Better than: Just about anything else to come from the shores of Jersey in the past 30 years, particularly the past five.
There is an indelible timelessness to Southside Johnny's music that is right up there with summertime on the beach, vintage American steel, and young love.
Perhaps that was a little on the Hallmark side for us, but the sentiment remains. The fact of the matter is that there is a realness to the soul-smothered rock 'n' roll music that Southside and his Asbury Jukes make that simply cannot be replicated or synthesized.
Southside and the Jukes rolled through Hollywood's Seminole Hard Rock Live last night in a spinning tornado of horn stabs and harmonica. Though Mr. Lyon is now 65 and properly recognized as the rightful patriarch of New Jersey rock 'n' roll by the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, the man still works his ass off for his meals and literally left a puddle of sweat on the Hard Rock's stage last night.
Arriving with an exuberant "What it is!?" Johnny and the Jukes attempted to strike up a party immediately. The crowd felt the good-time vibes, to be sure; however, things got really moving when the thumping bass line of "I Played the Fool" off of 1978's Hearts of Stone bounced through the sound system. The nostalgia of summers on the Jersey Boardwalk was palpable as members of the audience sang along and danced in their seats to the sweeping horn lines provided by the famous Jukes brass.
Johnny's energy was uncanny for a 65-year-old music-business lifer. Hiding behind a pair of shades, Johnny demonstrated plenty of his underrated blues harmonica playing when he wasn't running around the stage and encouraging members of the Jukes to bring the energy level up -- even when there really wasn't anywhere else for the group to go. The band played with a phenomenal amount of grace considering the spontaneous nature of Southside's set selection. Drummer Tom Seguso's reliable snare drum kept the group in line as keyboard wizard Jeff Kazee laid down a carpet of lush organ swells and boogie-woogie piano sound for Johnny to howl over. The three-piece horn section, as always, completed the Jukes' sound and were most entertaining to watch when they were weren't playing.
The band played a handful of tracks from 2010's Pills and Ammo, and they stood proud among the band's classics. This makes sense, considering the potent formula of big instrumentation and soulful singing here has gone perfectly unchanged throughout the group's colossal discography. Johnny mused about it being generally "all bad." However, the performance -- an unbridled celebration of the man's great songs -- betrayed the consistent thread of self-deprecating humor he relied on throughout the night.
Visits back to classics like "Talk to Me," "Hearts of Stone," "The Fever," and "Trapped Again" had audience members on their feet and dancing about like it was the mid-'70s and the world was theirs for the taking. "Without Love," however, brought forth a sing-along of epic proportions.
While the Boss has become so revered that his style has now been recycled back into the youth via band's like the Killers and Gaslight Anthem, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes remain the realest of deals. And though Johnny might not have his very own radio station à la former bandmate and confidant Little Miami Steven Dante Van Zandt, the singer still brought and left everything he had onstage last night in a way that deserves so much more respect than he appears to receive.
Personal bias: Southside was played in my home far more frequently than Springsteen.
Random detail: Jeff Kazee has a killer voice.
From the stage: "Don't lose the Toyota, baby!" -- Johnny spinning a yarn about gambling at the Seminole Hard Rock midsong.