It isn't too often that a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performs in Milwaukee, so it was a treat for Turner Hall Ballroom to host the "Queen of Rockabilly" Wanda Jackson on Thursday night.
Instantly, the Queen proved she came to deliver. After performing her opening number, Jackson said, "OK, we've come a long way, so we're ready to rock." Jackson then explained that the show would be a reflection of her 58 years as a recording artist, covering high points of her career and performing some of her most requested songs. At 73 years old, Jackson still has a fantastic childlike voice and looked wonderful in a fringy bright red top.
To help navigate her lengthy career, Jackson related everything to a timeline. She used specific years and in some cases dates to point out professional and personal accomplishments. The most interesting stories pertained to her relationship with Elvis Presley.
Jackson met Presley without knowing anything about him, except that she thought he had a funny name. She touched on their relationship and credited Presley with steering her away from country and further towards rock and roll music. To honor Elvis, Jackson covered both "Heartbreak Hotel" and, later in the set, "Like a Baby."
While it seemed like Jackson would stick to this timeline covering her career, all of a sudden she made a giant leap in time and started talking about working with Jack White a few years ago. White produced her 2011 release "The Party Ain't Over," and Jackson explained that she was a little unsure at first about working with him.
"He's younger than my son, so taking orders from him was a little strange," she admitted. Nevertheless, she was very happy with how the collaboration worked out. Her performance of "Shakin' All Over" was the highlight of the show.
After playing a few selections from "The Party Ain't Over," Jackson went back to the initial structure of her performance and covered her career in the '60s and early '70s. There were a few times where she lost her train of thought or talked a little too much about tangential elements of her stories. It seemed like Jackson knew the stories she wanted to tell, but things like audience requests and fans trying to interact with her served as a distraction.
Toward the end of her show, Jackson brought up how important her Christianity was to her life. She acknowledged that such a topic might be a bit out of place at a rock and roll show, but that it is a personal element of her life that she is compelled to share. Jackson also played a track from her upcoming release "Unfinished Business," which will release Oct. 9.
After hinting at rehearsals and getting to know each other, Jackson made it clear toward the end of the set that this was her first time performing with the four-piece backing band, the Trillions. Although Jackson suggested they change their name to the Bologna Bandits since she thought it had a better hook to it, the band was very impressive.
There were a few moments where Jackson would stick her arms out and indicate that the pace of the song was either too fast or too slow. However, for this to be their first actual performance as a cohesive unit, that can only mean that other stops along the tour will be better as they continue to get in sync with one another.
As it was, they played a hot set on Thursday night in Milwaukee, so it was appropriate that the night ended with Jackson flicking water at the audience from her water bottle to help everyone cool off.