Wanda Jackson and Justin Townes Earle at the Zoo, 8/6/11
Wanda Jackson and Justin Townes Earle August 6, 2011 Minnesota Zoo Weesner Amphitheater
After an upbeat opening set by Justin Townes Earle, local rockabilly band Hillbilly Voodoo Dolls provided backup duties for an hour-plus performance by Wanda Jackson Saturday night at the Zoo. Hooking the audience and beguiling the country, rock, rockabilly and gospel legend to the stage, the band opened with a fitting number, the pulsating vamp of the instrumental classic "Rumble," building up for what would be a dynamic set from the 73 year old.
Though rain briefly scared part of the crowd to seek dry shelter during her set, and as mosquitoes swarmed her and the band onstage, Jackson, whose first recording dates back to over 57 years ago, forged ahead with aplomb, joking as bugs got stuck in her lip gloss that she hadn't eaten dinner, and pretending to bite at the air in front of her.
She punctuated her set with stories about the place where she got her local start (the old Flame Cafe at 16th and Nicollet), her work (and relationship) with Elvis Presley, her more recent collaboration with Jack White, whom she likened to a "velvet covered brick," and a brief eulogy for Amy Winehouse, whom she covered on the White collaboration but never had a chance to meet. Jackson has an impressive realness about her: good humor, charm, and the incredible grace of a person with nearly six decades in the spotlight but nary a negative or controversial story written about her.
And holy moly, what a powerhouse. This tiny woman in red fringe and jet black hair can still sing with the same power and pizazz of the girl a quarter her age. Her voice still shifts effortlessly from warbly to scratchy to clear as a bell, and still has that girly then sultry then girly then again sultry quality about it. She's still a helluva yodeler, as heard on "I Betcha My Heart I Love You." And as she let out a hell of a howl on "Riot on Cell Block #9," well, she can obviously still do that, too. Wow. On backup, the Hillbilly Voodoo Dolls were on fire, providing the perfect accompaniment to Wanda's energy.
Justin Townes Earle, wearing a Black-eyed Susan in his lapel and a red bow tie, opened the night with a fun, hour-long set. His performance, as has been the case with other outdoor shows I've seen him do, was right on point. His typical quips of self-deprecation were well-tempered with a fine, fine performance - a high point was a blues number "My Starter Won't Start (Bad Gasoline)," a song featuring adept guitar work more involved than his typically sparse playing, and intensely soulful vocals. His bassist and new fiddle player provided a laid-back accompaniment to Earle's musical timing. And his punchy one-liners carried the narrative of his songwriting and fit well with his joyful performance rather than the alternative - serving to tell little more than that "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm kinda a mess." It was nice.
Critic's bias: I have a strong bias against heat and mosquitoes, but the great shows at the Zoo make both just a little more tolerable. The crowd: Surprisingly young. Overheard in the crowd: Not in the crowd, but the best quotes of the night were, as usual, from Earle: Well ladies and gentlemen they've always told me I'm a hard dog to keep under the porch. And I believe that... Well ladies and gentlemen, the first woman who ever hit me was my mother, and she certainly wasn't the last...you don't ever want to mess with a murderous moonshiner's daughter... I'm not the best at taking care of myself, ladies and gentlemen. Sometimes I go off the deep end. These things happen...here's a song about it... Here's another one where I gotta say 'sorry Dad... He gave me the daddy issues, he's gotta deal with 'em on the records.
Setlist: Jackson: Rumble/Riot in Cell Block #9/Rock Your Baby/I Gotta Know/Funnel of Love/I Betcha My Heart I Love You/Heartbreak Hotel/Shakin' All Over/You Know I'm No Good/Rip It Up/Like a Baby/Nervous Breakdown/Fujiyama Mama/Right or Wrong (I'll Be With You)/Mean Mean Man/I Saw the Light/Let's Have a Party Encore: Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On/Let's Have a Party (Reprise) Earle: I Ain't Waitin'/They Killed John Henry/Ain't Glad I'm Leaving/Mama's Eyes/One More Night in Brooklyn/Christchurch Woman/My Starter Won't Start (Bad Gasoline)/Slippin' and Slidin'/Am I That Lonely Tonight (?)/Move Over Mama/I Won't Cry When You Walk Out on Me/Midnight at the Movies/Harlem River Blues/Wanderin'/Whom Am I to Say (almost)/Racing in the Street/Halfway to Jackson
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