This week, I saw the Deftones, System of a Down, Cannibal Corpse and Between the Buried and Me. Last Thursday, at Coney Island's free concert series, Joan Jett handed each of them their asses on a plate.
Decades after she's had any sort of commercial success, Jett is still one of rock's most likeable characters. She blurs the punk-pop line tighter than anyone from the Clash to Green Day, and has found enduring appeal as a headbanger, punk, feminist, pop star and gay icon, both as a legend and a cult figure. She is not a great songwriter, as seen by any of her covers-heavy records, but she is a top level showman and interpreter, best experienced in the flesh.
Taking the stage to the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn," Jett and her Blackhearts blazed through an 80-minute show that covered everything a casual fan would want to hear. Other than a mid-set break into some moderately lame new songs, Jett subjected us to an admirable hit list, including "Bad Reputation," "Crimson and Clover," "Do You Wanna Touch Me?" and of course "I Love Rock N' Roll." She stripped the polish off "I Hate Myself for Loving You" and shook the self-consciousness from the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb," establishing herself as a perfomer in charge of her own vision, no matter how Kim Fowley remembers in.
Jett's most underrated ability, besides being the only lead singer in rock history who looks tougher when she smiles, is her guitar playing, a raw-toned weapon with a rockabilly knack for soloing. The Blackhearts, an expendable team of younger musicians who didn't always hit their cues, gave songs like "Love is Pain" and "The French Song" garage band character that emphasized Jett's tendency to sound both DIY and commercial. The band's missteps were all part of the Joan Show, and proof that there wasn't a bum note or a pop chorus that she couldn't electrify.