Downtown Raleigh got a taste of New York City this weekend. The crowd who poured in to see Joan Jett and the Blackhearts was testy and fractious, and security had their work cut out for them escorting the faint, drunk, injured, and belligerent out of the mad crush in front of the stage.
I don’t give a damn ’bout my reputation
You’re living in the past it’s a new generation
A girl can do what she wants to do and that’s
What I’m gonna do
An’ I don’t give a damn ‘ bout my bad reputation
The band was late coming on stage (welcome to rock). I had been working hard for about an hour to hold my position, about 6 humans from the front row, stage left. The woman beside me who was being shoved and pushed with the rest of us seemed to believe the battering she was enduring was my fault. After forcing a heavy hip against me a few times, she hissed to the man (husband?) behind her that she was about sick of it, and might have to start a fight. She cut her eyes my way and I flashed her my best wide-eyed eager smile, and readied my right cross. However, she didn’t survive the delay, and when she turned, exhausted and sweating, to shove her way out of the crowd I gleefully took her vacated 8 square inches of space. Live rock can be so delicious.
After opening with “Bad Reputation,” the band delivered a pure and beautiful jolt of punk with “Cherry Bomb;” the seething ocean of punk-turned-corporate 40-somethings, lesbian vegans, goths, and young rockers lifted their x-thousand arms in cell-phone videocam tribute and screamed the chorus. Joan was in fine form, flicking sweat on the audience with an evil grin, making lascivious and rude gestures, scowling, grinning, and howling into the mic.
Hey street boy what’s your style?
Your dead-end dreams don’t make you smile.
I’ll give you something to live for
Have ya, grab ya, ’til you’re sore
Although the sound crew had experienced difficulties all night bringing up enough volume on the lead mic, the mix was enough to deliver the visceral kind of hit that every live rock junkie craves. Standing in front of the 25-foot speaker stack during “Do You Wanna Touch Me” was a life-changing, atom-rearranging kind of experience.
Jett’s Blackhearts were utterly unfamiliar to me, but truthfully, it hardly mattered; the small-framed Joan Jett, born Joan Marie Larkin, has carried this show since she was 15 years old in the garage days of the Runaways. And she’s not only been around since the early days of rock, she started her own record label in true punk DIY fashion (reputedly the first woman rocker to do so), and she’s toured and worked with many of the greats from Sex Pistols to Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Motörhead, Queen, and The Police. (There was even a performance in Madison Square Garden with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 2005.) The godmother of punk has also produced work for bands such as The Germs, Metal Church, Big Daddy Kane, and Bikini Kill. She played Columbia in the Broadway production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (fitting, isn’t it?), and has done TV, movies, radio shows, and damn near everything else.
She didn’t disappoint the hordes at Downtown Live, barrelling full-speed through her hit cover “I Love Rock and Roll,” then “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” and a couple of newer ones, including “Androgynous” from her 2004 Naked release, and at least one from the 2006 Sinner disc.
She still has the same black shag haircut, heavy eyeliner, and leathers; she still pulls the same earth-shattering riffs out of her white Gibson melody maker. It’s hard to believe this woman is fifty years old. Word is, she’s not slowing down any time soon; a biopic is in the works, with Joan Jett as the executive producer: Twilight’s Kristen Stewart is set to play the lead and Dakota Fanning will take the role of Runaways partner-in-punk Cherie Currie (you can check out Kristen’s “Jett look” here).
Look for me in the front row of that show, too.
See the rest of my photo set here.