Friday, August 13, 2010

Joan Jett/Cherie Currie concert review

Jett photo by Kelly Swift, courtesy the Orange County Register.

A version of my review originally appeared in the OC Register and can be viewed here:

(A great photo gallery can be viewed on that site as well)

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Cherie Currie
Where: Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, Calif.
When: Aug. 11

If anyone needed a refresher course about women in rock music history, there have been numerous opportunities lately to catch up with one band in particular: The Runaways.

Led by lead vocalist Cherie Currie and singer/guitarist/co-songwriter Joan Jett, the influential LA quintet released a handful of studio albums during the mid-to-late 1970s that never became commercially successful, but were big in Japan. Still, The Runaways set an early standard for gals – especially teenage ones - playing guitar-driven, hard rock music in a male-dominated field.

Both Jett and Currie were at the Orange County Fair on Wednesday for a rare local performance.

Exiting The Runaways for a solo music and acting career, Currie appeared in both film and TV (“Foxes,” “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” “Matlock,” “Walker: Texas Ranger”). Jett stepped into the spotlight until the band broke up and later stormed the pop charts throughout the ‘80s. With the Blackhearts, she racked up several top 40 singles – most notably “I Love Rock N’ Roll,” which spent nearly two months at No. 1. Runaways lead guitarist Lita Ford also notched a few pop/metal hits and a platinum album toward the end of that decade.

Meanwhile, Currie put out the autobiography “Neon Angel.” Initially geared toward young adults, she expanded it with more mature content about her longtime struggles with drug, alcohol and sexual abuse in the 2000s. The publication eventually served as the basis for “The Runaways,” a biopic starring Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart and Michael Shannon, which arrived in theaters this past spring. Jett was executive producer.

The engaging film received generally positive reviews, yet a lack of proper marketing led to a modest box office gross (the release is now available on DVD and Blu-ray with ample bonus material). Currie’s fascinating book, finally republished in March, landed on the LA Times bestsellers list.

A revamped Jett and the Blackhearts “Greatest Hits” collection contains new versions of the Runaways’ “School Days” and “You Drive Me Wild,” plus a Jett coffee table photo book by fashion designer Todd Oldham, also emerged this year. Next month, gamers can find Jett and Currie’s newly re-recorded take on their best known Runaways tune “Cherry Bomb” in “Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.”

Judging from various young girls’ ear piercing shrieks and overall excitement level, the crowd was definitely amped to see Jett and Currie perform on their first OC bill together since the Runaways days.

Fans decked out in punk and glam rock attire (studded belts, wigs, platform shoes, plenty of black leather) dotted the sold out Pacific Amphitheatre, which allowed a small overflow crowd in the lawn section for the third time this season. Actress Scout Taylor-Compton, who portrayed Ford in “The Runaways” and John Easdale of Dramarama were among those in attendance.

Jett’s 75-minute, 18-song set got off to a somewhat sluggish start with slower-than-usual versions of “Bad Reputation,” “Fake Friends” and “Light of Day,” but heated back up on Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” thanks to some fun call and response action. The punk-pop “Change the World” – the first of five songs from Jett’s impressive 2006 disc “Sinner” - was pure energy as spiky haired lead guitarist Dougie Needles pogoed around and added fine harmonies. (Selected tracks were augmented by longtime Jett collaborator Kenny Laguna on keyboards and backing vocals).

“This is for those of us who like to straddle the lines a little bit,” explained Jett before her laid back, almost countryish cover of the Replacements’ “Androgynous,” about sexual orientation. Needles did a wicked solo on The Runaways glam stomper “You Drive Me Wild,” which Jett noted was “the first song I ever wrote while sitting on my bed.” Suddenly, the band was on a tear (“Backlash” – another one penned by Paul Westerberg, “French Song,” “Love is Pain” - where Needles displayed some windmill motions).

“I Love Playin’ with Fire,” retained The Runaways’ original sensual, menacing rock thrust (sans the jailbait connotations) and that band’s “School Days” was a fun singalong in the Blackhearts’ hands. “I Love Rock N’ Roll” seemed routine, but Jett’s tender, breathy vocals amid her hit cover of Tommy James & the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover” was a real standout moment.

Main set closer “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” found the band electrified mode, which continued through the encores (“A.C.D.C.” - a humorous bisexuality tune, originally by the Sweet; Sly Stone’s “Everyday People,” contained a great tandem Jett/Needles solo. The fact that Jett didn’t join Currie onstage (or visa versa) was a major missed opportunity.

Currie came across like a panther let out of a cage in Costa Mesa. Her way-too-short half hour set proved she still has the vocal chops and assertive performance prowess despite spending recent years as a noted chainsaw wood carving artist. Clad in black leather pants and vest with a fox tail hanging from behind (and sporting gorgeous long blonde locks), Currie amazingly looked every bit the vixen at 50 that she was at 15.

Launching with The Runaways’ aggressive rocker “Queens of Noise” and continuing on a hard-hitting trail with “California Paradise,” “American Nights” and “C’mon,” Currie truly owned the stage. Occasionally, her vocals were mixed too low to rise above powerhouse drummer Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Rose, Velvet Revolver) – no easy task – and it never became detrimental.

“This is my idol,” beamed the singer, before a crunchy rock take on David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel,” where her 19-year-old son Jake (from a marriage to actor Robert Hays) proved his mettle on guitar. Later, before a slinky version of Nick Gilder’s glam era “Roxy Roller,” she enthused, “I can’t believe I’m reliving a dream I gave up so many years ago.” Her signature song “Cherry Bomb” proved to be an exhilarating finale. Let’s hope she puts out a rock album in the near future.

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