It's difficult to consider this, since Jackson performs with enthusiasm and skill rarely seen from anyone who's been in the music business for 58 years. She hasn't been relegated to the has-been wonderland of casino stages or Branson because she still works to create new, innovative music. She's earned the right to play the same venues as her much younger counterparts because she can more than keep up.
Jackson's band, Heath Haynes and the High Dollars, played a brief set of '50s classics before ushering her onstage with the essay writer slow thunder of "Rumble." Before a large Duck Room crowd spanning a broad age range, Jackson tore into "Riot in Cell Block #9," peppered with her guttural growl, fierce as ever. Following with "Rock Your Baby," it's clear Jackson still means what she's singing. She hasn't turned these songs into dated caricatures. All notions of older women and sexuality vanish. She's as vibrant as women young enough to be her granddaughters.
Were it not for her husband slipping onto the stage to bring her a mug of Throat Coat tea, it wouldn't have been readily apparent that Jackson has been fighting a long bout with laryngitis. She apologized for having to confer with her band before songs to adjust the keys to best suit her illness-altered voice.
Before "Betcha My Heart I Love You" she said that she didn't know if she could do the song, but she wanted to give it a shot, promising to stop if she wasn't happy with her vocals. By the song's yodeled finale, the seated portion of the audience awarded her near-perfect effort with a standing ovation.
Jackson popped a Ricola. While it dissolved, she talked of her 2011 collaboration with Jack White. Not many people heard what she had to say, though. The buzz of chatter that's become ever-present at concerts was so heavy that Jackson was forced to ask the crowd to be quiet so she didn't further strain her voice while trying to talk over the crowd.
When Wanda Jackson kindly asks you to be quiet, the proper response is to shut the hell up -- unless you're on fire or being abducted. That didn't happen. The loud talking calmed briefly after a bit of an audience revolt against the chatters, but it didn't last.
Can't a conversation wait an hour while a legend shares her voice -- one of the most original and distinctive in the history of rock and roll?
Despite the indignity of having to ask for the audience's attention, Jackson continued to give her all, right down to the shimmery vibrato on "Shakin' All Over" and the rawness of "You Know I'm No Good." White rewrote part of the song because Jackson wasn't comfortable with its explicit lyrics, but this hardly robbed the song of its passion. She sings it like she's curled in a broken heap, sparingly punctuating it with her powerful growl.
When she finished the set of White-produced songs, she talked about her upcoming album, produced by Justin Townes Earle. I couldn't hear what she was saying, because the older man behind me was engaged in an argument with a younger woman regarding who was being the most disruptive.
It was a tie.
In every show Jackson briefly talks of her Christian salvation. What better time to resume conversations, or get up and stretch? The people who paid attention were treated to a whisper-quiet, sparsely accompanied opening verse to "I Saw the Light" that roared into a roof-raiser.
Jackson continued the spirited energy through her magnum opus, "Let's Have a Party." After an hour of singing and talking over the crowd, the only noticeable difference was that her wails were a bit lower than usual.
A few minutes after Jackson and the band left the stage, bandleader Haynes returned to inform the audience that Jackson was not up to performing an encore.
Act a fool at dinner, and you go to bed without dessert. Let this be a lesson.
Wanda Jackson set list:
Riot in Cell Block #9
Rock Your Baby
I Gotta Know
Funnel of Love
I Betcha My Heart I Love You
Good Rockin' Tonight
Shakin' All Over
You Know I'm No Good
Rip it Up
Like a Baby
Right or Wrong
Mean Mean Man
I Saw the Light
Let's Have a Party