Stax/Volt vibe.
- “Broke Down PIece of Man”, a classic duet with Van Zandt from the band’s ’76 debut.
- “When Rita Leaves, Rita’s Gone”, a Delbert McClinton rave-up.
- “Talk To Me”, a Sprinsteen cover from Hearts of Stone
- “Sherry Darling” – an actual Springsteen song, covered from The River, featuring a raucus mariachi turn from the horn section.
- “The Fever” – the band’s signature song.
- “Without Love”, the Carolyn Franklin R&B classic from the seventies that’s been covered by more artists than “Happy Birthday”.
- And finally, “I Don’t Want To Go Home”, the inevitable encore.
The Jukes have been making the Dakota an annual stop – they’ve appeared there the last two years in March. I bought my tickets for this show in September; I may do it earlier next year.
A friend of mine noted on Facebook “When I hear the Asbury Jukes, I expect to hear the scratch on the vinyl, and an ID for WMMS radio (the Cleveland station that was the greatest rock and roll station ever – the station that broke almost every band that was worth breaking in the seventies). It’s a great description.