By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
Boston and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Smart Financial Centre
June 28, 2017
When's the last time you went to a rock concert? I mean a real live extended guitar solo-wailin', bassist leaping on the amp, giant gong behind the drum kit, lit Bics in the air, over-the-head hand-clapping, air guitar-inducing, never sit in the seat you purchased rock and roll affair? If you weren't at last night's Boston/Joan Jett show, you missed a hell of an opportunity to experience such a moment.
The bands are traveling together on Boston's Hyper Space Tour. Jett latched onto the tour for shows this month and next and opened the night. She peppered the audience with jab after jab and had us reeling before the headliners came out to land a haymaker, a musical knockout so intense it had us seeing stars (or spaceships, at least).
Even in an auditorium the size of Smart Financial Centre, bands feed off their crowds and last night's audience provided plenty of fuel. There was more than a feeling of excitement outside the building ahead of the show and long lines at the merch tables indoors. But most people were seated when none other than Dayna Steele, Houston's "First Lady of Rock," came out to introduce the bands and welcome everyone. You can't get more "rock and roll" in this town than having Steele onstage setting things up.
"It's been a long time since I've done this," she told us. "You guys didn't do so bad over the years. You look pretty good."
Maybe. But who's aged better than Joan Jett? She hit the stage ten minutes past eight with "Victim of Circumstance." Dressed in a skin-tight, red and black body suit with a matching guitar, she's sexy as ever and her trademark rasp is still punk a.f. She moved from that 1981 track into a string of hits that included "Cherry Bomb," "Do You Wanna Touch Me" and a frenetic version of "Bad Reputation." Her younger visage projected behind her during the songs reminded us of her coal-dyed hair and doe-eyed beauty. But, seeing her in the flesh, peeling off half-smiles and smirks during tracks like "I Hate Myself for Loving You" just made it evident that she is destined to be eternally cool. Over a dozen songs, she made the night interactive, urging us to "Oh Yeah!" for "Do You Wanna Touch Me" and, of course, exacting a mass sing-along to "I Love Rock n' Roll."
She chatted with the crowd, drawing laughs by telling us The Runaways had played Houston before, "At,….someplace that doesn't exist anymore." Before she and the band ripped into "Light of Day," she advised us that after the show she and the band were flying to Canada to perform tonight with Michael J. Fox, at his behest, for the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards, where he is being feted with the nation's highest arts honor.
"Then we're coming right back to Texas," she promised. All we could think was please don't be too long in returning to Houston, Ms. Jett.
Boston's set began appropriately, with its architect, multi-instrumentalist and, according to lead guitarist Gary Pihl, "the man who wrote all the songs," Tom Scholz alone onstage. While his bandmates took their places in the shadows, the band founder stood in the spotlight and thrilled with an elaborate guitar intro to show opener "Rock & Roll Band."
Most Boston fans would consider Scholz the frontman of the band, if not in the literal, "I'm singing here" sense, then at least in a figurative one. It's a subject that is sometimes sorely brought up when the band tours, since longtime vocalist Brad Delp's death ten years ago. Watching Scholz command the keyboard as if he is literally captaining the spaceship that's fashioned into the band's logo, or witnessing his mastery of the guitar and catching the nuances in his runs across guitar frets, it's clear that as long as he is onstage playing, you are getting a true Boston show. Case closed.
It doesn't hurt that he shares the stage with so many talented musicians. Pihl is an extraordinary rock and roll guitarist, one of the genre's truly underrated performers. Hearing him and Scholz go lick for lick on tracks like "Smokin'" and "Peace of Mind" was inspiring. Vocalist Tommy DeCarlo was a Boston fan before he was a bandmate, and it shows. It's unfortunate to think anyone would hold him to any preconceived standard when it comes to the songs, especially after all this time. He owns them now, there's no mimicry here, just excellent vocal work that is reminiscent of Delp's work, but has a life of its own in DeCarlo's capable hands. He blew us away particularly on "Peace of Mind" and "Amanda," two of the band's biggest hits.
The band played until almost midnight, song after song, thrilling with extended jams and invoking true rock concert moments with standards like "More Than a Feeling" and "Don't Look Back." There was actual glee on their faces, the look that says they don't just love playing for you, Boston fans, they simply love playing. All theatrics, light shows and flicked Bics aside, that's the true essence of a great rock and roll show.
Personal Bias: Mrs. Sendejas goes to lots of shows with me. She is frequently a passive observer. Last night, she sang Joan Jett songs line by line, stood the entire set and danced like she did back at Marian Christian High School circa 1985. I already loved Joan Jett (and can now scratch from the bucket list seeing her live), but seeing my wife so immersed in her music shoots her near the top of the all-time best show list.
The Crowd: One-time punks and stoners who voted for Trump last fall. Put another dime in the jukebox, baby, because they love rock and roll.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I went to see Aerosmith about five years ago and that was very cool."
Same guy, five minutes later: "I love Foreigner. I did see Foreigner back in '79."
"The keyboard player looks like Woody Allen."
Random Notebook Dump: To my new friend, who was seated next to me last night at the show, thank you for the notes on Boston and your insight, and especially for being engaged and enjoying the music. I know you've seen the band numerous times, but last night was my first Boston show. To witness it alongside someone who truly loves the band helped me appreciate what they do all the more.
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts Set List
Victim of Circumstance
Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)
You Drive Me Wild
Light of Day
Love is Pain
Love Is All Around
I Love Rock n' Roll
Crimson and Clover
I Hate Myself For Loving You
Boston Set List
Rock & Roll Band
Heaven on Earth
Peace of Mind
Cool the Engines
Don't Be Afraid
Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin cover)
I Think I Like It
Don't Look Back
Something About You
More Than a Feeling
To Be a Man