Wanda Jackson still loves performing, and it shows
The Queen of Rockabilly's "sassy crooning" and between-song storytelling made for a memorable night at Turner Hall.
Daniel Romano and The Trilliums played Link Wray’s ominous “Rumble” while Wanda Jackson strutted on stage in rhinestones and a signature red fringe shirt and delicately declared: “We’ve come a long way, but we’re ready to rock!”
Her definitive tough-girl voice was no louder than a whisper at Turner Hall when she spoke freely up close to the microphone (she noted she wasn’t feeling well), but once she stepped back and started singing, it powered through with a vengeance. She was saving her voice for the audience.
The 74-year-old rockabilly queen opened her set with “Riot in Cell Block Number 9” to appease her loyal fans, then on to “Rock Your Baby” and “Funnel of Love.” She continued her set with more country classics such as “I’ll Bet You My Heart I Love You“(complete with yodeling), “I Gotta Know,” and “Right or Wrong,” crowd-pleasers like “Shakin’ All Over,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Let’s Have a Party,” “Fujiyama Mama,” and “Nervous Breakdown,” and a tasteful cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.”
The time between songs was almost more entertaining than Wanda’s sassy crooning. She spoke so quietly that the crowd was almost silent just to hear her, yet they doted on every word. She told stories about her last collaboration with Jack White, calling him a “velvet covered brick.” Her eyes were bright as day when she referenced Brenda Lee and Red Foley, told stories about dating Elvis, plugged her new album with Justin Townes Earle, and poked fun at her backing band, renaming them the “Bologna Bandits,” noting they had met only hours prior.
I’d never heard Daniel Romano & The Trilliums, so I didn’t quite know what to expect from a young Canadian band playing country-ish music. They may not have been some hardcore rockabilly fans’ cup of tea, but I thought they added an excellent dynamic to Wanda, albeit more laid-back. Daniel played an acoustic guitar with a pearl inlay of his name on the fretboard (à la Webb Pierce , Wilburn Brothers, Charlie Walker, etc.) and was backed by an electric bass, steel guitar, and his brother Ian on drums.
The band was technically on it, and Daniel had undertones of every good old country singer from the 1950s—polished hair, rhinestone cuff links and singing through gritted teeth. His and the band’s stoic demeanor made it easy to concentrate on the lyrics. I hate the word “alt-country,” but I’ll hesitantly use it to describe them. Think about if Neil Young and Hank Snow had a baby. Maybe with some Nick Drake thrown in to make it just slightly more strange. Keep an eye on him and see them play if you can. They are talented, fine-tuned, engaging, and have the potential to not be an opening band for much longer.
Wanda Jackson is on tour with Daniel Romano & The Trilliums until Oct. 19.