Shore Legends Play Santa

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December 13, 2006
By Jay Lustig, Star Ledger Staff

For once, Bruce Springsteen was at a loss for words.

He and Jon Bon Jovi were exchanging banter at the end of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” the grand finale of the Bobby Bandiera All-Star Concert that took place Tuesday night at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.

Bon Jovi, playing Santa Claus, asked him if he had been good this year. Springsteen replied that he had. Then Bon Jovi threw him a curveball, asking him to define “good.”

Springsteen hesitated a moment, then played a sweet, lyrical guitar solo that appeared to be an attempt to define the word, nonverbally.

It was that kind of night, as old friends, including Southside Johnny Lyon and Gary U.S. Bonds, got together to raise more than $100,000 for the Joan Dancy & PALS (People with ALS) Support Group. The organization was named for the late Joan Dancy, a Middletown resident who died from ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurological disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease –  last year. It was founded by Terry Magovern, who was Dancy’s fiancé, and is Springsteen’s longtime bodyguard, assistant and friend.

Despite the seriousness of the cause, the show had the same loose, fun spirit of Springsteen’s own holiday concerts of the past. Costumed revelers (Santa Claus, the Grinch, Elmo, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and more) joined the musicians for “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Springsteen and Bon Jovi cracked each other up with goofy dance moves when they dueted on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” During a set by the Mark Pender Band, trumpeter Pender, trombonist Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg and other horn players strolled through the theater’s orchestra section, then up to the balcony, continuing to play the whole time.

For his show-closing set, Springsteen was backed by Bandiera (who also played with Bon Jovi, Southside Johnny and Bonds) and 13 members of Bandiera’s Jersey Shore Rock-n-Soul Revue. They created a big, brassy sound on old favorites such as “Darlington County” and “Spirit in the Night” as well as one of Springsteen’s most hopeful recent songs, “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” dedicated to Magovern and the late Dancy.

Springsteen’s set peaked with a fast, forceful version of “Seaside Bar Song,” a’70s obscurity that he resurrected on his 1998 “Tracks” boxed set, and has performed occasionally since then.

Bon Jovi dueted with Southside Johnny on “I Don’t Want to Go Home” before presenting his own set, which emphasized seasonal material such as “Blue Christmas” (sung in an Elvis-like croon), “Run Rudolph Run” and “Please Come Home for Christmas.”

He closed with his recent hit, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.” He introduced the song by talking about how proud he was to be from New Jersey, and how happy he was to share the stage with people like Southside Johnny (“my hero”), Springsteen (“the man”), Bonds (“one of the originators”) and two original members of Southside Johnny’s Asbury Jukes (keyboardist Kevin Kavanaugh and percussionist Ken “Popeye” Pentifallo).

Previously, he was also effusive in his praise of Bandiera, a longtime Juke who played guitar on the recent world tour by the Bon Jovi band. He called him a “true legend of the Jersey Shore.”

The show opened with short sets by Holiday Express and the Mark Pender Band, and a long one by the Jersey Shore Rock-n-Soul Revue. The Revue concentrated on songs from their recent Phil Spector tribute concert (“Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Be My Baby,” “River Deep — Mountain High,” “Unchained Melody,” “Let It Be”), but ended with an extended run through Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” complete with a mesmerizing guitar solo by Bandiera, who drew from Young’s own palette of earthy grunge-rock tones.

Southside Johnny sounded hoarse singing “Spanish Harlem” with the Jersey Soul Rock-n-Soul Revue, but rallied during his own set, belting out classics like “Talk to Me” and “Trapped Again.” Bonds also made a cameo with the Revue, on “Little Bitty Pretty One,” then returned for a set of his own, which included trademark songs like “New Orleans” and “Quarter to Three.”

Jay Lustig writes about popular music for The Star-Ledger.