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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Southside and Pals Wail With Jukes-Box Classics

like, say, the one Tuesday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano--maybe feeling a little sad, maybe feeling a little lonely, maybe feeling a little bit old--and after a 2-hour set of Jukes-box classics, you walk out feeling like a million bucks.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is, in simplest terms, why Southside and the Jukes just may be what they have been called time and again, “the world’s greatest bar band.”

Sure, sure--there are other reasons (and we will get to some of them in a moment) but when these nine guys are charging through something like “Talk to Me” and the music washes over you like some kind of emotional salve whipped up by Ponce de Leon, well, let’s just say there is no confusing this band with the Escape Club.

One of the reasons it is easy to be a huge fan of Southside is that he is so unabashedly a fan himself. Not of himself; Southside (given name: Johnny Lyon) doesn’t appear to have a pretentious or self-important bone in his body. But he is a frequently grinning fan of good music, which for him means rockin’, soulful, horn-spiked R&B--no; fills, plenty of thrills.

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Lots of songs written for the Jukes by Johnny’s old pals Bruce Springsteen and Miami Steve/Little Steven Van Zandt, but also Sam Cooke stuff and, in the last couple of years or so, Johnny’s been doing a heart-wrenching version of “Walk Away Renee,” a highlight of Tuesday’s show.

But then, there were plenty of highlights.

If you’re getting the idea that Southside’s more an interpreter of songs than a composer, right you are. But he does write occasionally, and early Tuesday he came up with one of his more recent efforts--and another of the evening’s highlights--called “Tell Me (That Our Love’s Still Strong),” a spirited, horns-o-plenty nod to Motown riding a wildly bouncy bass line that would have done James Jamerson proud.

A few songs later, Southside and the boys cut loose with the Springsteen-penned Jukes classic “Talk to Me,” a rollicking romp with a wild and woolly, wonderfully honking sax solo by Tony Aiello. Although Aiello is new to the Jukes fold, some very familiar figures were on that stage Tuesday, like keyboardist Kevin Kavanaugh, who started playing with Southside just before Reagan was born.

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Jukes with Kavanaugh’s kind of tenure, and Jukes recruits with Aiello’s kind of chops and feel, go a long way toward explaining why this band can operate so successfully as a unit, galloping along like a Lakers fast break on a song such as “Broke Down Piece of Man” and then, on the very next tune (Springsteen’s “The Fever”), slowing things down to a gorgeous glide.


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