When a band leaves the comfort zone of its own backyard and tests the waters beyond its own sphere of influence — friends, family and local venues — there is a certain amount of trepidation and perhaps self-doubt. Will the new audiences like our music? Our stage show? Will the venues and sound guys work with us? These are all legitimate questions that have kept many road warriors awake at night. Then there are others who welcome the challenge, throw caution to the wind and view any failures or setbacks as part of a learning curve.
Southern Avenue fits into the latter category. At the Stone Pony in Asbury Park on Aug. 14, they grabbed the crowd by throat and rocked the Pony’s Summer Stage to its very core.
Signed as the first local act in 40 years to Stax Records and firmly ensconced in their Memphis roots, this unit is the perfect blend of blues and soul with a bit of New Orleans-style jazz thrown in like icing on the proverbial cake. High energy is an understatement. Their approximately 45-minute set opening for headliner Jason Mraz at the Pony garnered so much enthusiasm that one had to wonder if Mraz was second guessing his choice of openers.
On the other hand, Mraz contributed to the band’s latest album, Be the Love You Want, which became available on Aug. 27, so he had a reason to be accommodating to them. Mraz co-wrote “Move Into the Light,” a horn-laden upbeat composition.
Be the Love You Want is their third effort, and as they showcased song after song from the (at the time) unreleased album at the Stone Pony, the crowd and this journalist became quickly enamored.
On a humid Jersey evening, singer Tierinii Jackson commanded the stage like no other as she danced, twirled, incited and engaged the denizens in ways that would make Tina Turner blush. Jackson’s powerful range and raw talent were on full display as she belted out some new tunes, older material and a stoked cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady.”
Supported by guitarist (and co-producer of the new album), Ori Naftaly, bassist Evan Sarver and keyboardist Jeremy Powell, Jackson went about her business in a way that just sucked you in and didn’t let go. But it was her interaction with her sister, drummer and backing vocalist Tikyra Jackson, that stood out immediately.
First off, Tikyra Jackson herself, like all the others in this group, is extremely talented. She sings and plays with impeccable timing and a smile that could melt even the coldest of hearts. When John Bonham passed away, the remaining members of Led Zeppelin said they chose not to go on because it was no longer Led Zeppelin. After watching this band interact and how the sum of their parts makes it whole, it is difficult to imagine how they could ever recreate the presence and charisma they currently exude onstage with any others in the mix.
Songs such as “Don’t Give Up,” “Move Into the Light,” “Push Now,” “Whiskey Love” and the title track “Be the Love You Want” were all standout moments from this Grammy-nominated juggernaut. They were the perfect opener as they whipped the crowd into a frenzy, setting the tone for Mraz, who also gave a very spirited performance.
Southern Avenue will return to the area for a show at The Loft at City Winery in New York, Oct. 30. Visit citywinery.com.
For more on the band, visit southernavenuemusic.com.