Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes

Reach Up & Touch the Sky: Live

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Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes made a handful of very good records (and at least one great one, Hearts of Stone), but their greatest strength was always as a live act -- the Jukes were a show band first and foremost, and the brisk trade among fans for Epic's promo-only live LP of the group at the Bottom Line testified to the fact their listeners wanted to hear this band tearing it up the way they did in front of an audience. In 1981, Mercury closed out the Jukes' deal with the label by releasing a double-live set, Reach Up & Touch the Sky, and while some might wish that a four-sided concert set had been released when Steve Van Zandt was still working with the the Jukes, this is still a storming document of a great act in their prime, with Johnny Lyon a superb frontman. Reach Up & Touch the Sky benefits from picking and choosing tunes from the group's back catalog, and this features most of the best selections from their Epic and Mercury albums, along with some superb covers; side four of the vinyl edition was devoted entirely to Sam Cooke covers rocked within an inch of their life (with Chuck Berry's "Back in the U.S.A." added for seasoning), and Johnny Lyon sings "Bring It on Home to Me" and "Having a Party" like his life depended on it, with the band's mighty horn section offering thunderous support. Elsewhere, "The Fever" gets the extended treatment it truly deserves, "I'm So Anxious" and "Talk to Me" will make you forget their studio versions forever, "Stagger Lee" gets another near-definitive performance, and the show comes to a close with the band sliding into "Roll Out the Barrel." Reach Up & Touch the Sky isn't quite as good as the Jukes in person, but it sure beats just remembering that great gig in, say, 1979, and it rocks strong and proud throughout; this is what rock & roll party music is all about.

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