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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
The Astoria, London, October 27th 2006
It’s been sometime since we were at the Astoria, that lovely former pickle factory on Charing Cross Road. And in fact since our last visit there’s been a bit of a hoo-hah about the future of the old place, with conspiracy theorists pointing the finger at freeholders property group Derwent Valley, claiming that they had plans to redevelop the whole site once the current lease to the Mean Fiddler group expires. As it turns out there was just a little August media-madness at work; Derwent are apparently in the clear, but an even bigger threat comes from a proposed railway development (PDF document) that would see the theatre giving way to a huge new Underground station. If you’re at all concerned about the loss of this smelly London landmark rock venue (I am) then have a look here or here.
Yeah – it’s a Friday night and we’d forgotten that the unstoppable GAYE nightclub means that Astoria gigs always start early, so by the time we arrive from an excellent early dinner the place is packed (the upstairs is closed, so it’s probably only three quarters full) and veteran New Jersey rockers and intimates of the great, Southside Johnny [Editor’s note: are you sure you don’t mean Johnnie?] and his Asbury Jukes have just hit the stage. Now if you’re seriously concerned about spelling then let me mention the following. His real name is John Lyon. ‘Southside’ come from his love of Chicago blues, Asbury from Asbury Park, the suburb where he cut his musical teeth. And Jukes (the good pickle factory folk spelt it ‘Dukes’ on the tickets) from Little Walter’s band. Not that we can really see either Johnny or his Jukes. Our usual spot is taken, and we get stuck in a flow of people moving to and from the bar with the inexorable certainty of an ebbing tide. It’s claustrophobic, but a glimpse of space to the left sees us move to the other side of the theatre where we tuck in comfortably below the bar, but on a raised podium that gives us a good sight of the stage across the sea of balding heads in front of us.
Actually that’s not entirely true. It has the feel of a blokish night, but we’re in the thick of a gang of fiftyish leather jacketed bald blokes and their very blonde partners (also leather jacketed and hairdressers) who are giving a master-class in binge drinking and chain-smoking that any ASBO-seeking youngster should watch with awe. It becomes apparent that they’ve come up to Town from the East (Essex that is), just like they used to back in the seventies, and like almost everyone else in the audience they know all the songs, all the words, and even when to punch their fists in the air. Actually, they’re just here to party.
On the stage the diminutive Johnny [Editor’s note – are you sure?], sadly sans leather jacket, sunglasses and hair, is giving an astonishing lesson in east-coast (New Jersey, not Canvey Island) white R&B singing. I tried to figure out how old he was until good manners got the better of me.
He’s accompanied by original Juke Eddie Manion on saxophone (who’s also been touring with Springsteen in the Seeger Sessions Band), and long-time sidekick Bobby Bandiera on guitar (who’s now also a fixture in Bon Jovi) – but the whole band are, as I believe they say, kicking, remarkable given the time they’ve spent on the road – there’s no going through the motions here, and special mention should be made of keyboard player Jeff Kazee, who has a wonderful Hammond B3 moment in ‘Fever’. Set list? Well I could hardly take notes, but I know they played ‘Sweeter than honey’, ‘Shake ‘em down’, ‘Tired skin’, ‘Souls on fire’, a nice Little Walter cover with some very decent harmonica playing from SJ, ‘Sweeter than honey’, ‘When Rita leaves’, ‘Trapped again’, ‘Fever’ (simply excellent), ‘Love on the wrong side of town’, ‘Passion Street’, ‘I don’t wanna go home’, and of course, ‘Havin’ a party’. By which time everyone was – including the girls (a term which is used in the loosest possible sense) who had got up on stage to dance and sing, and even the fellow from the audience who was playing Kazee’s spare keyboard – having a party of their own. Simply fantastic. We all parted with hugs and embraces like the very best of friends, and I couldn’t help thinking, as we walked through a chill late-October London, that if every Friday night was a Southside Johnny night, then the world would surely be a better place to live in. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

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