Southside Johnny — at Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ
Labor Day typically marks the end of summer but some holdouts are reluctant to declare it formally over until the calendar turns on the 21st. At the Stone Pony Summer Stage, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes did their best to try and keep the summer alive in a hefty 26-song set that had the horn powered hallmark of a great soul revue and all the celebratory joys of being lifelong fans of rock history.
The outdoor Stone Pony Summer Stage was set-up like the backyard of the storied club that Southside Johnny Lyon has played in since 1971. Across the street is the boardwalk and Lyon led a sing-along to the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee,” a song he has been singing since his teenage years toiling in the clubs of Jersey. Looking out to the ocean, Lyon went into an interlude about teen romantic longings on the boardwalk that was as metaphoric as it could have been autobiographical. He seemed entranced in the reverie until he snapped the band back into the present and resumed the melody and song’s famous chorus.
One night after Jason Isbell played, Lyon and Company were back on the Summer Stage which felt like a big backyard party in Lyon’s hometown. If there’s home field advantage this was it or as 107.1 The Boss radio personality Tom Cunningham said before Lyon took the stage, summertime on the Jersey Shore never feels old. Cunningham was flanked by Fulfill Food Bank board member Rena Levine-Levy who appealed to fans to support the organization’s work supporting more than 300 food pantries and kitchens in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. “No parent should go hungry and no child should go home from school on Friday worrying that their next meal won’t come until they return to school.” In a sign of the times, Fulfill gave out more food in July than during any other month.
Lightning and threats of thunderstorms forced the show’s original July 4th weekend date to be rescheduled and the Jukes to come back for the Sunday night over Labor Day weekend. Lyon came on stage in his dark sunglasses and boldly bellowed, “If you want better weather get out.” Lyon held onto his summer wares, remarking he still had his sandals with the American flag, declaring “”I’m ready to rock and I’m ready for some soul.”
Launching into “Better Days,” the ten-piece Jukes were in full swing with a five-man horn section powering the Jersey Shore’s most renowned soul revue. “Angel Eyes” was next and Lyon’s grabbed the mic stand and held it at a forty-five degree angle like the great rock and roll frontmen do. His compatriot and bandleader Jeff Kazee led a great segue and trippy keys intro in Blind Faith’s classic “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Kazee summoned up Steve Winwood’s soulful genes as Lyon eased back onstage, took his glasses off and was happy to linger by drummer Tom Seguso and be one of the guys in the band for a few moments.
Things quickly picked up as they went into “Forever,” the second Steve Van Zandt song of the night. The horn section was really swinging. By the time they were done, Lyon told someone in the front, “We’re going to play every song you know.” He motioned a few syllables to Kazee who picked out a few notes. Soon it was time for “Love on The Wrong Side Of Town” with Kazee shaking a tambourine and joining Southside to sing all the bye bye babies in the chorus. Kazee discarded the tambourine to go toe to toe with Lyon who passed the mic back and forth on “Broke Down Piece of Man,” aided by trombonist Neil Pawley who was part of a three man dance that turned the Summer Stage into a swinging nightclub.
“Who the hell invited all these horn players?” Southside deadpanned looking proudly at his five star players.
Lyon’s raspy full throated soul voice came through in “Passion Street” and Bruce Springsteen’s “All The Way Home.” Southside blew his harp throughout the night, evoking guttural blues in “Woke Up This Morning” and guitarist Glenn Alexander riffed away on slide. The horn section was in full swing in ”Coming Back”” one song before Lyon led the song-along to “Walk Away Renee” with the band’s higher pitched voices sounding like a church choir.
Lyon launched into “Don’t Waste My Time” self-deprecatingly quipping “I wish somebody would come and waste my time now.” Kazee had two arms fully extended doing double duty on organ and electric keys. During “Without Love,” guest guitarist and Jukes alumni Bobby Bandiera appeared to Lyon’s delightful surprise and stayed for the rest of the show.
The two found the feel as Bandiera strummed the chords to his own “(We’ll Make This) World Stand Still”
“Bobby you know this,” Southside quipped. It was time for The Rolling Stones great Exile On Main Street track “Loving Cup” sung by Kazee.
The night’s greatest cover band went into the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” Four male voices did their best to emulate the great wall of vocal sound. Soon Lyon introduced guest singer Layonne Holmes. She led the band in singing the Beach Boys“Don’t Worry Baby” followed by “You Mean So Much Yo Me Baby” a song Bruce Springsteen wrote but was rewritten as a Lyon-Ronnie Spector duet when she came to the recording session.
Lyon stopped the next song when he couldn’t locate the key but Kazee threw him a chord and they quickly resumed with “Ride The Night Home.”
The show was smoking with “This Time it’s For Real,” the title song of Southside’s great second album. Bandiera joined Kazee and Lyon to belt out the Van Zandt penned chorus as an able three-man front. Lyon sang Springsteen’s “The Fever” like he was singing from the pulpit and the horn section’s two trumpets created a transcendent moment along the Shore.
Before singing his signature closing anthem “I Don’t Want To Go Home,” he thanked the band for backing him up all these years
“We’re the Jukes from New Jersey” he said with years of pride underpinning the statement.
By the time Jeff Kazee came back to lead the band for encores, he was literally galloping in circles running around the stage.
“I don’t know if I have strength,” Lyon moaned, twenty-three songs in. “I need some Geritol.”
“Say Goodbye To Hollywood” did the trick as Lyon thanked Ronnie Spector, no longer with us but who still inspires. A pair of Sam Cooke classics, “Another Saturday Night” and the traditional closer “We’re Having a Party” closed out the night.
Southside Johnny Lyon put his sunglasses back on and waved goodbye. The hardest working man in show business left the building and reluctantly took what was left of summer with him.
Find tour dates and more information here: https://www.southsidejohnny.com
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