Tommy James Is Still a Ball of Fire; Southside Johnny Spins a Solid Set
From the opening bassline of “Draggin’ a Line” to the closing harmonies of “Mirage,” Tommy James and the Shondells rocked Staten Island’s St. George Theater for 90 minutes on October 22 and did not disappoint. They played a dozen more of their 17 Top 40 hits, plus a few extras, such as “Tighter, Tighter,” a top 10 tune James wrote and produced for Alive ’n Kickin’. The songs were rendered faithfully, often with a harder rock edge than the recorded versions.
From the power pop of “Crystal Blue Persuasion” to the tremolo of “Crimson and Clover,” James’s vocals were remarkably spot-on and the only concession to age (he’ll turn 70 in April) we detected was a slightly lower pitch in his voice. His hair has conceded little, still flowing down past his shoulders.
Among the highlights of the evening was an acoustic performance of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which James told the crowd would be featured in a key scene in the upcoming movie version of his best-selling memoir, Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & The Shondells– one of the most enlightening, engrossing and entertaining rock bios we’ve ever read. (The film is being produced by Barbara DeFina, whose films that have garnered eight Oscars and 14 nominations.) Later in the show James and company delivered a more traditional take on the song to the delight of all in attendance.
The centerpiece of the show was an extended, high-energy jam of “Mony, Mony,” which showcased the considerable musical chops of this latest Shondells lineup (John Golden -guitar, Jonathan Ashe-bass, Bobby Guy -keyboards, Mike Dimeo-Hammond organ and Glenn Wyka -drums) -and involved much audience participation. Mid-jam, James climbed off the stage, walked through the audience and shook hands with a few dozen fans.
Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes opened the show, and as much as we enjoyed their Brooklyn Bowl appearance one year ago, the larger venue played to the band’s strengths. This was especially true of the horn section – Chris Anderson , trumpet; John Isley, saxophone and Neal Pawley, trombone. Keyboardist Jeff Kazee, guitarist Glenn Alexander , bassist John Conte and drummer Tom Seguso were in perfect musical harmony . Their synchronized movements as a team and their individual solos were audience-pleasing highlights.
Southside, who was in fine, throaty voice as usual, used the full width of the stage to work the crowd and encourage their joining in on songs such as “Without Love.” The 40-minute set was a nice blend of classics, such as “The Fever” and “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” with new material, including “All I Can Do” and “Spinning,” from their most recent release, Soultime!