Southside Johnny opened for Raquel Welch in Fort Lee, Saturday. Sort of. As part of the free Movies and Music Under the Stars series, outdoors at the Fort Lee Community Center, the Asbury Jukes leader and his side band, The Poor Fools, performed in the early evening; after the sun set, the 1966 movie “Fantastic Voyage” was shown. Fort Lee is generally a pretty cramped place, but this was a nice, spacious setting for a show, and you could not have asked for better weather.
The Poor Fools, founded in 2011, is a smaller, rootsier group than the Jukes. Southside, who played acoustic guitar and harmonica, was joined by core members Jeff Kazee (keyboards), John Putnam (guitar, pedal steel), Neal Pawley (guitar, bass, mandolin, banjo, trombone) and John Conte (bass), plus G.E. Smith on guitar. Everybody sang lead on at least one number, and everybody except Southside played drums at least once. (Southside joked, in fact, that the band started because everyone wanted a chance to drum.)
There was some instrument shuffling before almost every number, but the show was so loose that sometimes the song would start before everyone was settled in at the instrument they would be playing.
The band played some Jukes classics (“I Don’t Want to Go Home,” “Love on the Wrong Side of Town,” “All I Needed Was You”) and fans raised their arms at the “touch the sky” line of “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” just as they do at Jukes concerts. But the idea of the group is not to present that group’s material in a new setting. The idea is to give these guys an opportunity to play whatever they want. Blues, country, Tex-Mex and rockabilly all figured in the show, and the setlist included songs written for the 2013 Poor Fools album Songs From the Barn (including the autobiographical “So Good”) plus standards “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Stand by Me” and “Six Days on the Road” and songs by Chuck Berry (“You Can’t Catch Me,” “Let It Rock”), Bob Dylan (“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”), The Band (“Ophelia”), The Flying Burrito Brothers (“Sin City”) and Randy Weeks (“Can’t Let Go,” notably covered by Lucinda Williams).
Most of the instrumentalists sang lead with authority when it was their turn — highlights included Pawley’s “Can’t Let Go,” Smith’s “Let It Rock” and Kazee’s “Six Days on the Road” — and the drumming was solid no matter who was behind the kit. Southside Johnny seemed relaxed and in a good mood throughout, though he couldn’t resist a few sarcastic comments, introducing “Love on the Wrong Side of Town,” for instance, as a song “for all the Jukes fans out there — all three of them.”
Southside Johnny and the Poor Fools will perform at the City Winery in Manhattan, tonight, and the Sanctuary Concerts series at the Presbyterian Church in Chatham on Oct. 24. And Southside should be pretty busy on Jukes front as well this fall, with a new album, Soultime!, coming out in September.
For future offerings in the Movies and Music Under the Stars series, visit fortleefilm.org.