If Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey what Prince is to Minneapolis, then Southside Johnny is Jersey’s answer to Morris Day. A pal with similar musical tastes but not talents or success.
Eight days after the Boss rocked Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes hit the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis for a two-night stand.
If Springsteen and the E Street Band were tighter than the Boss’ jeans, then Southside and the Asbury Jukes were as sloppy Tuesday as Johnny’s wrinkled white dress shirt with his tails hanging out. He even admitted it, calling the band loose and lacking its usual precision. He also joked about the octet’s casual outfits.
Despite these flaws, the two-hour performance of Jersey Shore rock 'n' soul was still fun, largely because of Johnny’s attitude. He played the friendly, spontaneous card, making light of specific people in the sold-out Dakota, sipping their drinks and even inviting a heckler onstage to sing and eventually shout “taxi.”
After entertaining in bars for 50 years, the 67-year-old Jersey boy has the shtick down. He also has a way with creating vintage sounding music that is equal parts Phil Spector and soul music (even if some of his material was written by Springsteen or E Streeter Steve Van Zandt).
Unfortunately, the chatty Southside was not in great voice on Tuesday in his first Twin Cities appearance in 10 years. He started out sounding like Springsteen with a 40 Grade sandpaper voice. Later, when Johnny tried to reach his high notes, he sounded like Joe Cocker with the dry heaves.
Still, there were enough times when Johnny Lyon put his heart and soul into his performance: the J. Geils Band-evoking “Without Love” mashed up with the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There”; the Springsteen-penned “The Fever” on which the Jukes finally sounded crisp; the Springsteen-meets-Spector “Love on the Wrong Side of Town”; the harmonica-spiked boogie of “Shake ‘em Down”; the surging, dramatic “Trapped Again,” and the original romantic ballad “Words Fail Me,” a sonic outlier but a sweet, pretty piece.
Hard-core Southside fans might have missed Bruce’s “Hearts of Stone” and Sam Cooke’s “Havin’ a Party,” the Jukes traditional finale. Maybe those favorites will be on Wednesday’s set list.