Jackson, still touring at age 76, looks to be about five feet tall — if you include her carefully teased hair. She needs help getting on and off the stage. She talks openly about her “senior moments.” And she’s an absolute rock star. Her age and petite stature seem merely to add to her massive stage presence. After finishing her rollicking first song, “Riot in Cell Block Number 9,” she beamed at the crowd, asking, “Isn’t it wonderful, the energy?”
Wonderful is exactly the word I would use to describe it. The audience responded to Jackson’s razor-sharp wit, fascinating anecdotes, and serious vocal chops (she can yodel!) with fever-pitch enthusiasm. After a 60-year career, Jackson has an incredible body of work under her belt, and the set list, which bounced around from era to era of her career, didn’t have a single low point. But people weren’t really there for the songs.
We were there for Wanda. The Queen of Rockabilly truly is royalty — just being in her presence is a joyful experience. Though she can’t hit all the high notes anymore, Jackson’s talent hasn’t faded a bit since her heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s. Her voice is still incredible, her stamina is inspiring, and her humbleness is astonishing. Few people could name-drop Elvis Presley and Jack White in the same sentence and seem all the more charming for it.
Jackson, who is inevitably paired with Elvis in any description of her life or music, didn’t shy away from the topic on stage as she often does in interviews. In what felt like a very intimate moment, the crowd was enraptured as they watched her reminisce about her old friend. “Elvis was a true gentleman,” she told us. “He truly was.” She spoke about how her father would only let her go out with Elvis, “nobody else.” He would take her out for lunches and matinees — whatever he could afford. “He was a poor boy then.” After waxing about her short-lived romance, Jackson transitioned into one of the night’s highlights — a soulful rendition of “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Most of the songs Jackson played were preceded by a mini history lesson — the year they were recorded, what she was up to at the time, who was involved. Speaking about her evolution from a country singer touring with her father to a rockabilly singer touring with Elvis (who encouraged her to play this “new music”) Jackson paused for clarity — “We call it rockabilly now, but it was actually rock and roll.”
Jackson is still rock and roll. She playfully threw water on her fans, splashing the monitors (“I could have been electrocuted…you too!”) and played through a setlist of almost 20 songs without stopping for breath. “Whatever!” she shouted in response to her jet lag. “Isn’t that what they say today? Whatever?” By the time the night ended with “Let’s Have a Party,” no song could have been more appropriate.