Pop music review: Wanda Jackson and Best Coast
Two far-flung generations of rock ’n’ roll — Wanda Jackson and Best Coast — ring in the New Year with spirit and sass at Club Nokia.
Rock ’n’ roll is still a lively way to begin a new year, and two far-flung generations of music and attitude in the form of rockabilly icon Wanda Jackson and Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino welcomed 2012 with a loving roar at Club Nokia on Saturday night. Each led sets that were at times fiery and casual, with the two biting on words of love gone wrong and joking easily about themselves and the night ahead.
In the ’60s and ’70s, Jackson enjoyed a successful middle career as a popular country singer. But she remains best known as “the queen of rockabilly” and today is a vibrant direct link to the first generation of rock ’n’ roll. At 74, she’s inevitably a different singer than she was in the ’50s, but she’s still fired up with power and sass.
“You all look like a beautiful flower garden,” she said warmly to her crowd, adding, “with a weed here and there, of course.”
Arriving onstage barely 20 minutes before midnight, she said, “OK, I’ll bet you’re ready to rock. Why not?” and dived right into an urgent “Riot in the Cell Block #9” and “Rock Your Baby” with hardly a breath in-between.
On “I Gotta Know” from 1956, Jackson eased back and forth from rockabilly snarl to a country lament, singing, “If our love is the real thing, where is my wedding ring?” And her reading of Bob Wills’ forlorn “I Betcha My Heart I Love You” included a yodel that was full and rich with feeling.
Her husband of 50 years, Wendell Goodman, came out to help with the night’s countdown to midnight, with 30 seconds to spare, and she sang a traditional “Auld Lang Syne,” and noted, “If nothing else, you kept breathin’, which by itself makes it a good year.”
It was much more than that for Jackson, who last year released an album, “The Party Ain't Over,” produced by Jack White, whom she called “such a neat guy, he really is.” Of 2011, she said, “This has been the greatest year career-wise that I’ve ever had” and performed several songs from that collaboration, including a growling “Shakin’ All Over” and a sly, shimmery take on Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.”
That album followed her 2009 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, many decades after first being encouraged by Elvis Presley, whom she toured with and dated during his first year of exploding popularity. As a tribute to him, she performed a sultry, bluesy version of “Heartbreak Hotel,” with some fine soloing from her backup band, the Seattle-based Dusty 45s.
During a brief warmup set by the Dusty 45s, bandleader Billy Joe Huels warned, “She’s still young and a whippersnapper. Don’t mess with Wanda.” Jackson showed as much during her set when someone in the crowd was talking too loudly and she stopped to tell him, “I’m talking now, honey.”
Earlier, Best Coast’s hour-long set was charmingly loose and celebratory, built on fuzzy guitar pop and lyrics of longing and devotion, beginning with the bristling chords of “Wish He Was You.” Cosentino was often chatty between tunes, but when fans gave her a knitted hat and a handmade greeting card, she wouldn’t read it. “It might be personal!”
Songs new and old echoed with the band’s ongoing obsession with ’60s girl groups and Brill Building pop, a melodic tradition of underground rock at least since the Ramones. Best Coast delivered its version under layers of dreamy reverb and slashing guitar riffs played by Cosentino and musical partner Bobb Bruno.
There was a twang of slide guitar on the new “In Your Sleep,” though the effect was more Velvet Underground than Delta blues, and crunchier guitars on the tougher “Goodbye” and the speedy “Crazy for You,” which had Cosentino brooding more on love and obsession: “I can’t do anything without you / Can’t do anything with you....”
The band only recently completed recording its second album, with producer Jon Brion at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. Cosentino was clearly happy about the project but kept details to herself. “Bobb and I are pretty shy about it,” she said, sharing a smile with the guitarist.
Bruno arrived in a black T-shirt printed like a tuxedo, which Cosentino suggested he remove and toss into the crowd. (He didn’t.) Bruno also carried a shopping bag filled with booze and corn chips, and Cosentino explained the chips were for licking the salt before shots of tequila.
“You know what happens on New Year’s,” she joked. “You sometimes forget how your song goes.”
Bruno was usually lost in the moment during his brief solos, making rubbery moves with his guitar, even falling to his knees for a moment during “Boyfriend.”
It was clear onstage Saturday that the Best Coast partnership was built on mutual admiration and genuine friendship. Cosentino said she wrote the song “Our Deal” for Bruno, who smiled as she explained, “because I am so in love with him, and he doesn’t even understand. One day he’ll get it.”
Photo: Best Coast at Club Nokia, New Year's Eve Dec. 31, 2011. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times