Having played Vancouver on the Warped Tour only five months ago, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts came back in full force to greet an almost entirely different demographic at the River Rock Theatre in Richmond. What looked like a potentially risky and embarrassing excursion into “remember when” for the truly non-stop rockers turned out to be a no-holds-barred success. In a sea of middle-aged casual wear, several small contingents of younger fans stood out with mohawked heads, bondage wear, and their ability to recognize the house music as Bikini Kill. Even amidst this diversity nobody went home disappointed. Whether it was the parents looking to share a nostalgic evening with children who hadn’t yet been born when Joan Jett was topping the Billboard charts, or the twenty-something set who knew that they were witnessing a vital part of music history, the crowd was primed for an excellent show.
The set opened with a signature tune, “Bad Reputation”, and it was evident that Joan Jett and her band were ready to remind long-time listeners of their own teenage rebellions, and then surpass any expectations with an unwillingness to settle or slow down. The River Rock security team (far from intimidating in their suits and gold nametags) had to give up on keeping the younger fans in their seats, and by the third song were reduced to standing nervously at the sides of the stage and watching the crowd grow. Big hits like “I Love Rock and Roll” and “Crimson and Clover” brought even some of the more subdued listeners to their feet, and showcased numerous stiff but entertaining dance moves and wailing air guitar solos on the part of the audience. As touring veterans, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were able to keep the show tight without ever seeming unenthusiastic. The songs, invariably loud and full of the independent rock ‘n’ roll spirit that the band is known for, flowed one to the other with relatively little stage banter, aside from Jett’s finger-wagging references to this year’s full-length studio release Sinner.
The band played through almost their entire new record and proved that the days of their relative silence about politics are firmly in the past. Jett’s activism, which has recently earned her a Peta2.com award for animal-friendliness, came through these songs to members of an aging generation that was perhaps unprepared for lyrics such as, “Pain turns to pleasure fast/Relax while I pound your ass.” “Riddles,” a song that Jett introduced as “from us to our [American] administration,” speaks out against the kind of Orwellian double-speak that President Bush and his advisors perpetually use when addressing the public. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts don’t mince words and have certainly not forgotten how to rock.