For the last 40 years – Southside Johnny and his band of Jukes have been making the haul along the turnpike to bring their horn blaring, guitar wailing party to those of us that call the North Coast home. I’m pleased to tell you – I’ve spent the better part of a lifetime attending those shows and on Friday night the Hard Rock bore witness to the type of party that only Southside Johnny can throw.
Hitting the stage promptly at 8 PM, Johnny and his Jukes wasted no time ramping things up by hitting us with some tracks from his Better Days release from back in the 90’s – still one of the best albums ever released in the opinion of this heavly biased fan – as well as from their most recent release, Soultime.
This crowd was appreciative of the newer stuff but they were here for the classic tracks and when SSJ sang the first few words from Walk Away Renee – the place errupted and that is when the show truly began. Walk Away Renee was a bit of a surprise hit for the band a few years back and it is certainly one of the standouts of their live performances. Ranging from straight up acapella vocals to amazing horn solos – the song is both laid back and melodic while at the same time being highly interactive as the audience can’t stop itself from singing along with the infectious chorus. That audience interaction seemed to launch the band into high gear and what followed was simply – one of the best sets I’ve ever heard SSJ and the boys perform.
Johnny has always run fast and loose with his song choices – having such a long career with such an amazing catalog to pull from lends itself to such conveniences but – on this night Johnny left it up to the crowd, asking what we wanted to hear and as a result we got treated to a rousing rendition of Stagger Lee which Johnny said was likely the oldest song he knew – dating back to the turn of the century. Left in the hands of The Jukes – the classic has aged very well.
The remainder of the set had the crowd literally dancing in the aisles – much to the chagrin of security but – when the music is that good and the fever is that high – there is no containing it to simply standing in front of your seat. The party was on and it wasn’t going to end till Johnny said it was going to end. The Fever, Talk To Me, I Don’t Want To Go Home – with each song the enthusiasm grew – the smiles got wider and the band responded in kind.
The evening wound down with an appreciative Southside Johnny thanking the crowd and tell us all he loved us – stating that he had “been making the trip to Cleveland for over 40 years and we’ve never let him down once.” And with that The Jukes launched into We’re Having A Party – and even though it seemed impossible, the energy level managed to jump another notch and all bets were off at that point. The party went nuclear and ever one lucky enough to have a seat at this SOLD OUT performance experienced that bonding that I speak about from time to time. We were all Jukes, all in tune and all from the shores of Jersey. Southside has a way of making that happen.