Venue: The Stables, Wavendon, MK.
Last Friday my Dad’s band played a retirement party in the meeting room at the end of their Department’s corridor. They’ve been going a good twenty, twenty five years, and as OU Party Bands go, they’re pretty damn good - for a bunch of Dads with guitars. ;-) It was a few songs before Southside Johnny warmed up enough to show that his own well-travelled act was anything more than just a bigger bunch of Dads with guitars and horns.
I will hold my hands up (as ever!) and state outright that I had never even heard of Southside Johnny - let alone his band the Asbury Jukes – before Dad invited me and Chris along to The Stables. But I always enjoy going along with him to these Dad Band Occasions, and this one was an eye-opener! I’ve never seen The Stables so packed, and an audience so enthusiastic, almost bordering on hysterical in places! And I’ve seen some pretty good bands there!
So – Southside Johnny is a singer from Noo Joisey who usually plays with a band which features a brass/horn section (delete as appropriate, I dunno the exact terminology!) – trumpet, trombone, sax and a much bigger sax which my Dad thinks was a bass sax. He’s been going a long time (he’s three weeks older than Dad) and his Wikipedia entry links him heavily with “the Jersey Shore sound” out of which also came Bruce Springsteen. Guitarist Bobby Bandiera also currently plays live with New Jersey’s most famous sons, Bon Jovi.
That’s the history, but judging them just on the performance was easy. It wasn’t really my sort of music – mostly good-time party rhythm n’ blues with occasional tinges of soul – but I’ve learnt on these occasions to sit back and enjoy the displays of musicianship on offer. I know it sounds a bit wanky, but the sheer craftsmanship of the band was breathtaking, one of the tightest acts I’ve ever seen live – even though Johnny kept muttering that they weren’t playing very well. Apparently their keyboard player had been denied a work permit on entry to the UK and was subsequently missing from their sound. “Tricky for us, he starts most of the songs”, drawled Johnny. Nightmare!
It was four or five tracks before this experienced frontman warmed up enough to start wisecracking, but once he did it was clear he’s been doing this a long time. The banter with the audience and the band was effortless, although his griping at the sound guys re: monitor levels is something I never like to see.
Their most recent album, perhaps unsurprisingly for 2008 (see also Scarlett Johansson) is an album of Tom Waits covers, and actually some of the songs they’ve done in their own R n’ B Big Band format work well. Me and Chris started watching the backline of the four-strong horn section to try and work out their characters. The long-haired trombonist had a permanent smile on his face, while the lead sax dude kept coming front and centre to do solos with a weird crouching stance that gave the slight impression he was blowing the notes out of his arse.
The main axis of the eight-piece band though was the partnership between Bobby Bandiera (who did a couple of politely feedbacky solos that I think even Phil might have liked!) and Johnny himself. As the night wore towards a close, they were taking requests from the crowd and playing them flawlessly, laughing and joking – even playing a heartbreakingly poignant impromptu version of “Silent Night” that perversely may have been my favourite song of the night.
The crowd were on their middle-aged feet and dancing enthusiastically by the encore. I glanced around and saw that there were younger people too, dotted here and there. Up on the balcony, three girls were dancing like the girls out of The Commitments. Where does the Dad Band line begin and end these days, I wonder? Something worth pondering. Anyway, a good night of funtime rock. Maybe one day I’ll have a horn section too.