By the time Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes wrapped up their first set at the Bayou last night with Sam Cooke's "We're Having a Party," the song was a simple statement of the facts of the matter. All distance between performers and audience had melted away in the hot July night; and the bobbing, wriggling sell-out crowd's hand-clapping and sing-along vocals were as much a part of the song as the horn-swollen, big-band blast and Johnny Lyon's gravelly cries of joy. The 11-man New Jersey troupe had worked hard for that, sweating its way through rhythm & blues standards and Jersey Shore bar-band originals.
If you've only heard this band on record, you have no hint of what they can accomplish on stage. Southside Johnny Lyon is a short, pugnacious singer who transcended the limits of his natural voice by straining it to reveal undeniable emotion. Billy Rush counterbalances Lyon's raucousness with precise, succinct guitar phrases. Those phrases hold together the big band's groove until the four horns up their volume and push the song into cruising gear. Possessing no greater artistic ambitions than to instigate a dance party, the band stuck to basics but pushed them to the hilt. Their friend, Bruce Springsteen, has given them his most basic, most effective party songs--"Fever" and "I Don't Wanna Go Home"--and these were the evening's highlights. Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes return to the Bayou tonight.