It’s hard to believe that it was forty years ago when Joan Jett first appeared on stage as a member of her first band The Runaways. While The Runaways may have disbanded only after a few short years, Joan Jett has continued to perform and record in the rock and roll world while defining herself as one of classic rock’s greatest and most loved artists. Not many artists have consistently churned out solid rock and roll albums and performed brilliantly night after night over a forty-year period. Joan Jett’s talent, perseverance and most importantly love of rock and roll was on clear display Sunday Night July 22nd at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh New York.
Serving as a dual headliner with the band Boston, Joan Jett opened the show at the Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater with her song “Victim of Circumstance,” from her 1981 I Love Rock and Roll album. Joan Jett followed her show opener with a performance of the opening song on the first Runaways album. The song “Cherry Bomb,” that had originally been sung by The Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie, has become a staple of Joan Jett shows ever since Joan Jett re-recorded the song for one of her solo records. It was the song that launched the career of The Runaways and still remains that band’s most famous song. While Cherie Currie never really had much success as a solo artist, the band The Runaways also served as the launching ground for the band’s underrated guitarist Lita Ford. Like Joan Jett, Lita Ford has had a successful career as a solo artist recording close to ten solo records in the metal music genre.
The Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater is an outdoor theater located at Jones Beach Park on the south shore of Long Island. It’s a wonderful place to see concerts as long as it does not rain and its low tide.(More on that later) The theater hosts two large screen on both sides of the stage. However, for the bands that go on first like Joan Jett, the screens are difficult to see during the daylight hours. Nonetheless, on the stage behind the band is a larger screen that is easy to see because it is placed in the shadows of the bandstand. While Joan Jett performed, the screen displayed the famous videos of the songs that Joan Jett was performing. It was a nice touch, but at times maybe a little distracting as one really wants to stay focused on the live performance instead of the video.
Joan Jett’s set focused on the hits. And when we says hits, we mean the big hits, stadium sized hits. Joan Jett’s monster hit “Do You Wanna Touch Me” followed up “Cherry Bomb.” Jett than performed the title track to her Bad Reputation album. Once again Joan Jett went back to her Runaway’s days with a performance of The Runways “You Drive Me Wild.” Unlike many performers like a Robert Plant who desperately tries to separate himself from Led Zeppelin, Joan Jett seems to have embraced her days as a Runaway. Joan Jett spoke about her days in the band and seemed to really enjoy performing some of those old Runaways songs. “You Drive Me Wild,” was a song that Joan Jett had originally sung the lead vocals on when the Runaways recorded it for their debut album.
Many younger fans may not realize that Joan Jett made a great rock and roll film with Michael J Fox called Light Of Day back in 1987. The film which was directed by Paul Schrader was Joan Jett’s acting debut. In what was unheard of at the time, Bruce Springsteen wrote a barn burning song called “Light of Day,” for the film’s soundtrack. Joan Jett performance of the song on Sunday night was one of the highlights of the show. Springsteen had performed the song every night on his 1993 tour and often goes back to it . It just one of those great rock and roll songs that just cries out for extended guitar solos. Joan Jett’s performance of the song paid true tribute to the master songwriter. Light of Day is one of those 80’s films that has been lost in the shadows of iconic films like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
One of the surprises of the night was Joan Jett’s cover version of the Mary Tyler Moore Theme song. For anyone growing up in the 1960s and 70’s, the Mary Tyler Moore show was one of the most popular television shows to air. Joan Jett made mention of the loss of Mary Tyler Moore before she performed the song. Joan Jett also mentioned that Nikki Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina and now current United States Ambassador to the United Nations was in attendance.
After the performance of the “Mary Tyler Moore Theme, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts broke into “I Love Rock and Roll.” It was fitting that Jett would follow up her tribute to one of television’s most famous actress with the biggest song of Joan Jett’s career. Joan Jett would close the show with her hit cover version of Tommy James and the Shondells, “Crimson and Clover.” Joan Jett and the Blackhearts returned for an encore with the presentation of one of the most iconic stadium sounding songs of all times. The Joan Jett, Desmond Child penned song “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” became a fixture as the opening theme to NBC’s Sunday Night Football for years. Sung first by Pink and then in consecutive years by Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” has easily become one of the most recognizable guitar riffs and choruses in pop culture history. It was the perfect choice to close the show and defined how deep the music and sound of Joan Jett has become ingrained in classic rock history.
While Joan Jett’s performance showcased a career full of hits and consistency, Boston’s performance provided fans with a great opening and closing but lacked the material to sustain their powerful liftoff throughout the show. Boston’s debut album that was released 40 years ago was one of rocks greatest records, and then that was basically it. The band has released only a few records very sporadically throughout their career with none of them coming close to their debut album. The Boston set was full of long solos by Tom Scholz on guitar and organ. The show even opened with Tom Scholz playing a guitar solo by himself while the rest of the band stood in the darkness. It was a significant way to open the show because Tom Scholz is basically Boston. He formed the band while he was developing his Rockman guitar effects processor. He is the only original member left of the band from their first two albums.
The Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater sits on a barrier island on the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately for Boston fans who had brought tickets in the orchestra section, the Boston performance began just as high tide had come in. For the love of failed engineering, all the fans in the orchestra section were stuck standing in one to two feet of water for the entire Boston performance. How a concert theater gets away with charging premium prices for orchestra seats and allows the fans to have to stand in cold salty ocean water is beyond belief. By the time the show ended most of the people in the orchestra section on the sides had left leaving only the die hards standing up front in the middle. You could see that Tom Scholz was upset at it as he has a reputation of fighting big corporations and has worked hard as a philanthropist. While the man may not have released many records, he has worked hard at doing great stuff for humanity.
Joan Jett and Boston is an interesting pairing. They both released their debut albums (Joan Jett as a Runaway) around the same time in the 1970’s. Even though Joan Jett went on first, the two acts seem to have mutual respect for each other and have continued the summer tour with a co-headlining approach. There sound and image are completely different from each other, but they both lit up the stage, although in very very different ways.