Friday night was not good to us. Well, more accurately, we were not good to ourselves on Friday night. We checked out The Greater Good's EP release at The 5 Spot, and — best we can recall — it was a good time. But Saturday mostly consisted of us nursing our whopper of a hangover. We weren't going to miss Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson at the brand-new Marathon Music Works on Saturday night, however, so we got as much fluids and self-pity respectively in and out of our system as possible by 8 p.m. and headed that way.
As DJ Johnny Jackson spun some pretty standard rock 'n' roll tunes (The Ramones and Wanda and so forth), we took the opportunity to explore the joint. The Spin had already been granted an informal daytime tour of MMW earlier in the week, but seeing the football field-sized venue bustling with show-goers kind of gave it a coolest-roller-rink-you've-ever-been-to vibe, complete with that new-venue smell (mostly fresh paint). They must be waiting on their beer license — the bar was only serving liquor and high-gravity brews — but a vendor up front was serving Miller and Budweiser and so forth. A Lighting 100 rep took the stage at one point to let everyone know Marathon had been having some issues with power, but we didn't notice anything out of the ordinary.
Which brings us to the divisive Black Belles themselves. The fact that these young ladies are being groomed by White puts them under the microscope an awful lot. The Third Man super-fans of course snatch up anything that comes out of White's sonic chocolate factory without question, while a handful of local rockers we spoke with understandably take some issue with the fact that a green band is already getting such top-notch gigs. But let's push all the extraneous factors to the side and tell you, as objectively as we can, what we thought of The Black Belles' performance: The quartet recently completed a brief run of out-of-town gigs, and that seems to have helped them tighten up since the last time we caught them — tempos still rush and drag a bit, however. Some of our favorite portions of the songs are the organ parts, and the addition of D. Watusi's Christina "Tina Nogood" Norwood on keys is definitely a good call. The girl can play. The Belles' spooky, mildly samey garage rock — and we'll concede that garage rock of all sorts can get a bit samey from time to time — was broken up by a cover of Harry Nilsson's "Cuddly Toy" toward the end of their set, and we'll give them a million thumbs up for that. We love us some Nilsson.
The lengthy interim between the Belles and Wanda was punctuated with a brief appearance from that charmingly disheveled rock 'n' roll mayor of ours, Karl Dean. He thanked us all for supporting local venues and the arts, citing Forbes' and Rolling Stone's recent features on how great Nashville is, economically and culturally. He did happen to call Rolling Stone "the bible," musically speaking, but we're going to modify that for our purposes and go with "the Old Testament."
In rock 'n' roll revue fashion, band leader Heath Haynes and his Hi-Dollars played a handful of standards — Bo Diddley, the Stones, Buddy Holly, et cetera — before being joined onstage by the perennially sprightly Ms. Jackson. Decked out in a pink, tasseled number and that trademark teased 'do of hers, Wanda dove with a vivacious holler right into classics like "Riot in Cell Block Number 9" and "Funnel of Love" — all of them sung in a gravelly warble that's as strong now as it was in 1960. Jackson is of course known for her lengthy and candid banter, and her set was packed with a half-century's worth of stories. She talked about being friends (and perhaps a bit more) with Elvis Presley in that sweetly coy, blushing-grandma way of hers before playing his "Good Rockin' Tonight" and "Heartbreak Hotel." She talked about working with Jack White, characterizing him as a sweet-but-firm "velvet brick" before playing tunes from last year's White-produced The Party Ain't Over. She talked about her faith before playing "I Saw the Light," and she thanked The Black Belles for opening, saying their style was "unique" but that the pointy-witch-hat thing wouldn't work for her, personally. Even when the stage lights blinked out for a few brief moments, Ms. Jackson kept right on, joking that someone must have forgotten to pay their electric bill.
While the five-member Hi-Dollars certainly don't create the same immense wall of sound that White's twice-as-large Third Man House Band did when we saw Wanda back in January, the Dollars were finely tuned and armed with relentless chops. We're also happy to report that Marathon's front-of-house sound was mostly on point. Big rooms get boomy in the wings, of course, but right in the center, the mix felt good to us. Anyway, the point we'll take away from seeing Queen Wanda once again is this: Here we were feeling bedridden and sorry for ourselves a mere 10 hours earlier, and a woman nearly thrice our age was tearing through classics like "Right or Wrong," "Let's Have a Party" and "Mean Mean Man" with gusto. Not bad for a little lady who's just one year younger than John McCain.