Supported by an impressive nine-piece band, led on guitar by Jack White, the producer of her new album The Party Ain't Over, and two back-up singers known as her "Cupcakes", Wanda Jackson delighted the sold-out crowd at the El Rey for a little over an hour with a set that revealed the breadth of her career: country, gospel, and of course rockabilly, of which she is considered the Queen. The set list featured eight songs off the new album and a mix of classic hits. Although the band slightly overpowered her vocals in the mix on a few occasions, she held her own quite well. When she was in the moment, everyone, possibly including herself, forgot she was 73.
After a rollicking "Riot in the Cell Block #9", she sang "Busted" with an arrangement similar to Johnny Cash's rendition. Although she didn't think a 70-year-old could pull it off, White was right and her raspy vocals did justice to Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good." On the album, Jimmie Rodgers' "Blue Yodel #6" is just Jackson backed by White on acoustic guitar, but they couldn't put the band to waste and ended up creating a better version live. After the gospel number " Dust on the Bible," the night ended far too soon after three rockers. Everyone was satisfied, but no one wanted the party to be over.
Jackson, dressed all in black except for a white jacket with fringes, had an extremely adorable stage presence. She used a cheat sheet on three occasions for new songs and made no bones about it. Said she saw Elvis do it in Vegas and "if it was good enough for the King, it was good enough for the Queen." She didn't need them much, only taking an occasional glance. She repeatedly teased White, like an older sister or aunt, about her concern over him knocking her into the audience, yet was obviously so grateful to him for taking an interest in her and offering his support. She also ordered the smoke machine to be turned off as it was getting too much for her.
The band was very good and easily switched genres. Some of them hadn't played on the album, yet they blended together so well it was if they had been playing as a unit for ages. If White hadn't already demonstrated great interest in the drawing attention to artists out of the spotlight, like his work with Loretta Lynn, it would almost seem like this was an endeavor for himself. This project allows him to slip away from the blues rock he's been trafficking in of late to lead an orchestra like Brian Setzer. It demonstrates his devotion to and passion for the work of the moment as he honors those who came before him. Those few who get to see White play with Jackson should consider themselves lucky.
Main set: Riot in the Cell Block #9 / Busted / Mean, Mean Man / You Know I’m No Good / Like a Baby / Right or Wrong / Blue Yodel #6 / Rip It Up / Nervous Breakdown / Fujiyama Mama / Funnel of Love / Dust on the Bible / Let’s Have a Party
Encore: Heartbreak Hotel / Shakin’ All Over
"You Know I'm No Good" (Live)