Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eclectic lineup still connects at Jack's Fourth Show

Note: This review was originally posted on the Orange County Register's Soundcheck Blog on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2009.

Jack’s Fourth Show, the latest daylong bash presented by Southern California’s Jack FM radio affiliate, boasted one of the most bizarre bills in memory, a mix of favorites from the late ’70s and early ’80s that spanned mainstream rock (Eddie Money, Foreigner), cutting-edge alt-rock heroes (the B-52’s, above, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts), funk pioneers (George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic), new wave also-rans (Missing Persons) and even one of those hair bands (Ratt).

But in truth, the night’s lengthy lineup -– which ran from 4-11:30 p.m. on a chilly Saturday at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine –- was much like the station’s wide-ranging play list.
Although many of the seats were empty when Missing Persons kicked things off, lead singer Dale Bozzio and the latest version of her band delivered a solid 40-minute set featuring all of the L.A. group’s classic hits. While Bozzio’s high notes occasionally sounded pinched, the work of original guitarist Warren Cuccurullo (a member of Duran Duran in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s) was exceptional, adding plenty of bite to the old standbys.

If the adage “what was old is new again” could be considered a formula, it proved successful for several of the acts this night. Songs such as the hard-driving “Mental Hopscotch” and the timeless “Walking in L.A.” were especially powerful, with the quartet displaying a bit of the magic that got them booked at the legendary 1983 US Festival alongside heavyweights such as U2, the Pretenders and David Bowie.

Back in the ’80s, San Diego-bred outfit Ratt was one of several acts that gave rise to the SoCal heavy metal scene. Watching the long-haired quintet perform Saturday night, this reviewer had two observations: 1) The band’s songs are still as simple as ever, with chanted choruses and Stephen Pearcy’s lead vocals rarely wrapping themselves around anything resembling a full-fledged melody; and 2) Ratt’s approach nonetheless resulted in some headbanging tunes (“Round and Round,” “Wanted Man,” “Back for More”) that aren’t nearly as bad as I thought they were, thanks to some impressive Thin Lizzy-esque duel guitar workouts from Warren DeMartini and Carlos Cavazo.

But poor Eddie Money. When he emerged to perform, the sound system was completely in chaos. There was stage noise for the first five minutes or so, making it difficult for even the most discerning listeners to decipher that he and his band were playing “Two Tickets to Paradise.” By the time he got to his next song, “Think I’m in Love,” the sound thankfully improved.
Dishing out most of the Top 40 hits he scored in his heyday, Money remains a personable entertainer who pleased the party faithful with “Shakin’,” “Baby Hold On” and “Walk on Water.” But the best song of his turn in the spotlight came when he teamed with his daughter Jesse to perform “Take Me Home Tonight,” with the 21-year-old filling Ronnie Spector’s original role.

Performing as always with an ever-changing lineup of Parliament-Funkadelic, George Clinton primarily reminded that his skills as a vocalist have long ago deteriorated. His set worked, however, because his dance-ready funk was delivered with such power by a large ensemble of backing vocalists and musicians, many music fans couldn’t help but get on their feet and move to the grooves. The highlight was a set-ending, freewheeling version of “Atomic Dog.”
Things got even better as the night wore on, notably when Joan Jett and the Blackhearts took the stage. Jett’s set might well have been the strongest of the night, with the influential singer-songwriter delivering stripped-down, straight-ahead versions of old and new material for 50 minutes.
“Bad Reputation,” “Cherry Bomb,” her well-known version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Light of Day” and Jett’s biggest hit, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” all worked well, as did the confessional “Naked” off her latest studio album, 2006’s Sinner. She closed her brisk set with her cover of “Crimson and Clover” and her own “I Hate Myself for Loving You.”

The party continued with a 65-minute showcase from the B-52’s, though anyone looking for surprises from the group was disappointed. One of the most distinctive troupes to emerge from the late ’70s new wave movement, the outfit’s classics (“Private Idaho,” “Planet Claire,” “Mesopotamia”) and newer stuff from 2007’s Funplex (“Pump,” “Ultraviolet”) blended together into one big dance mix.
The pleasing harmonies of singers Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson were terrific on the upbeat “Roam,” while the deadpan counterpoint of Fred Schneider, set against the ladies’ sweet vocals on “Rock Lobster,” couldn’t help but bring smiles despite the cold night air.

I’m sure I’m not the only longtime music follower who scratched his head at the thought of Foreigner following Jett and the B-52’s, especially considering guitarist Mick Jones is the only original member left in the group. Yet the band has figured out how to capture lightening twice. Its recently released disc Can’t Slow Down debuted relatively high on Billboard’s Top 200 chart, bolstered by the voice of Kelly Hansen, who in concert sounds almost identical to original frontman Lou Gramm.
I’m still unconvinced of the classic-rock credentials of songs such as “Head Games,” “Urgent” and night-ending “Hot Blooded,” but there is no question that this version of Foreigner played as if it had no doubts about those tracks’ lasting appeal. Likewise, “Double Vision” and the Moody Blues-ish “Starrider” (with Thom Gimbel playing both flute and guitar) were delivered rousingly, thanks to Jones’ guitar work and Hansen’s strong vocals.
The crowd, much of which hung around until the end of the concert, seemed to love the stuff.

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