For most of my life, I’ve been trying to see Juliana Hatfield perform live and in person. I have never gotten the chance to see her due to me being underage, being too far away, not able to afford tickets, or just bad timing. That needed to change.
Juliana has been slinging her rock and roll since the late 80s to now. She has had consistent album releases with no downtime since the early 90s. Her most recent album “Weird” was one of my top 5 albums of last year. That album and Juliana’s whole discography has been consistent and fresh in sound and not in that lame formulaic way. I’m talking about in the way that her songs sound like they could have been written and recorded in any decade that Juliana has been a part of. Her sound, her voice and her style are just perfectly consistent and always new and refreshing and never repetitive.
If her original music isn’t enough, Juliana goes off and releases a couple of cover albums. In 2012 she released an album of covers from the likes of Foo Fighters, CCR, Bad Company among others. But it wasn’t until the “Juliana Sings” series of albums came out that made me question whose songs these really belong to now. Those albums were “Juliana Sings Olivia Newton-John” and most recently “Juliana Sings The Police”.
After those albums, I was starting to think, “Is there anything Juliana can’t do”? The only thing I could think of that she couldn’t do and HASN’T done in a while was come to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and play a show. Just as I opened my big ol’ fat mouth, I opened my phone to an alert that says Juliana is coming to the Turf Club to play a show. I was counting down the days to this show ever since.
Kicking off the night is the Sunshine Boys. Out of Chicago, this band seems fitting to open the show considering the history with Juliana Hatfield. Freda Smith who drums with the Sunshine Boys, was also in the Blake Babies with Juliana. Freda isn’t the only Rock & Roll veteran here; this entire band is a supergroup of indie rock proportions. Dag Juhlin on guitar was in The Slugs and bass player Jacqueline Schimmel was in Big Hello. We are looking at some quality musicians here. First thing that caught my interest was that Freda played the drums standing up. There wasn’t a kick drum on the floor as usual, but what I think was a digital electronic kick drum. I saw her pounding a foot switch for every kick. That was unique to me. I liked the odd feeling of seeing that. The other thing was that these three performers were all equal on the stage. No drummer in back and bass player lingering while the singer/guitarist stands heroically in the front. No, each member was in a perfect line with each other up front.
I hate to compare bands to any other bands but the first impression I get from this band was similar to the better parts of REM. They have an indie rock vibe to them without having that generic-y indie rock sound. Nothing in their sound was a downer. I’m not even sure I heard a minor chord being played their entire set. Total positivity. This band knows how to do their job and they do it well. As the old saying goes, aces in their places and they were all in their rightful places. They have a new album coming out on May 1st and I suggest you save your pennies and grab a copy.
Finally, Juliana takes the stage with her band. There is no denying that Juliana was born to do what she does. The music and charisma just oozes out of her. She straps on her red First Act Delia guitar and away we go.
The crowd which was a little bit on the older side of the scene all filled into every open spot to sing and dance along. Juliana kicks the show off with “Everybody Loves Me But You” from her debut album “Hey Babe”. Only one song in and Juliana and her band hits a home run. Juliana knows how to balance rock and roll and pop perfectly. Themes like love, loneliness, depression and feeling like an outsider all blend in seamlessly and hits you on the insides before you even realize what is happening.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of The Police. Good music, but just not my thing. That is until I heard “Juliana Sings The Police”. There is something about her voice that connects deep down with me and most people. That fact that she can turn a song like “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” into one of her own and actually make me want to hear it live is a testament to her prowess. I wasn’t alone in this feeling. After the first “De Do Do Do” of the song and the entire crowd was in a sing-along. Never in a million years would I think I’d be singing OUT LOUD to a Police song in public. The band goes into “When You’re a Star” from the 2017 album ‘Pussycat’ before Juliana asks the crowd, “Does anyone speak French?” before ripping into another Police song “Hungry for You” which is for the majority of the song, in French.
I have a sweet spot for late 70s and early 80s pop thanks to my mom and I do get a ton of heat from friends for my obsession with the likes of Abba and Olivia Newton-John. Since I’m more than likely never going to get to see those two perform, Juliana is a PERFECT surrogate. Her album “Juliana Sings Olivia Newton-John” is a mainstay on my running playlist; So, when the bands starts into “A Little More Love”, I got a little emotional. I was amazed at how Juliana sounded on the recording of this song but hearing it live took it to a whole new level.
Since there were two members of Juliana’s other band, “The Juliana Hatfield Three” already on stage, it seemed fitting that we’d get to hear a song from them. “My Sister” is the quintessential Juliana Hatfield song. Slick riff, great lyrics and theme and it’s catchy. A louder than usual cheer popped throughout the crowd the second the band cut into that song and after all these years of listening to this song at home or on my headphones or wherever, I got to see it live in person and I wasn’t the only one bright eyed and awestruck. I would say this was a crowd favorite, but how can you have one crowd favorite when every song is a crowd favorite including the covers?
We were treated to another Newton-John song, this time it was “Physical”. Again, Juliana makes this song hers. Nothing against ONJ, but Juliana makes this a rock & roll song. Just the perfect amount of heavily distorted guitar and that signature Juliana voice and voila. Perfection. We were treated to a couple more songs and then they said the fake good-night.
This is when the magic happened for the crowd. After the bands exits the stage and the lights dim and turned red. Juliana comes back up to the stage alone and straps on her guitar and thanks the crowd and says, “You don’t have to sing along, but I think you will”. She then proceeds to perform a solo version of “Roxanne” from The Police and believe you me when I say it gave me and the entire crowd goosebumps. And Juliana was right, the crowd did sing along, and they sang loud.
Juliana Hatfield has been in this weird rock and roll world for a long time. Longer than some bands entire careers. She is a lifer in this business. And as long as she keeps putting out albums and killing it with these cover albums, I’ll still be there with her and so will the legion of fans across the globe that she has.