Words and the couple crappy pictures I snapped can’t do this experience justice. Bottom line: If you get a chance to catch Wanda Jackson while she’s still touring (she’s in her 70’s), just do it. This is about the Wanda Jackson show at The Granada in downtown Lawrence Wednesday night, May 17.
I got there just before the opening duo of Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave took the stage and I must admit it was probably the fact that they were opening that got me out of the house. While I’d seen Wanda when she first started touring again around ten years ago (at the Grand Emporium in Kansas City – wonderful show) , the combination of thinking I may not have another chance to catch Wanda plus a chance to see Holly live for the first time did the trick even after a long day of work.
I dug their gritty trancey-melodic set and the irresistible humor of their banter and lyrical content – I was laughing out loud at “Junkpile Joyce”, “Get Out of My House”, and the one about packing lots of cans and guns into a hole in honor of the coming Endtimes this Saturday (seriously, the Endtimes are actually really believed to be coming in two days now, which makes me wonder if there will be a spike in ironic church attendance on Sunday). A note about his drum set up – two pedals that look like they have independent front and back parts that allow his socked feet to operate a stick on a high-hat in tandem with a tom snare beater, a tambourine, and a deep boomy kick drum, which frees his hands up to play nasty sludgy hillbilly-ey slide guitar.
They sing a lot of unison vox and little harmony and it sounds just right. I really like the “just so” delivery in most of the songs, and the near-goofiness at times (the “get outta my house” mantra at the end of that song for example). The set was way too short but they were truly playing the role of the quick opener – I’ve got to check them out next time they hit the Jackpot – the Granada didn’t really feel quite right for them and not that many people were there for them, though it began filling near the end. I bought a cd because this is the kind of non-corporate musical pleasure I like to see proliferating.
The backing band from Nashville took the stage and while not as lo-fi as I would have liked, they were very solid and in retrospect an ideal backing band for Wanda – my friend Derek pointed out that Jack White’s huge gesture to her probably allowed her to have this traveling band with her now rather than the local setups she used to rely on (Google for the album Jack did with her after her long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the promotion and subsequent touring) . They got the suddenly much fuller crowd engaged and primed with a hint of rockabilly followed by a quasi-Chuck Berry-ish steady rock texture and then there she was.
I suddenly remembered her last appearance, where she is just downright charming and vivacious, humble and daring, a graceful link to a now-distant past in American music, a beautiful voice that does everything from shouting to caressing to yodeling to crooning and all of a sudden up comes that cross-cut saw blade ripping through the sonic layers.
And once I was mesmerized, I caught many, many glimpses of the intense young Rockabilly Queen that we can barely make out in the archival footage as we squint through the YouTube lens of the past. But her voice and incredible sense of delivery was the real solid sender that tied it all together.
Her stories are fascinating glimpses into a by-gone era and her many facial mugs to the audience and subtle hand gestures while she moves and sings range from nearly-lewd to comical and innocent, and even these hint back to her time with Elvis and feel like clues to a lost era. At a couple points she did some audience hand grabbing and in the initial pass I was surprised when she actually grabbed my hand and held on for quite a bit, singing all the while with those piercing dark eyes. I swear I’m not exaggerating when I say her touch was soft and yeah, sexy – don’t know what I expected but it was an electric moment and the young man next to me had an amped look of wonderment in his eyes when he shook his head and glanced at me once she moved on.
Well, having my hand touched by the first woman ever to record a rock and roll song (and subsequently having her throw water on me) was truly great, but the takeaway if there is one at all is that I just felt consistently good throughout her performance. There were standout moments, a goose-bump experience or two, but generally I just felt unadulterated GOOD. Twin Peaks without the dark undercurrents in some sense. And when I looked around me, I saw that same feeling in everyone around me, from young to old, hipsters to hippies to clean-cuts. People moving, shouting, clapping, exchanging knowing looks. Did the better part of a simpler time rub off on us through this direct connection? I don’t know. But I’m glad I went.