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Joan Jett And The Blackhearts Thrill In Ohio – Concert Review

Joan Jett
Annie Zaleski / Ultimate Classic Rock

The city of Cleveland has always been kind to Joan Jett. Her first band the Runaways was a popular draw at local venue the Agora, where they played many times.

In the ’80s, Jett and Michael J. Fox played sibling members of a Cleveland-based rock ‘n’ roll band in the movie ‘Light Of Day.’ And Jett and the Blackhearts even recorded a version of Jonathan Richman’s ‘Roadrunner’—a cover that appeared on the 1986 album ‘Good Music’—that namechecked the city and its legendary rock radio station, WMMS.

With so much history, Jett was the logical choice to help christen the Dec. 18 opening of a new venue near Cleveland called Hard Rock Live. In front of a sold-out crowd, she and the Blackhearts—bassist Acey Slade, lead guitarist Dougie Needles, ex-Scandal/Billy Idol drummer Thommy Price and keyboardist Kenny Laguna—turned in a powerful set.

Jett touched on her entire career during the nearly 80-minute concert—from the Runaways (‘Cherry Bomb,’ ‘You Drive Me Wild,’ which she noted was “the first song I ever wrote”) to her enduring singles (‘Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),’ ‘Bad Reputation’) and Blackhearts deeper album cuts (‘Love Is Pain,’ from 1981’s ‘I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll’; ‘The French Song’ from 1983’s ‘Album’).

However, the bulk of the setlist came from the group’s latest album, 2013’s introspective ‘Unvarnished,’ which covers topics such as mortality, heartbreak, survival and growing up.

Stylistically, the new songs fit in seamlessly with the rest of her catalog; inspirations included glammy punk (‘Reality Mentality’), razor-sharp power-pop (‘TMI,’ an indictment of our oversharing culture, the girl-group-influenced ‘Soulmates To Strangers’) and snarling hard rock (‘Fragile,’ a rumination on the brevity of life).

As the latter song reinforced, the ‘Unvarnished’ songs also lent the show stirring depth. Jett talked about how the hotrodding ’70s punk tune ‘Make It Back’ was inspired by the stories of resilience she saw post-Hurricane Sandy, while before ‘Grow Up,’ Jett said the song was about “coming to grips with life in general.”

“There’s that moment in time when you realize, ‘I have to grow up,’” she said.

Despite these serious moments, Jett was clearly having a blast onstage; she smiled and winked at the audience, while throwing in her trademark growls, yowls and the occasional scream into her vocal performances.

And even though she admitted to being slightly sick, the extra rasp in her voice only made songs such as ‘I Hate Myself For Loving You’ have that much more sass and attitude.

While ‘I Love Rock & Roll’ of course received delirious applause, the band’s take on ‘Crimson & Clover’ was also wildly received. Buoyed by this momentum, the night ended strong, with a festive performance of the holiday tune ‘Little Drummer Boy’ that segued right into a cover of Sly & the Family Stone’s ‘Everyday People.’

Next: Top 10 Joan Jett Songs

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