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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Like Little Blue Sparks

Over the past month I’ve had the tremendous fortune of experiencing great music in its purest form. Not just once either, but on two occasions. Now it must be stated both were very different artists stylistically but the end results were gut-wrenchingly good and even spiritually affirming in some ways- (One should after all, always place music high in one’s life convictions.) The first was by seminal L.A. punk rockers X at NXNE in Toronto and the other rockabilly legend, Wanda Jackson at the Music Club in London last Sunday night.

I first saw X in concert nearly twenty five years ago and the effect on me then was huge. Their music powerfully rooted in every gritty and unwholesome theme rock n’ roll espouses. The bodies and beer bottles flew that hot night so many years ago. It was sweaty, hot and perfect. John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake so much younger then and full of icy cool. Bristling with energy and louder than fuck, the atmosphere that night was electric. The show established a musical marker for me with which many more could only pale in comparison. It was one of those 'important shows' and even then I knew it.

Flash forward so many years later and that whole night came back to me. Their music like little blue sparks of melodic purity; this was the stuff that made me the music fan I am today and for seventy five minutes I felt half my age. Sure the beer bottles weren’t sailing (probably a good thing) and the band, a little longer in the tooth. But the music was the same. Perhaps even a little more polished but no less powerful and vital as the time before. The band chugging through hit after hit, (Jonny Hit and Run Pauline, Motel Room in My Bed, How I Learned My Lesson, Soul Kitchen.) It was a virtual soundtrack of my young adolescence. They were all there, one after in another in only a little more than an hour, and I couldn’t be happier. Nor could they apparently… Billy Zoom’s trademark smile casting a wide spell on fans new and old alike. John Doe playing like a man on fire. Exene and D.J. Bonebrake the counter balance to their iconic stage mates. It felt good to hear them like this again. Enjoying themselves like it was 1984 again. Fingers crossed they are still this fierce in the next twenty five years.

Don’t scoff. Musical longetivity is indeed alive and well- Ironically extending even to X’s influences. The concert I witnessed on Sunday night was a brilliant testimony to that tenet. Just like the X show everyone in attendance seemed to recognize they were about to see something special. The undisputed queen of rockabilly, Wanda Jackson, turned out to be just that and much, much more. Now 72, the regal rocker didn’t disappoint anyone in attendance. In fact she might have even earned a few new fans. Never have I attended a show that crossed age barriers quite like that. From six to ninety six she kept us all riveted.

Opening with Mean, Mean Man, the one-time squeeze of Elvis Presley, (she “wore his ring around her neck”) had the audience in the palm of her hand even before uttering a note. Of course her local backup band that night was local favourites, the Rizdales.

So for ninety minutes on Sunday night, it felt like 1957 again. Or at least what I would imagine 1957 to feel like. Like an old time rock n' roll talent revue.  From Hard Headed Woman to Heartbreak Hotel to Fujiyama Mama the singer waxed in between with anecdotes that left us in awe of a legendary career. When she broke out her latest Jack White produced single, You Know I’m No Good, Miss Jackson proved she might just have room to write another chapter in her storied career. (That record due in September.)

In all of her fringed splendor Wanda Jackson proved she’s still got it and more. The trademark growl was still there, her voice still unlike any other. Like the X show did a couple weeks prior Jackson proved that with age comes class and recognition that music can still move an audience. Whether that be on the dance floor, in the mosh pit or deep within the musical soul.  Chalk up another couple 'important ones' for me.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

It's shows like these, your recent run-ins with X and with Wanda Jackson, that fill me with hope for the future. If longtime musicians like them can keep being relevant and keep engaging new and existing fans, then it makes up for all the Rolling Stones who simply trot out the same tired schtick year upon year.

This makes me happy!

Sean Wraight said...

Made me very happy too Barbara. Both occasions left me with an overwhelming feeling that I was indeed witnessing something special. Unfortunately that doesn't happen nearly enough as I wish it did.