September 7, 2021

Concert Review: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts


Ok, usually I’m writing about new bands and music that will appeal to a… mature?… crowd. Yeah, mature. We’ll go with that. It’s rare that I delve into the past. This is, hence, a BIG exception. Cut me some slack.

On Labor Day (US) I went to the New York State Fair. State fairs are a celebration of agriculture and industry. New York State is big in both, thus the state fair is a lot of fun. I’ve been an inhabitant of the urban or suburban landscape my whole life so, the agriculture part is both alien and fascinating.

For those unfamiliar with state fairs across the US, concerts are a big part of it. In some parts of the country it’s all about country music. Here in New York, it’s a mixed bag of classic rock, country, and contemporary music styles. The day before I went to the Fair, the Latino Country act the Mavericks performed both an English and Spanish language set. The day before that was Cold War Kids. When I was there, we were luck to have two icons of the punk and new wave movement, Joan Jett and Cheap Trick.

Cheap Trick was the epitome of aging rockers who should hang it up. Boring. Cheesy. I can go on but who cares. They sucked and that’s all you need to know. I wouldn’t see them again, even if it were free.

Joan Jett on the other hand rocks and rocks hard. With a set that is just about 90 minutes, Jett played all her best songs plus some of the best of her first band, The Runaways, and the better bits of her later music.

And she looked good! For someone a bit older than I am (I can hear you out there!) she looked very much herself. All that rock and roll living doesn’t seem to have ruined her. Her voice is a little lower and more gravely, but given her music, that’s fine. It makes some songs even better.

Her band, the Blackhearts, is top notch. Blackhearts guitarist, Dougie Needles, was especially good. He could handle the more heavy metal and hard rock parts of her repertoire equally well as the punk songs.

Jett still knows how to whip up an audience. It certainly helps that she’s the godmother of the riot grrls movement and punk and LGBTQIA+ icon but Jett doesn’t use her status to engage with her audience. Instead, she plays hard, delivering the hits and “best of” music. That means “Bad Reputation”, “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)”, “I Love Rock and Roll”, “Cherry Bomb”, “Androgynous”, and “TMI”. And so many more. Just thinking about it leaves me exhausted.

Unlike a lot of artists today, she doesn’t add a lot of chatter to the concert. She hardly said anything outside of “Hello New York” for the first third of the concert. When she did start talking, it was mostly to introduce something interesting about a song, especially when the song was one of her lesser known ones. I appreciate that. No one goes to a concert to heart a rock star’s meditations on life. If the audience can’t get that through the music, then the artist has failed. Jett knows that and respects that her audience wants to hear music not lectures.

I first saw Joan Jett in the summer of 1981 and this was my fourth time seeing her perform. She is still fresh, exciting, and punk. It’s pretty wonderful to see how well she and her music have aged. Catch Joan Jett and the Blackhearts if you have a chance.