Products of the same New Jersey shore scene that gave the world Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes were one of the first beneficiaries of the coattail effect from his mid-seventies commercial breakthrough on Born to Run. Never achieving the same chart heights, The Jukes nonetheless have survived if not thrived over the years as the epitome of true bar bands everywhere.
This particular CD is a recording of a 1978 show in one of their Northeastern strongholds, Boston. Though original Jukes guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt had already left for a full-time slot in Springsteen’s E Street Band, the remaining Jukes are still at the peak of their sound, with Billy Rush taking over on guitar. The horn section is the heart and soul of this rock and roll revue, and their ability to replicate the full-blown sound of the band’s albums on stage is readily apparent.
By 1978, the Jukes had already released three albums on Epic Records, including their classic Hearts of Stone. The band took the greasy soul of Springsteen one step further toward the vintage R&B of Sam Cooke and Al Green, with covers of Cooke’s “Having a Party,” and Lloyd Price’s version of “Stagger Lee,” included here as direct evidence. Most of the original songs recorded by the band up to that point were by either Van Zandt or Springsteen, and this particular night’s set list is almost totally weighted toward those songs, including Van Zandt’s poignant ballad, “Next to You,” and the rave-up, “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” and Springsteen’s scorching, slow-burning, “The Fever,” arguably the Juke’s signature song.
Presented as an “archival recording,” the sound is not exactly first-rate, sounding like an above average bootleg at times. The first live album from 1980, Reach Up and Touch the Sky, still wins hands down for sound quality. This one takes the prize for intensity and performance, though, with Lyons in prime soul man mode exhorting the crowd and the band every chance he gets, and the horn section in particular stands out on every song. Since this is a holiday show, there are a couple of nice rarities included at the end of the disc: Leiber-Stoller’s “Santa Claus Is Back in Town,” and “Merry Christmas Baby.” Neither can touch Bruce’s classic live take on “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” but for Jersey-philes they’ll be a nice addition to the tree-trimming soundtrack.
As could be expected from a 22-year-old concert recording, some songs suffer from the perspective of time. “Trapped Again,” for example, comes off as an unfortunate foreshadowing of Eddie Money’s gruff lite-soul rock. Most of the set presented here is still intact in a Jukes show, however, proving the durability of classic bar band rock and roll, especially of the Asbury Park variety.