Catching LAVAY SMITH & HER RED HOT SKILLET LICKERS live a couple of months ago confirmed my notion that they're pretty much without peer in neo-swing. They opened up with a blazing take on Illinois Jacquet's "Symphony in Sid," proving that their taste is as solid as their chops. The group went on to perform a gleefully timeless show that demonstrated excellence in material, arrangements, execution and presentation, and verified that swing has always been America's most purely joyful and rewarding form of pop music when served by the right hands. Side by side in the audience were the expected wide-brim swing geeks and blue-haired oldsters reliving their youths, plus tatted-up rockabilly boys, tassel-loafered yuppies, a smattering of the area's jazz- and blues-community elite, and, finally, me and my loved-throughout-America sidekick, Young John Skalman. There were no hostile vibes among these tribes and certainly no goddamn mosh pits—although the dance floor was more crowded than a Soviet-era bread line throughout the proceedings. Yep, music can still bring people together (yeah, so I was reared in the '60s—what of it, backward-ball-cap boy?).
The group's two CDs (One Hour Mama and the recent Everybody's Talkin' 'Bout Miss Thing!) are like fine champagne bottles bobbing on the sea of urine that has inundated the neo-swing scene from its inception. And if (predictably) Miss Smith and da Lickers didn't sell as well as the worst of the swing lot, the band did respectable business in the right places—until just recently, Miss Thing occupied a Top 10 slot in the Billboard jazz chart and is currently No. 12, speaking volumes about the band's cred. Well, sorta. Anyway, one can only wonder what might have been if more bands of this quality had populated the scene early on. Perhaps the swing renaissance wouldn't seem like a cruel joke today, about as hip as the Macarena. Catch sultry Lavay and company when they appear Saturday night at the Galaxy Concert Theatre.
SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY surfaced here in concert almost exactly a year ago following several years of semiretirement, and to me, this was among the most welcome returns of the decade. My fave among a small crop of R&B-steeped, horn-driven, East Coast rock acts that included Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Mink DeVille, and Gary U.S. Bonds back in the '80s, Southside was something of a personal hero for his no-bullshit, blue-collar stance, as well his tite-'n'-tuff Jersey Shore sound. Since then, he has released a live album of blazingly performed (if predictably rehashed) material, but—cause to rejoice —a new album of fresh tunes is finally slated for future release (for details, check www.southsidejohnny.org, which is perhaps the most amusingly lame website for a name rock performer I've ever seen).
My California-native wife always rolls her eyes derisively whenever I blast Southside at full volume on the stereo, which only makes me fonder of the music. West Coast ears just don't seem to get it; this is music by which to play bocce, eat steamed clams, drink Rheingold and watch The Sopranos. It follows a tradition set by largely Italian-American Beast-From-the-East acts such as the Crests, Dion and the Rascals. If Southside never enjoyed the commercial success of these forebears, he sure as shit deserved to. Songs like "I Don't Want to Go Home," "Trapped Again," "The Fever" and "Love on the Wrong Side of Town" pumped and throbbed with equal amounts of energy, emotion and hooks—and ain't that what great rock & roll is supposed to be about, after all? But for better than 20 years, Southside has been a great, lovable underdog, and rooting for him has always been half the fun. As Chuck Wepner was to boxing, as the Cubs shall ever be to baseball, so goes Southside Johnny to rock & roll. Join the rooting section Tuesday night at the Galaxy.
Among the usual embarrassment of musical riches to be found playing the OC Fair this year, there's a mighty pleasant surprise found among the usual hackers (Rain—A Tribute to the Beatles! Charo! Rick Springfield!). Appearing Saturday night is none other than the Ragin' Cajun, DOUG KERSHAW. With a demented look of rapture on his already peculiar-looking, angular face, Kershaw saws a fiddle with such outright hostility that the horsehairs go a-flying from his bow like a shower of hot sparks whenever he attacks his instrument, and he has long been known for putting on one of the best shows in all of country music. His claim to fame is writing the anthemic "Louisiana Man," which has been covered more than 800 times and was the first song beamed back to Earth from the moon after Apollo 12 landed in 1969. Also to his credit are such classic bits of Loozyana mayhem as "Diggy Diggy Lo," "Hello Woman" and "Cajun Stripper."
Kershaw's latest CD, the unfortunately titled Two Step Fever, is a frenetic collection of Cajun dance tunes sung largely in French—here he sounds as inspired as ever and more as he plays accordion and guitars as well as his sufferin' fiddle. With any luck, on Saturday night, he'll even be moved to beat up Rick Springfield for an encore and make him Dougie's bitch instead of Jessie's girl.
Call me a hypocrite after mercilessly bashing so many other geezer-band reunions that have lacked key original members, but for some reason, I'm moderately intrigued by the notion of the so-called YARDBIRDS playing the Coach House on Friday night. While guitarist Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty remain with the group, the rest are ringers—which only makes sense, as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page are much too big-time to indulge in a small-time reunion and front man Keith Relf has a better excuse: he died in 1976. Still, there's the matter of those songs—those songs: "Over Under Sideways Down," "Heart Full of Soul," "A Certain Girl," "For Your Love," "Still I'm Sad," "Mr. You're a Better Man Than I," "Shapes of Things" and rave-up versions of such blues covers as "I Wish You Would," "I'm a Man," "Train Kept A-Rolling" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl." You could argue that no other British Invasion band was ever as consistently ahead of the game and manic as these acid-drenched limey loonies, and none of their songs (aside from "For Your Love") have been played to death on classic-rock radio—probably due to the fact that their often darkly psychedelic vibe doesn't jibe well with the cartoon nostalgia of the '60s. If this version can recapture even half the magic that characterized the ever-changing early lineups, the Yardbirds will still be worth the price of admission.
LAVAY SMITH & HER RED HOT SKILLET LICKERS PLAY AT THE GALAXY CONCERT THEATRE, 3503 S. HARBOR BLVD., SANTA ANA, (714) 957-0600. SAT., 8 P.M. $15; SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY PERFORMs WITH PEEPSHOT AT THE GALAXY, TUES., 8 P.M. $25; DOUG KERSHAW PLAYS AT THE ORANGE COUNTY FAIR, 80 FAIR DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 708-3247. SAT., 7 & 9 P.M. FREE WITH fair ADMISSION ($2-$6); THE YARDBIRDS PERFORM AT THE COACH HOUSE, 33157 CAMINO CAPISTRANO, SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, (949) 496-8930. FRI., 8 P.M. $19.50.
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