Story by Scott A. Smith
Photo By Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa/Tom Gilbert
Decked out in a tight, red-colored outfit and boasting her trademark black, slightly spikey hairstyle, one Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee planted one high-heeled boot in the three-chord beauty of punk rock and her other boot in infectious mainstream music Oct. 18 in Tulsa.
Joan Jett led her eternally edgy band The Blackhearts through an aggressive – and continuously inspiring – set for a capacity crowd inside the Tulsa Hard Rock’s Joint. Refusing to allow the tempo to ever slide into low gear, Jett kept the festivities in a speedy pace with plenty of crunchy guitar work. With their guitars slung almost to their knees, Jett, lead guitarist Dougie Needles and bassist Acey Slade hammered out each track’s arrangement with joyous adrenaline. Bouncing, standing and lurching at stage left, Needles often would hold his guitar up and as away from his body as his strap would allow, unleashing 1976 Johnny Ramone-meets-1978 Rick Nielsen guitar blasts of rock-and-roll sound.
Although she relinquished much of the lead-guitar spot to Needles, Jett herself got in on the six-string fun. During one instrumental passage, Jett herself played lead guitar, both unaccompanied and during a Thin Lizzy-flavored moment where she and Needles harmonized their solos.
Also hitting winning notes were bassist Slade, drummer Thommy Price and keyboardist Kenny Laguna, who merged to form an air-tight machine of rhythm and melody. Price, a former collaborator with Scandal and Billy Idol who first started working with Jett back in 1986, is the kind of drummer that all bands dream of having in the fold – that time-keeper who gives his/her colleagues the aural on-stage kick in the pants needed to be a convincing, top-tier group. The set list, like the musicians’ instrumental prowess, was just as brilliant on the Tulsa stage. Set-opener “Bad Reputation” rocketed the proceedings off on the right note, while the next-in-line “Cherry Bomb,” a track originally from Jett’s former band, the ground-breaking, all-girl outfit, The Runaways, won even louder cheers.
Jett, like David Gray, also exhibited boldness with the set list by playing numerous recent songs. The tracks, taken from Jett’s 2013 LP, “Unvarnished,” sounded right at home next to Jett’s well-loved rockers from the 1980s and ’90s. “TMI,” “Fragile” and “Soulmates to Strangers” sounded muscular and relevant, and “Hard to Grow Up,” with an infectious chorus, became a rock-solid keeper with each passing verse.
“I Hate Myself For Loving You,” “Light of Day,” “Do You Want To Touch Me” and “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” also were bathed in the crowd’s roars of approval. Harboring a vibe similar to the street-cool “All Right Now” by Free, “I Love Rock and Roll” bursts to life via Jett’s enthused vocals and Needles’ buzz-saw guitar chops, but Jett and Co.’s late-evening efforts on “Crimson and Clover” and “Everyday People” brought out the show’s most euphoric moments.
Originally a 1968 hit for Tommy James and the Shondells, Jett’s cover of “Crimson and Clover” hit the No. 7 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1982, and inside the shadowy Joint, the song proved equally magnificent. The composition’s tugging, zig-zagging instrumentation and Jett’s sexually charged vocals throughout each verse and chorus were tops, as was Jett’s mostly faithful interpretation of Sly and the Family Stone’s eternally great “Everyday People.” On paper, “Everyday People” might not be everyone’s pick for a show-closing statement, but when delivered by Jett & The Blackhearts, the song, like “Crimson and Clover” and “I Love Rock and Roll,” sure felt and sounded like a true, blue Joan-Jett creation.
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts recently have been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so it will be interesting to see if they become members of the 2015 class. If the hall voters caught the sounds and sights of Tulsa’s gig, then Jett should get in by a unanimous thumbs-up accompanied by a super-sized red-carpet welcome. Oh yeah, put another dime in the jukebox, baby.