“Hard to Grow Up” is perhaps the most telling song Joan Jett performed at the OC Fair's Pacific Amphitheatre on July 25.
“You ever feel like you’re one age and that’s the age you are for your whole life?” Jett pontificates.
Tiny and raccoon-eyed as she took the stage opening with “Bad Reputation” and “Cherry Bomb,” I’d guess the 55-year-old feels about 22. Backed by the Blackhearts, Thommy Price (drums), Kenny Laguna (keyboards) and Dougie Needles (whom she leaves most of the heavy lifting to as far as guitar is concerned), she charmingly elicits audience participation and musters that cougar-like scream.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts are no strangers to the Pacific Amphitheatre and to break up some of the familiarity the black leather-clad crowd might have with the same old material, they’re treated to a slew of new songs to be released on an album due out in October, called Unvarnished, “Hard to Grow Up” among them.
The hits are here too, the wildly lovely “Crimson and Clover,” the self-deprecating “I Hate Myself (For Loving You).” And the new stuff isn’t bad. It follows Jett’s classic formula of rollicking rock paired with attitude-rife lyrics. It’s just that there is nothing challenging here, nothing mature. “Make It Back,” a song inspired by Hurricane Sandy, almost gets there in terms of concept but loses it in the execution and its repetitive lyrics. A new song, “Soulmates to Strangers,” is followed by the first song Jett ever wrote, “You Drive Me Wild,” showing little if any evolution. Hard to grow up, indeed.
Which is not to say that Jett’s formula has been unsuccessful. After breaking boundaries fronting all-girl punk outfit, The Runaways, a band that changed the image of female musicians forever and inspired a biopic in 2010 that starred Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie and Kristen Stewart as Jett, she went on to garner eight platinum and gold albums and nine Top 40 singles with the Blackhearts. She also has her own label, Blackheart Records.
The opening act, Girl in a Coma, is on that label and while that might seem a bit gratuitous, the San Antonio band whose name is derived from The Smith’s song, “Girlfriend in a Coma” has opened for the likes of The Pouges, Tegan and Sara and even the Moz himself. They have swinging-rockabilly-tinged-hard-rock sound so ripe with riffs that it makes them the perfect warm-up act. Jett is most certainly a source of inspiration for the all-girl group but I find myself wondering if that inspiration comes from the new material as much as the old.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts close with “AC/DC” and a wonderful cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”
Jett is a visionary with a distinct style. She loves rock and roll and has the ability to sing about it, energy unwavering and enthusiasm unfaltering. Like a 22-year-old. At the end of the day, Joanie knows what works for Joanie and she sticks with it, quite happy to never grow up.