Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock & Roll ★★★

Touted for months as a "One Night Only" event, Tom Jones' doc on Asbury Park's history seems a bit more aggrandized and touristic, than ever profound. As an Australian, to learn of this city was all unfettered news to me, so there is a thorough archive to discover. Otherwise, between its trifurcated treatise on the "Riot, Redemption, Rock & Roll" segments, there's also a handful of superfluous detail that's embedded in postcard trappings. Perhaps too much inspiration was taken from Bruce Springsteen's debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

For instance, this ventures way back to the 1870s when Asbury Park was founded, with an explication of its district via map graphs. All of this could easily be found in written form, and is expressively waned by Big Joe Henry's blustering voiceover to what's on-screen. The segregated fallout of the East and West Side fares more compelling, particularly in the 1950s, depicted with footage of blacks who were only allowed to swim at "Chicken Beach." Thankfully, we've moved on since then.

The most invigorating part is clearly its Rock portion in the 1960s. All interspliced by current talking-head interviews by Bruce Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt and Southside Johnny, who regularly jammed at The Upstage til 5AM. ("You went to Ocean Grove to pray and Asbury Park to party".) Seeing how they blended the 50s soul of black artists, to a predominantly white hotspot (although black artists also played alongside them), makes the connection feel more spirited. This was their refuge to just hang out.

Beyond The Upstage, I was enamored to see how larger acts (The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, etc.), played at Asbury Park's Convention Hall. Unlike any other city, it had solidified itself as a pivotal venue for massive acts, including smaller ones who blended genres to give their fans a night of elation. Springsteen and Van Zandt have the most talking-head portions; both of whom lovably reminisce what surrounded them, until it all came crashing down.

On July 4, 1970, an eruption of racial pressures and fiery riots were keeled to the West Side. This became such a despairing cornerstone, that it ruptured Asbury Park's urban feel for decades. Much has altered with renovations to rebuild the city—largely from the LGBTQ community who've bred its Redemption, which gives this a poignant gravitas that had been missing. Although, the climactic pitstop toward the children who've found solace at the Lakehouse Musical Academy, is nowhere near as enthralling. Music lives on.

Still, it's ultimately endearing to see them integrated on-stage with Springsteen, Van Zandt and Southside Johnny, who do two vibrant renditions of "Johnny B. Goode". With that said, this doc chronicles enough to give Asbury Park a tempestuous statement, that unfurls between musical, racial and economical means. When sidestepping as a promoted advertisement, though, the cracks begin to show. I'm just glad this city was able to patch itself up, and not remain in decrepitude. These times have been rough, but that shouldn't hinder the ability to mend.