Perched above a sea of shellacked dos, tight jeans, and Bettie Paige look-a-likes, Wanda Jackson truly did seem like the Queen of Rockabilly when she took the stage at Velvet Jones on Saturday night. Despite getting off to what she admitted was “a bit of a slow start” (timing troubles plagued most of the opening number), Jackson quickly regained her composure and powered through a set list that solidified her as one hardworking (and hard-rocking) old lady.
Soon to turn 70 years young, Jackson decided to hit the road in honor of her late mentor (and boyfriend), Elvis Presley, who passed away 30 years ago this August. And it was Presley’s memory-which also inspired Jackson’s 2006 album of cover songs, I Remember Elvis-that haunted a large chunk of the night. While “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” all incited fits of twisting and bopping, it was Jackson’s anecdotes that truly entertained. She recalled the time Presley asked her to be his girl before proclaiming, “He was a good kisser, but I found one that was a whole lot better,” to a sea of hollers and laughter.
But all tributes aside, the night very much belonged to Jackson. Staying up what I can only imagine was well past her bedtime, she joked and wailed her way through a nearly 90-minute set that included the hits “(Let’s Have a) Party,” “Fujiyama Mama,” “Riot in Cell Block #9,” and “Right or Wrong.” Between tunes, she told tales of singing alongside Tina Turner and Little Richard, finding Jesus, and embracing the new cohort of rockabilly kids. “Thank you for finding the really good music out there. You’re the smart generation,” she enthused before launching into an awe-inspiring rendition of the twangy “Mean Mean Man.” With youthful eyes twinkling, her voice nearly gone, and wine glass in hand, Jackson powered through “Rip It Up” with bravado and attitude that would fell many rockers half her age, proving to her audience that good music truly is timeless.