Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson Rocks D.C.’s Black Cat
D.C. has had a rough week, thanks to a couple feet of snow that brought the normally bustling city to a screeching halt. But what better way to cure a raging case of cabin fever than with the Queen of Rockabilly? Wanda Jackson, that sweet lady with a nasty voice, brought some much needed pep to DC on Friday night. Although the turnout wasn’t that great due to the weather, those who made it to the Black Cat—and hung around until Jackson made it to the venue—were in for a treat.
Opening for—and later backing—Wanda Jackson were Mark Gamsjager and The Lustre Kings, a rock & roll quartet out of Albany. The icy roads kept the Lustre Kings from taking the stage until over an hour past their scheduled 9:00 start time (Gamsjager said it took them 90 minutes to drive eight blocks). However, they made up for their tardiness, reviving the crowd with a set of high energy rockabilly that included a cover of Ronnie Self’s “Bop-A-Lena.” Gamsjager then mentioned that the band would be remiss if they didn’t play a song in honor of Valentine’s Day, an announcement greeted by a chorus of boos. The boos quickly stopped when The Lustre Kings started up Santo and Johnny’s beautiful steel guitar instrumental “Sleep Walk.”
Because of the horrendous road conditions, Jackson didn’t make it to the Black Cat until shortly before midnight. She went straight from the street to the stage, opening with “Mean Mean Man.” From there, it was an hour of her best-known songs: “Riot in Cell Block #9,” “Fujiyama Mama,” “I Gotta Know,” and “Funnel of Love” were all greeted with cheers from the largely 20- and 30-something crowd. She also paid tribute to her relationship with Elvis Presley with a medley of Elvis songs; some of the loudest applause of the evening came when Jackson recounted how Elvis gave her a ring and asked her to be “his girl.” Despite her arduous journey to DC, Jackson was in fine form, commanding the crowd’s attention with both her unique voice, her fringe-covered outfit, and her willingness to shake it. She may be a grandmother, but the 72-year old can still rock with the best of ‘em.
I attended a Wanda Jackson show in the summer of 2008 and nearly two years later, the setlist and onstage banter were nearly identical (if you are a strapping fella in the front row, Wanda Jackson will ask you to open her bottle of water. Sorry, you aren’t special. It’s still pretty cute, though). The one exception: the addition of “Shakin’ All Over,” the excellent B-side to her newest single, “You Know I’m No Good.” Jackson remarked that she would have sung that Amy Winehouse cover, but it’s awfully wordy and she didn’t “have [her] cheat sheet.”
After Jackson encored with “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Rip It Up,” it was nearly 1 AM. Chances are every other senior citizen in the District had long since fallen asleep in front of the Hallmark Channel. But the Queen of Rockabilly was signing autographs, posing for photos, and holding court among her many devoted admirers.
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