May 23rd, 2011
Loopster Live: Wanda Jackson at Fitzgerald’s
As the line snuck around the grounds of Fitzgerald’s on Saturday, there was a good case to wonder what exactly I had gotten myself into. Three or four mangled lines had been assembled. One for cash tickets, one for will call pick-ups, another for credit card purchases… There was a method to the madness, but it wasn’t readily apparent. All I knew was that Wanda Jackson was waiting to be re-discovered by a Houston audience and I wasn’t going to miss it.
The crowd that had poured in to see the rockabilly legend was a mix of generations. Late-aged traditionalists and young-gun revivalists rubbed elbows sipping on their beverages of choice waiting patiently. Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs had finished their set well before I was granted access to the crowded downstairs of Fitzgerald’s. The energy that had infused the room could well have been because of their time on stage, but I would venture to say that it was mostly excitement to see the 74 year-old songstress tear up the small stage.
The backup band strutted out on stage, feeding off of the premature applause by the throngs that had gathered. They struck off onto the fast paced road of rockabilly that Wanda Jackson helped to pave without the lead singer. Warming up the crowd was never a problem, but the instrumental prelude to the show fueled the frenzy. Outside, the hordes still waited to try to get their tickets to Portugal the Man who would be taking the upstairs a little later, but from the first furious chord progressions and then Wanda’s entrance from stage left, it was apparent that the show of the night would be on the smaller stage of Fitzgerald’s.
As she cruised through each song of the set list, Jackson stopped between nearly every song to offer anecdotes about her life in the music business. They seemed as much a welcome break to the younger band as a historical context for a pleased crowd. Wanda, herself showed no signs of tuckering out. We as fans struggled to keep up with the septuagenarian who bopped around the stage, swishing the fringe on her neon pink jacket this way and that. Besides standing a bit bowed and the wrinkles showing under the unforgiving stage lights, Wanda’s crisp blue eyes burned from behind the microphone daring you to tell her she was too old for the tour that is in support of the 2011 album The Party Ain’t Over.
Speaking of frills, the strands hanging from every square inch of her jacket weren’t the only ones that came with the show. Stories about the gentleman Elvis asking Wanda to “be his girl” and offering her a ring while they toured together accompanied the regularly scheduled programming. Tales of working with Jerry Lee Lewis filled in some of the gaps between tunes. These are the benefits of witnessing a living legend who orchestrated a musical movement live, in concert. We didn’t come for the history lesson, but it provides an added bonus to the experience. Of course we want to know that the ring from Elvis had diamonds, even though I never knew a ring existed in the first place.
Jackson spun through the night with ease, and it was nothing less than a joy to be there. Her newest album full of covers ranging from Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain” to Amy Winehouse’s “You Know that I’m No Good” (which puts the Brit’s original to shame, for the record) shared time with the classic hits throughout the set. And while this newest effort has drawn in new fans due to Jack White’s involvement in production, it’s the timeless sound of her resonant growl that packed the house on Saturday night. Some of the newcomers like myself learned what all those ticked-buying old-timers had been bugging us about. It makes me look forward to experiencing a pioneering act so that one day, two decades down the line I can see them again and rub all the young’ns nose in it that I was there first. Unfortunately, I would have to find an act as unique as Wanda Jackson, and that’s going to be a tough order to fill.
Take a bow, Wanda.