Music is power – sometimes that power comes from the message of the song, other times it comes from the force of the sound, and sometimes, some very special times, both of those things combine and you end up with a wall of sound that overtakes you. If you had happened to be in the crowd at the MGM Center Stage on Saturday night, you would have experienced one of those hard-to-capture moments.
From the moment Southside Johhny and his Jukes hit the stage the near-capacity crowd knew that the band was primed to rock – and the techs had the boys sounding crisp, bright, and loud.
With almost 50 years of material to choose from, one can never guess what a setlist might look like for an SSJ show – and this outing proved to be no different. A couple of surprises this go around – and a handful of songs that even this fan has never heard the band play live. The first set of surprises came as Johnny led the gang through two Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul songs – Angel Eyes and Forever – both fantastic live songs with driving guitar riffs and big, powerful horns. Also got to hear the amazing Hearts Of Stone live for the first time. Gotta love it.
A big part of any SSJ show is Johnny’s ability to banter – and he had a lot to say on this particular night – leading the crowd and his band down some interesting paths with stories and improvisions that were as fantastic as they were entertaining. It’s always great fun to listen to Southside go off on these rants – have no idea where he’s going – and then watch him bring it all around and dive right back into the song – it truly is an art form of which SSJ is a true master.
Certain songs are just expected at an SSJ show – and with one notable exception, Johnny hit all the marks – Talk To Me, Love On The Wrong Side Of Town, the always amazing Without Love – and I’m telling you, when the horn section comes down and plays that flourish halfway through the song, if you don’t get goosebumps then you are one cold-hearted bastard because that sound my friend is the stuff of magic.
A couple of sing-a-long favorites also made an appearance – Walk Away Renee had the crowd on their feet and out singing the man with the microphone and of course the guaranteed crowd pleaser I Don’t Want To Go Home had everyone belting out “I know we had to try – to reach up and touch the sky” and when you get a crowd all vibing like that – you are indeed in a very special place.
Having A Party – an SSJ classic didn’t make the cut – but the band ended the night with a trio of upbeat crowd-pleasers that included Working Too Hard – a working man’s anthem if ever there was one.
As we are all aware – there are few things you can truly count on in this day and age but one thing that is money in the bank is SSJ and The Jukes blowing the roof off any venue that they land – and on this cool night in Cleveland, the boys from Jersey did it again.