Wanda Jackson @ Scala
Kings Cross Scala. 07nov11.
“I’m ready to rock. I know you are” purrs rockabilly grande dame Wanda Jackson as she glides on in a tassled jacket of eye-gouging pink and beneath a suspiciously jet-black bouffant. In her field of vision as she surveys her crowd are younger ladies with a vintage fashion fetish; psychobilly thirty-somethings looking for an insight into the gentler beginnings of their favoured fare; senior girls (around our star turn’s age bracket) in leather jackets and heavy eyeliner; and old lads still displaying their 50’s pompadours like peacocks, albeit with a little more room in the quiff for air to circulate.
Her backing band for UK dates, Wes McGhee’s London Partytimers, are suited, booted and well-drilled. “Finest band I work with” says Wanda, causing one of her charges to remark “I bet you say that to all the boys”. Not so apparently, “You should hear what I say to the others… I’ve only killed about three drummers” she retorts, the wit every bit as sharp as the voice.
Indeed that voice is remarkably well preserved in its 75th year; grazed yelps, glottal howls and country-gal yodelling all still within range, and kept just on the right side of a Sunday night knees up at Joe Maplin’s. Funnel Of Love in particular, as it sashays about on tiptoes, is magnificent.
Riot In Cell Block #9 is an ideal opener for establishing the spirit of the evening, and Let’s Have A Party hardly pushes a stick between the spokes in this regard. As much as parade of ‘hits’, it is a night for storytelling and although the strolling oratory sometimes gazes at the trophy cabinet for perhaps overly elongated periods, you can hardly blame a Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer who has both worked with and dated Elvis, scored #1’s in Japan and had a street named after them in Oklahoma City for not hiding their light under bushel when it can be brought out and used to illuminate the evening of their career.
Indeed it was Elvis who dragged her from the security blanket of country music into the hazards of the “new stuff, as we called it then”, but she was to flit between the genres many times, and Hank Williams’ I Saw The Light is a mood shifting moment of the set when she lays on the line her religious beliefs and pinpoints the moment, 40 years ago, when she took the Lord into her heart.
However in terms of ‘how I got where I am today’ influences, Jack White takes almost equal billing with Jesus Christ. His production of her recent, and fabulous, LP The Party Ain’t Over (released earlier this year) is represented with a suite of numbers as we come into the final stretch of the set.
There might be a slight glitch with the pitch on Rip It Up, with Wanda apologetic (but no-one minds), but the manual fade out and back up on Nervous Breakdown is thrilling, whilst the version of Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good is performed with a brilliantly unsettling septuagenarian lasciviousness. Despite asking Jack White to tweak the lyrics of the second verse to make them more “age appropriate”, Wanda keeps with the carpet burns line and also suggestively rests her index finger on his bottom lip, her mouth forming a roguish O as the song comes to its instrumental close.
There is a huge cheer as she reveals she has been recording for 57 years, a keenness to bop as her big in Japan moment Fujiyama Mama plays out, and a slight retreat as she flings unsolicited water at the front row. Despite the worn-on-the-sleeve Christianity, Wanda Jackson clearly retains a mischievousness from her salad days. Thus, performing in front of several generations at once, she remains right at home.
No comments yet.