All Hail the Queen

January 24th, 2011

Wanda Jackson – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 21, 2011

Wanda Jackson has been singing and playing guitar since racking up hits as a girl in the ’50s. She’s toured with (and dated) Elvis and most recently collaborated with Jack White on her new album, The Party Ain’t Over. On Friday night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, the dapper black-and-pink-clad Third Man Band warmed up onstage while the sold-out crowd eagerly awaited the Queen of Rockabilly. As White wailed out a funky, dirty guitar riff, Jackson, petite and smiling, appeared, sporting a sparkly, fringed white jacket and black bouffant hairdo. “New York City!” she cried out in her spunky Southern lilt. “Are you ready to rock? I sure am!” She began her old hit “Riot in Cell Block 9” and the crowd started to dance. Brooklyn, too, was ready to rock.

Jackson’s voice, brassy and throaty, punctuated here and there with a delicate little growl, was in fine form as she ran through a mix of hits from the ’50s and ’60s (“Mean, Mean Man,” “Fujiyama Mama”) alongside tracks off the new album (including a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good”). The singer was good-humored and a bit feisty during song breaks, praising White’s guitar playing (affectionately calling him “sweetie”) and her two backup singers (“how do ya’ll like my little cupcakes over here?”). “I saw Elvis do this once in Vegas,” quipped Jackson, referring to a lyric sheet she used for one number. “I said if it’s good enough for the King, it’s good enough for the Queen.”

Although there was plenty of talk of White being a “savior” of rock and roll back when the White Stripes first emerged, perhaps only now, after his fruitful collaboration with Jackson, is this notion truly appropriate. Over all these years, Jackson has never stopped singing and performing, but White’s imprint on her new recordings may help generations of music fans rediscover (or discover) this powerhouse—someone who was really there back when rock and roll first took shape. Wanda Jackson’s spirited performance with the Third Man Band this weekend made it clear that classic rock and roll is here to stay. —Alena Kastin

Photo © 2011 Eric Van’t Zelfden/Lobo Jones Photography. All Rights Reserved.
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(Wanda Jackson plays The Bowery Ballroom on 2/24.)