1980s pop-rock back with Jessie’s Girl
There was no decade quite like the 1980s, from the music, to the clothes, to the hairstyles.
There’s been a resurgence of interest in hit pop-rock songs from the 1980s. The songs have had an influence on hit songs of the past few years, too.
As for the clothes and hairstyles? Not so much.
The party continues with “The Back to the Eighties Show with Jessie’s Girl,” 8 p.m. Nov. 22, Penn’s Peak, Jim Thorpe. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Jessie’s Girl performs masterful renditions of ‘80s’ iconic songs, with band members dressed as performers who broke through to stardom in the decade, including Jon Bon Jovi, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince. The glitz and glam of the era abounds in the show, complete with lights, fog and pyrotechnics.
Jessie’s Girl is named after Rick Springfield’s hit song, which reached No. 1 on the “Billboard Hot 100” in 1981.
Jessie’s Girl keyboardist and musical director Paul “Sky” Armento recently spoke about the 1980s’ band.
“A music director figures out what needs to be done musically,” says Armento in a phone interview. “For Jessie’s Girl, it’s an easy job because everyone is so acclimated to what this is and they’re such high-level professionals.”
The Jessie’s Girl lineup was created seven years ago. “Our musicians, the guitarist, bassist and drummer, have been playing together on the circuit for probably 25 years,” says Armento. “We have a really tight rhythm section.”
When it comes to ‘80s music, Armento knows whereof he speaks and plays. Armento was musical director for Debbie Gibson in the ‘80s, and has worked with Howard Jones, Clay Aiken, Dee Snider, MC Hammer, Tiffany, Rob Base, Naughty By Nature, the Sugar Hill Gang, Taylor Dayne, Bret Michaels, Tone Loc, Katrina Leskanich (Katrina and the Waves,) Mike Score (A Flock of Seagulls,) and Colin Hay (Men At Work).
Armento has performed on the television series, “Cake Boss” and “The Today Show,” has produced and directed and two off-Broadway musicals and edited two independent films.
Armento, a Bergen County, N.J., native who resides in Lake Hopatcong, N.J., attended Villanova University, lived briefly in New York City before moving back to New Jersey. “I like open spaces,” he says.
Jessie’s Girl performs every Saturday night at Le Poisson Rouge, along Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, N.Y., as well as in concert and at private events.
“What we’re doing with Jessie’s Girl is authentic,” says Armento. “We’re playing like we played back in the Eighties. We like playing everything live. Occasionally, we’ll throw in a track song, like ‘Frankie Goes to Hollywood,’ which has, like, 10 keyboard parts.
“[Our music’s] a little bit heavier, a little bit cleaner. We’re not making music like you hear on the radio. We’re not using computers. We do revel in taking the authenticity of the Eighties and making that what we create a song from.
“It’s more real. The audience gets that and enjoys that. It’s a better show.”
When asked what some of the biggest changes are that he’s seen in the music business, Armento says:
“I am completely enamored of the music being produced today. I spent 15 years not making music because I wanted to do it like we did in the Eighties. But now I’m completely into modern production, computers and EDM (Electronic Dance Music).
“That’s the biggest difference, is so much of it comes to producers who are knowledgeable about computers, as opposed to the [past], where it was more about instrumentation.”
The content of each Jessie’s Girl concert follows a set list, so that there’s a similar flow.
“We have 120 songs under our belt now. There are certain songs that are staples to the show. People want to hear certain songs.
“We’ve [played] as far as Arizona and Florida. It’s basically for private and corporate events that we travel. It’s a not a tour in a formal sense. We’re not going from venue to venue, living in buses and so forth.”
Armento has a theory on the resurgence of interest in the 80s decade and its music. Fan are booking private events, music cruises, and 50th birthday parties. Generation X can afford it and they want to hear the music they grew up with.
“It’s a combination of two things,” says Aremento. “One of them is that the older audiences now are in a place where they’re looking to enjoy life.
“The other half of our audience, remarkably, is the younger generation, which has either grown up with parents that played it around the house, or have been introduced to it through a number of things, such as ‘Rock Band,’ the video game, [the television series] ‘Glee,’ [the 2003 Jack Black film] “School of Rock” and vocal contest shows, such as ‘The Voice.’
“A lot of the music that we play has been reintroduced in the last 10 or 15 years to a young generation. So kids that were in high school in the 2000s grew up with this music, from a second generation standpoint.
“Kids who play music these days are taking [music instruction] lessons from guys my age,” says Armento. “And guys my age want to teach them to play Iron Maiden.
“That has been fueling our Saturday night gigs in the Village. The audience is predominantly in their late 20s or early 30s.”
Armento gives high praise to his bandmates. “Mark Rinzell is a monster vocalist and is able to hit any note. It’s a pleasure to hear him.
“The drummer, Michael Maenza, plays like it’s his last day on earth. He plays every song with everything he’s got. He’s an unstoppable force and it really lays a groundwork.
“The least appreciated one, in my opinion, and the most important band member, is the bass player. Drew Mortali lays down solid bass with the most amazing groove.
“Eric Presti, on guitar, ties in to that. Those three guys making that rhythm is harder and better than the actual Eighties was.
“We have three singers [Jenna O’Gara, Chris Hall and Mark Rinzel]. Each of them is one of the best singers that I’ve seen in a live band, ever.”
The powerful vocalists bring charisma, broad music range and acting, into their solos, duets and harmonies in concert.
“My own part,” says Armento, “Is I try to stay authentic to the original music. I’m meticulous about recreating sounds. I’ve been recognized by Keyboard Magazine for [sound design].”
Armento also has an interest in stage design, which makes for visually appealing shows.
“I have a van full of pyrotechnics, spark throwers, CO2 cannons, because my love of EDM has got me involved in doing all the video work, lights and explosions. I make it like a real rock show.”
Tickets: Penn’s Peak box office, 325 Maury Road, Jim Thorpe; pennspeak.com; ticketmaster.com; 800-745-3000