Southside Johnny and his crackerjack band (he always has one, no matter who cycles in and out) hit thestage with a bang, delivering “One More Night to Rock” as if it were the last night they had to rock. Unfortunately, the rest of the evening didn’t go as smoothly, and although there were moments of Southside’s usual brilliance sprinkled here and there, it was the Asbury Jukes and Southside’s deep catalogue that really made the evening worthwhile.
Just back from Spain and jetlagged, Southside wandered into setlist confusion, wrong keys and pitchy deliveries on a number of songs. After reminding us he had 20-some albums and about 200 songs, he announced “I feel like doing old Jukes songs,” and that’s what they did, starting out with “Love On the Wrong Side of Town,” which ended in a duet. Bandleader and keyboardist Jeff Kazee and bassist John Conte frequently stepped in to rescue Southside’s usually outstanding vocals when they faltered, I’m assuming out of sheer fatigue.
About halfway through the night, he started out on an acapella harmony version of “Walk Away Renee,” which began well, but began to falter, recover, and falter again throughout the song. That performancereminded me of a ship in an epic storm: despite heartstoppingly scary moments, ultimately the captain saved the day thanks to a dedicated crew, years of experience and a large dose of God-given talent. The night did get better, as Southside either got a second wind or his instincts kicked in.
Keyboard magician Jeff Kazee, who also worked accordion and percussion, held it all together throughout, leading the band and singing harmony and extra-loud melody when necessary. John Conte also contributed extra-credit vocals in addition to pumping and slapping the bass. Numerous extended solos by saxophonist Eddie Manion made for great moments, as did the solos by the energetic and very physical trumpeter, Chris Anderson, who danced the night away whether he was blowing or not.
Late in the evening someone called a full band meeting onstage, and after discussion, they finished upthe regular performance with “Ride the Night Away,” which, in turn, finished without Southside onstage.
But Johnny did come back for an extended encore which went pretty well. After “Forever,” Southside offered a credible version of the great Delbert McClinton song “When Rita Leaves,” which he segued into a theme of the evening, Ben E. King, and King’s standard, “There Goes My Baby.” Despite shouts from the crowd for “Hearts of Stone,” the last tune of the night was a balls-to-the-wall “Better Way Home,” which delivered on the promise of a rousing evening with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and I’m pretty sure was also what Southside had been looking forward to for at least two hours.