Here was my rock & roll weekend: Friday evening I went to see my good friend Colin Gawel of Watershed play a happy hour solo set at the Rumba Café in Columbus. He was great, truly great, it was easily the best acoustic set I’ve ever seen him do. Solo versions of songs from Brick & Mortar (the latest Watershed record), some old favorites and a brace of brand new songs he debuted that night. Quality stuff.
Then Saturday evening I traveled to the Obetz Zucchini Festival to see Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. Yeah, that’s right, Joan Jett of The Runaways has been reduced to playing the county fair circuit, and you know what? She and the band rocked, Jack. And fuck Mumford & Sons, there were easily 5000 people packed into an Obetz Community Center baseball field to see Joan and the boys. And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know Mumford & Sons drew 10,000 paying customers to the LC parking lot a couple of weeks ago, but let’s see the Mumford guys draw a crowd of 5000 in 2043, 30 years after whatever their last hit is gonna be. By my computation that's gonna be about a year from now when their hipster indie street cred is runs out. Not gonna happen, my friend, not gonna happen – Mumford & Sons will be bald somewhere in their English mansions in 2043, wearing smoking jackets, boring their latest trophy wives about how big “Little Lion Man” was in the second decade of the 21stth century.
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, however, came blasting out of the gate with “Bad Reputation” and “Cherry Bomb,” released respectively in 1981 and 1976. They continued blasting through “Do You Wanna Touch Me?” and delivered a tasty cross-section of newer tunes including one where Ms. Jett had to turn her mic sideways to face the drummer to get the timing at the end of the song right, that’s how new the tune is. “I Love Rock & Roll” came just after midset rather than the requisite closing tune like, say, an oldies act like The Who would do. (And it didn’t devolve into a Foghat-like 18-minute singalong extravaganza. Joan and the band kept it lean, mean and tight, pal.)
Oh, and a few words about that 5000-strong audience: These were just regular people, a working-class crowd of Obetz mom & dads, along with their kids (from 5 year olds to 15 year olds), plus a weird smattering of hippies, bikers, and the kid right behind me with a nose-ring and a homemade Black Flag vest who couldn’t be more than 20. Plus some little girls with short shorts and their hair dyed three or four shades of purple & blue who should form the 21st century version of The Runaways. (Also the requisite contingents of 40-ish frowzy divorcees dressed up for a Girls Night Out at the local zucchini fest. And more power to ‘em.)
The former Joan Marie Larkin looked great, by the way, her hair long and dyed Jett-black again after her early-2000’s flirtation with the buzz-cut grey look. The Blackhearts were also killer; tattoos and guitars slung down around their knees apparently being a prerequisite to getting into the band. And playing maracas, tambourine & keyboards, plus throwing in great vocal harmonies, was Joan’s producer, mentor and the man who delivered Jett’s career salvation, Kenny Laguna, who now becomes the rock & roll performer I have witnessed the most years apart: I saw him with Tommy James & The Shondells in the 1960’s, down-the-bill at a Turtles show at Vet’s Memorial and now with Joan Jett in 2012. (Previous record-holder: Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, first glimpsed by me, love at first sight, June 13th, 1970, and most recently last year at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland.) (Plus I’ve seen Ian Hunter a bunch of times in between those dates. I’ve only witnessed Kenny Laguna these two times.)
Joan and the band finished strong with “I Hate Myself For Loving You” and the encores included The Sweet’s 1974 shoulda-been-a-hit lesbian anthem “AC/DC” from Desolation Boulevard, a song tailor-made for Joan Jett, that I bet warmed the cockles of the little 14 year old Joan Marie Larkin’s heart, if you get my drift. And who was ever better at interpreting and enlivening this kind of 70’s glam-rock than Joan Jett? It’s been oft-stated in this blog that the 1980’s were the WORST decade of rock & roll I’ve lived through. Joan Jett helped make those desert days tolerable with her hits.
Biggest problems with the set: Where was Jett’s version of the Mary Tyler Moore show’s theme song “Love Is All Around” (by Sonny Curtis of Buddy Holly’s Crickets, no less) and the last encore should ABSOLUTELY have been Bruce Springsteen’s “Light Of Day” from that movie Jett co-starred in with Michael J. Fox. (Not-so-great movie, but still leagues better than that Runaways debacle of 2010.)
A couple of years ago my good friend Kyle (a man about whom no less an authority than Hamell On Trial has declared, “Kyle knows a fuckload of shit about rock & roll.”) and I had to stand and bear mute witness to a reformed Blue Oyster Cult looking like insurance salesmen and sleepwalking through a set of hopelessly lifeless versions of the band’s 70’s and 80’s tunes. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts made that assemblage and just about every other “oldies” act (which unfortunately now encompasses anyone from the 1950’s to the 1990’s) look silly.
Thank you, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, for bringing the rock & roll to the Obetz Zucchini Festival.
© 2012 Ricki C.