Live Review: Wanda Jackson and Jack White at the El Rey

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Wanda Jackson and Jack White perform at LA's the El Rey
Rockabilly and garage form a perfect marriage of sound. 

Although White Stripes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather frontman Jack White is best known to the mainstream world as modern rock's Jimmy Page (thanks to maddeningly wailing solos and an anything-goes onstage swagger, as well as that last bastion of actual rock godness: mystery), he's starting to look like something a bit more unexpected: the music world's Quentin Tarantino. Not only are both of them obsessed with the dirty recesses of pop culture history, but the two also have an altruistic streak of rediscovering semi-forgotten talents of past generations -- and then exploiting their own reputations as a way to resuscitate a languishing career.

White did it with Lorretta Lynn a few years ago, which, in a way, makes “Queen Of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson, his Pam Grier; as their performance at Los Angeles rock landmark the El Rey proved, she's equally worthy of her current revival.
 
Using White's brash, aggressive guitar work as a backbone (and working both within the confines of their new record together, The Party Ain't Over, along with standards and catalog songs from throughout her storied career), the 73-year-old ably fronted her 10-person, horn-laden, sultry-backup-singer shimmying band through genre classics like “Riot in Cell Block #9” with youthful aplomb, stopping for jovial, mid-set banter, and smiling as she shook in a shiny white number that made her charmingly look like she'd walked on stage straight from leaving a bridge game and poolside brunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
 
Her self-referential stature is part of what made the show so engaging: “I saw Elvis do this once in Vegas,” she said, taking out some musical notation. “If the king can have notes, so can the queen!” Later, the band played an aggressive, punctuated version of Amy Winehouse's sultry “You Know I'm No Good;” Jackson goodheartedly ended the song by running her finger down her chest suggestively. 
 
If that seems a bit like grandma going too far, well, it was – but that was the whole point. Thanks to White, Jackson's pushing herself to places she's never gone before; it's clear from watching her that she's enjoying the ride.

 

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