Wanda Jackson & the Lustre Kings | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Wanda Jackson & the Lustre Kings

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Wanda Jackson is often referred to as the First Lady of Rockabilly, but I think the current online edition of Creem gets closer to the mark when it calls her "the Original Riot Girl." Jackson's snarling, hiccuping vocals were just as brazen a challenge to white middle-class propriety as Elvis's hips, and the abrasive sneer in her delivery carried not just rebelliousness but contempt. She even mocked her own music: though she'd gotten her start singing country in the early 50s, on her 1956 tune "I Gotta Know" she poked fun at the genre's sentimentality, whining "If your love's the real thing, where is my wedding ring?" with over-the-top bathos. After a few years as a top draw in Vegas, she was born again in 1971 and for many years focused on gospel music, playing her old secular favorites only overseas. But in the mid-90s she was coaxed back onto the stateside rockabilly circuit, and two years ago--after nearly two decades away from the studio--Jackson recorded Heart Trouble (CMH), a collection of new and vintage material that features contributions from Dave Alvin and the Cramps, among others. On that disc she sounds sly and insinuating, but she's not playing it cool because she's lost her fire: Live and Still Kickin' (DCN), recorded at a New York gig in late 2002, is a full-frontal blast of Wanda the Rocker. Backed by a crew of no-nonsense roadhouse warriors, she belts out a delirious, unhinged version of 1957's "Fujiyama Mama" ("I've-a been to Nagasaki, Hiroshima too / Same I did to them, baby, I can do to you") and lingers longingly over the images of mayhem in the 1954 Leiber and Stoller classic "Riot In Cell Block #9." For this show Jackson will be backed by the Lustre Kings, a rockabilly combo from Albany, New York. The Dusty 45s open. Sat 4/9, 10 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-788-2118 or 312-559-1212, $15.

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