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  • Writer's pictureAlex Sun

Review of Joan Jett's Live at Krannert Performing Center of UIUC

On Saturday, September 18, 2021, the legendary rock singer Joan Jett came to Urbana-Champaign with her band the Blackhearts and brought some excitement and joy to the campus students. The two-hours solo live concert, as one stop of the band’s U.S. touring act, started at 8:00 pm in Tryon Festival Theatre of Krannert Center. I was fortunate enough to get the ticket at the last minute and joined in the Rock feast by Joan Jett, temporarily escaping from my routine studies.

Joan Jett is an American rock singer, musician, and record producer. She is best known for her work as the frontwoman of her band the Blackhearts and has been described by many as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The band, Blackheart, was started by her in 1980 and has been one of the longest running indie labels, continuing to give voice to new bands. Given many successful hits by the band, it was expected to see that the tickets were sold out in a blitz and no empty seat was left in the theatre. Despite the band’s popularity in an eclectic group of people, the audience of the concert are mostly campus students and the aged, who have probably been devoted fans of the band since its prime time, the 80s.

Like her previous releases, songs Joan Jett performed at the concert were pure and simple rock ‘n’ roll. The songs were fast in tempo overall, loud, and stripped down, conveying the power of rock ‘n’ roll in the most straightforward and blunt way. Most of the songs are classic three-chords, but Joan also demonstrated her love towards Glam and Garage rock. Four people performed on the stage in the concert with two guitars, one bass, and one drum set. Besides showing her awesome mezzo-soprano voice and acting as the main vocalist of the band, Joan Jett also frequently played an electric guitar in the concert. The main guitarist of the band, Dougie Needles, switched between acoustic and electric guitar based on different songs. The drummer, Michael McDermott, did a splendid job throughout the concert, and drum sounds were clearly heard in all of the songs, providing a stable and sinewy beat. The pieces by Blackhearts always have an overpowering and memorable hook, making it so easy for the band to interact with the audience. Moreover, the lyrics by Joan were also easy and catchy, undemanding for the fans to remember. From the very beginning, crowds were standing up, dancing to the music, clapping to the beat, and singing whatever they remembered of the songs. Since the concert was performed at a small indoor theatre, there’s more echoing, adding more power to Joan’s voice.

The live performance of “Crimson and Clover” at the concert was my favorite. Compared to the recorded version, the live one was even slower in tempo, softer, and more tender. After so many energetic pieces, the audiences got to relax and calm down the mood. While the second instrumental bridge concluded, Joan started to teach the audience to sing “Crimson and clover, over and over”. As the song progressed into the outro, she passed the mic to the audience, giving the crowds a chance to perform. It’s amazing when hundreds of people crooning the same lyrics around, making me immersed in the ocean of voice. The small adaptations of the song and the intense engagement with the audience turned “Crimson and Clover” into a fantastic live performance. The concert concluded with the hit of the band, “I Hate Myself for Loving You”. There’s very little difference from the recorded version except a few simplifications. Joan removed some decoration sounds, for example, the electronic chiming sounds at 0:17 of the recorded version, reducing the piece to its most essential version. This was a great decision, as it well represented the music style and spirits of Joan Jett and the band. Moreover, it made the audience more easily feel the energy and passion for rock from Joan, who can still jump and roar on the stage despite her age and two hours’ incessant performance. The concert was pushed to its climax when all people stood up and sang the chorus with Joan: “I hate myself for loving you; Can’t break free from the things that you do; I wanna walk but I run back to you; That’s why I hate myself for loving you.

The live concert by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts was definitely an enjoyable and memorable experience for me. Notwithstanding I had listened to the pieces many times before, the live performance with some interesting adaptations hit a nerve of me and made me sense the vigor and passion of Joan Jett, who just stood up on the stage, playing pure and simple rock ‘n’ roll without making an explicit issue of her age and gender. She demonstrated why she could be a figurehead for several generations of female rockers. The poor choice of the concert venue was the only fly in the ointment. Despite the high-fi aesthetics and fancy lighting brought by the indoor theatre, the assigned seats and the regulators standing nearby in suits made me feel like I was listening to a classical concert in a big cage at the beginning. A music-festival-like outdoor stage would definitely have a better vibe.

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