LEWISTON – Joan Jett has been proving it all night since she was 16 years old, at that point as the principal songwriter and rhythm guitarist with the Runaways. She struck commercial gold in the ’80s with her own blend of ’60s pop hooks and punk-rock grit.
She and her band, the Blackhearts, haven’t had similar commercial success since, despite the fact that Jett is widely held to be the mother of the Riot Grrl movement, and a significant artist within the realms of punk-pop.
No Jett? No Green Day. Fact.
Why? I’m not sure. Jett, whose biggest hit is “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll,” a torrid and timeless cover of the little-known original by the Arrows, has never been anything other than what she is – a leather-clad, dyed in the wool punk rocker who does not sing the chorus of “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” ironically. Surely, anyone who decided to go to Tuesday’s concert knew that. And yet, aside from a raucous group gathered in the pit directly in front of the stage, it seemed that most of the folks who’d gone to Artpark were expecting something different. Perhaps a performance from Air Supply, by the look of it.
Jett and her band are nothing if not professionals by this point, and despite the fact that they seemed to realize early on that this was a sedate crowd, they gave not an inch. The band performed what it had come to perform, which was a set framed by the hits, with a middle section stuffed full of new tunes, from a forthcoming album Jett told us will be called “Unvarnished.”
All of these tunes follow the same formula as Jett’s most popular tunes, and are instantly recognizable as memorable. After the band made it through the first chorus, it would not have been hard for everyone to have sung along with the second chorus. Very few bothered, though.
Jett and the Blackhearts opened with three punk-pop classics. “Bad Reputation,” a punker that reveals the singer’s modus operandi, came first, and led directly into a smoking take on the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb.” At this point, things were going fine, as the crowd down front did their punk-rock duty, jumping, screaming and letting the band know that the performance would be a two-way street.
Things continued in such a tenor through “Touch,” as the crowd screamed along and Jett did her best to encourage more of such behavior. However, as soon as Jett and the band started delving into a selection of tunes from the forthcoming album, the show lost its energy, at least from the crowd’s side of the equation.
Granted, Jett’s new songs are a touch more ruminative and reflective than her earlier tunes – “Soulmates to Strangers” grieved the fading of love, while “Fragile” dealt with the ephemeral nature of existence, and “Hard To Grow Up” offered its own take on Tom Waits’ classic “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” – but musically, these were hook-heavy punk tunes that should not have been throwing the crowd a curveball.
Yet, an awkward lack of involvement seemed to envelope much of the crowd, which, if it wasn’t near a full house, was certainly full enough to make for an exciting give-and-take rock show.
Jett, backed by longtime drummer Thommy Price, who kicked it hard and heavy all night long, and bolstered by the presence of guitarist Dougie Needles on her left, gave it her all. She returned to more familiar material with “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” and then headed into an encore that included a take on Sweet’s “AC/DC,” as well as a heartfelt and surprisingly lithe interpretation of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”
Opening act the Matt Facciolla Band delivered a set of sturdy rock ’n’ roll that moved between Tom Petty-esque singer/songwriter fare and Joe Grushecky-like pub rockers. Facciolla, who spent several years in Buffalo as singer and guitarist with the Electric Bushmen, made his homecoming count. The crowd was receptive to his blend of alternative and classic rock sounds.
Folks, for future reference, when you go to see a punk-rock act, you should not treat the experience as a casual stroll through the free show at the village square. C’mon now. We’d like these people to come back! Do a little research into what you’re going to see.