Joan Jett’s put so many dimes in so many jukeboxes, baby, it’s no wonder her music sounds like living history. On this month’s Sinner (Blackheart), her first original studio album in more than a decade, the only indication that the music wasn’t recorded in the early ’80s—or, for that matter, the mid ’70s, when Jett ran away with the Runaways—is the occasional reference to our current geopolitical shitstorm. ” ‘No child left behind’? Wake up, people!” she sneers over a palm-muted guitar chug in “Riddles,” before passing the mic to Donald Rumsfeld, who describes via soundbite the difference between “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns.”
That neoclassical bent does nothing to lessen the fact that Sinner rips, and it did even less to blunt the impact of Jett’s show with the Blackhearts at CBGB, part of a pre–Warped Tour Big Apple blitz that also included gigs at the Bowery Ballroom, Southpaw, and NorthSix. In fact, musical progress would only have hurt her, since the sold-out throng—haggard old-school punks, young queercore scenesters, a handful of yuppies tapping on their Treos—were present to relive past glories, not revel in new ones.
Yet the show didn’t feel like a cynical nostalgia trip. Waging heroic battle against CB’s shitty sound and shittier sight lines, the bikini-topped singer tapped into an ancient vein of garage-rock energy, highlighting the music’s universality rather than its familiarity. Well, there was some familiarity: Timeworn covers of “Roadrunner,” “Crimson and Clover,” and the Mary Tyler Moore theme padded out the 21-song set, which included but didn’t climax with an obligatory “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” But when the band closed with Sly Stone’s “Everyday People,” Jett’s message was clear—she purposefully keeps this music open for whoever might find room in it for his or herself. Like a jukebox, it puts out what you put in.