Concert Review

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts Take No Prisoners at AZ Bike Week

In case you don’t already know, it’s Arizona Bike Week; yesterday kick-started the annual event. This mammoth celebration of all things chopper-related also includes an active concert roster throughout its weeklong run, featuring a lot of longtime acts guaranteed to incite nostalgia and deliver hit-filled sets, like Social Distortion, Blues Traveler, and Reverend Horton Heat. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were one of the opening night's acts.

The longtime rocker, and 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, took the stage with her band (Dougie Needles on guitar, bassist Hal B. Selzer, drummer Michael McDermott, and Kasim Sulton on keyboards and vocals) to deliver emphatically slightly more than an hour’s worth of the straight-ahead rock tunes, loaded with the hook-laden guitar riffs, anthemic stomps, and catchy vocals that have helped Jett collect and keep a fan base since she went full throttle with her solo career back in the '80s. The set delivered the familiarity and comfort by including several of those hits that the crowd was anxiously awaiting.

Everyone went nutso when they tore right into “Bad Reputation,” and rightfully so – it sounded pretty killer. Jett’s voice sounded powerful and growly. The general event sound system was crisp and booming, so it took their inspired delivery and pushed it over the edge. That level of energy waned a bit by the end of the night, but it served to throw the show into high gear.

With no break, it was right into “Cherry Bomb,” the biggest hit by the Runaways, the legendary all-girl teen band that gave Jett her start. It was a little bittersweet to hear it. It’s a killer tune, of course, but it also served as a reminder of the controversy involving Jett’s response to Runaways’ bassist Jackie Fox’s announcement last year about being raped as a teen by the band’s producer, Kim Fowley. Supposedly, Jett was in the room at the time it happened but she maintains that she has no recollection of the incident. In any case, the fans were jazzed to hear it and doubly thrilled when she turned the mic toward them to let them handle some of the chorus. Later, she did another Runaways track, “You Drive Me Wild,” sharing that it was “the first song I ever wrote."
After those couple of opening tunes, she stripped off her black leather jacket and addressed the crowd with “Welcome to Arizona Bike Week. We’re the Blackhearts from New York,” and asked if they were ready to have some fun. Turns out, they were. They launched into Jett’s popular cover of the old Gary Glitter song, “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” which inspired a lot of answers from crowd members who definitely did want to do some touching.

Glitter’s song isn’t the only cover that has been a hit for the band. She played quite a few of them, including the Springsteen-penned “Light of Day,” from the movie of the same name that starred Jett and Michael J. Fox, as well as Tommy James and the Shondells’ '60s hit “Crimson and Clover” and the night’s closing song, “Everyday People,” Sly & the Family Stone’s number-one hit.

It wasn’t all oldies; the band played a few songs from its 2013 release, Unvarnished, including “TMI,” which featured some warm and thundering drums and a nice, swinging chorus, as well as “Soulmates to Strangers,” which she wrote with Laura Jane Grace from Against Me! and “Any Weather,” which Jett co-wrote with Dave Grohl.

Joan and her band are all wickedly solid players, and they kept it pretty revved up throughout most of the night, but there were a couple of moments where the vocals sounded a little tired or the overall performance had a slightly less-inspired feel. But it didn’t seem like the audience noticed at all. They were stoked to chant along during “I Love Rock and Roll,” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” They broke after that latter tune, just briefly, and then came back onstage and Jett introduced the members. There was a genuine warmth that radiated when they took their collective bow, but it would have been nice to see a little more band interaction during the set. The aforementioned “Everyday People” wrapped up the night, and Jett announced that they’ll see Arizona “later this year,” presumably when the band plays Ak-Chin Pavilion in August.
Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts at Westworld in Scottsdale for Arizona Bike Week.

Personal bias: Love the Runaways, dig most of Joan’s post-Runaways stuff.

The Crowd: Bikers dominated the scene.

Overheard in the Crowd: “I’d like to break me off a piece of little Joanie Jett and then get some of them fried chicken sticks,” helping to cement why I’m a proponent of using one’s inside voice.

Selfie situation: I have to say, this may have been the least amount of selfie action I’ve seen at a show lately, which was kind of nice. People were just …watching the band. Can you imagine?

Set List:
"Bad Reputation"
"Cherry Bomb"
"Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)"
"Soulmates to Strangers"
"You Drive Me Wild"
"Make it Back"
"Light of Day"
"Love Is Pain"
"Hard to Grow Up"
"French Song"
"Any Weather"
"I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll"
"Crimson and Clover"
"I Hate Myself for Loving You"

"Everyday People"
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Amy Young is an arts and culture writer who also spends time curating arts-related exhibits and events, and playing drums in local bands French Girls and Sturdy Ladies.
Contact: Amy Young