Last Friday night, I had the unexpected pleasure of seeing a show I won’t soon forget when I received free tickets to the Back to the Eighties Show with Jessie’s Girl at the Wellmont Theater in my hometown of Montclair, NJ.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, considering how many disappointing cover bands I’ve heard in my day, and the fact that this ensemble was shamelessly playing my favorite musical decade for comedy.
It turns out I needn’t have feared, because although the evening’s musical offerings were served with a generous helping of humor, the band’s abundance of talent was deadly serious. My friends and I were super-impressed and thoroughly entertained…these guys were masters of their craft.
How were they awesome? Let me count the ways:
- Musical ability – Nobody can accuse Jessie’s Girl of sub-par chops. On the contrary, the vocalists and instrumentalists all emphatically nailed their parts. One aspect of the band’s special genius was its knack for flawlessly emulating the sound of whoever’s song they were covering, be it Dee Snyder or Madonna. Even the trickier vocal notes were successfully conquered, regardless of which band member tackled them.
- Costumes – Unlike the many cover bands celebrating the legacy of one specific artist, Jessie’s Girl was faced with the challenge of channeling multiple performers not only musically, but also visually. Somehow they managed to undergo a series of lightning-fast and elaborate costume changes that corresponded to each and every artist whose work they reprised — and it was almost never the same artist twice. The choice of wardrobe, hairstyle, and body language was spot-on every time, and amused the audience to no end. My personal favorite was their rendition of Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me ‘Round” — the lead singer’s impersonation of the late great Pete Burns had my friends and me in stitches.
- Energy – Throughout the performance, it was clear that the band had a positive dynamic among its members, all of whom continually supported each other with no sign whatsoever of ego or competition; it was also obvious that they were pursuing their passion and having a blast onstage. To operate this way seemed imperative for a performance that tight, with such high and sustained physical demands. The band was giving 200% every moment, and although its members were indisputably youthful, they were hardly twentysomethings.
- Interaction with the crowd – Jessie’s Girl showed the audience an unusual degree of warmth, inviting their female fans to join them onstage during “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and mixing with the crowd below the stage toward the end of their set. How refreshing to see this kind of freeform intermingling, unhindered by overzealous security guards and the crippling fear of litigation so endemic to New York City venues.
- Repertoire – While the selections were heavily skewed toward American mainstream ’80s hits, New Year Wavers with more European tastes were not forgotten. We got some Erasure, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Buggles, and Nena, among others.
I was happy to learn that Jessie’s Girl has secured a weekly Saturday night gig at Le Poisson Rouge throughout the summer, allowing lots of other folks in the New York City area to enjoy the spectacle as much as I did. Catch it if you can!