Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

July 25, 2013
Pacific Amphitheatre
Costa Mesa, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Kimberly Annette

If you’re coming to see Joan Jett, then you’re coming to hear short, catchy songs with tons of depth and intensity. That’s why Jett is, after all these years, the consummate female rocker with a bad attitude and riffs to spare. Based in New York City, Jett will always be a Southern California girl. In fact, she’ll be honored at the 2013 Sunset Strip Music Festival in August, a tribute typically reserved for hometown musical heroes.

The last time she played the Orange County Fair, Cherie Currie, who was in the Runaways with Jett back in the 70s, opened the show. Tonight, she had Girl in a Coma, an all-female three-piece who happens to be signed to Jett’s Blackheart Records label. They played a spirited, punk-influenced 30-minute set that received a lukewarm response. Perhaps a tad too raw and in-your-face for the fair crowd, but no one was scrambling for the door and there was certainly a flare to the Texas-based trio’s unapologetic delivery.

Come 8:30, it was Jett and the Blackhearts’ turn and within seconds, they had the crowd in their clutches. A raunchy “Bad Reputation” got things started, followed by the Runaways classic, “Cherry Bomb.” But it was “Do You Wanna Touch Me” that really got the audience hot and bothered, with everyone on their feet and chanting the chorus. Jett worked the front rows, while the rest of band raised their fists at all the “Yeahs.”

Tonight the Blackhearts included guitarist Dougie Needles, who joined in 2006 and appears on Sinner, the last studio album from Jett, and drummer Tommy Price, with the Blackhearts since 1986. Acey Slade, who played guitar with the shock punk band the Murderdolls, was on bass and Kenny Laguna, Jett’s longtime producer, manager and partner at Blackheart Records, hung in the shadows on keyboards.


Girl in a Coma's Nina Diaz

Jett talked about a new album she’s making called Unvarnished and introduced a couple new numbers, “Make It Back” and “Soulmates To Strangers,” a poignant song about how old lovers fade away from your life when you break up. As always, the ever ambiguous Jett lets you figure out who her lovers, who frequent her songs, are (“Love Is Pain” is another one that leaves you wondering about Jett’s love life). To her credit, having universal appeal in the changing tide of tolerance can only help perpetuate equality for all.

Jett, resplendent in a silver and black jumpsuit, recalled her roots with the Runaways, explaining how much of an influence Marc Bolan and T-Rex were and adding that the first song she wrote was based on a T-Rex riff. To illustrate, she played the song, “You Drive Me Wild,” which was first recorded by the Runaways. It featured the first of many sprite and spunky leads from Needles, who kept it simple, short and incisive for most of the night.

Just as intriguing were equally hooky, yet not so popular songs like “Fragile” and “Hard To Grow Up.” It took the might of her Number One hit “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” to bring the entire amphitheater back to its feet. Another Top Ten hit, her sly cover of Tommy James & the Shondells’ “Crimson & Clover,” maintained the momentum, maybe even raised the stakes a bit as Needles duck-walked across the stage and Jett worked the wings. Another faithful sing-along and handclapping ensued for “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” and you asked around, wondering what the singer and her band could possibly do for an encore.

How about a three-headed monster that included “Reality Mentality,” a cover of Sweet’s “A.C.D.C.” and a crowd-pleasing run at Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everyday People.” It was an uplifting way to end another beautiful night of music at the Pacific Amphitheatre. Only the bacon-wrapped turkey legs inside the fair could match vegetarian Joan Jett’s brand of meat-n-potatoes rock ‘n roll.

 

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