Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Tag: Graham Maby

Joe Jackson at Thalia Hall (again)

Joe Jackson has been busy lately.  After not one, not two, but three tours supporting his very strong 2012 release, Fast Forward, he immediately took his band consisting of bassist Graham Maby, drummer Doug Yowell and guitarist Teddy Kumpel to a studio in Boise, Idaho (the location of last summer’s final show), and quickly recorded an eight-track album called Fool.  It too is strong, and at last night’s return to the fabulous Thalia Hall in Pilsen, Chicago, he and his band played five tracks from the album along with a selection of other songs spanning four decades to an enthusiastic sold-out audience.

To commemorate Jackson’s forty years in the industry and to mix things up a bit from his previous tours, the band highlighted tracks from four other albums from four different decades, though two of them were way too predictable: Look Sharp from the 70s, Night and Day from the 80s (those are the predictable ones), Laughter and Lust from the 90s and Rain from the 00s.  It’s these latter two along with the six newer tracks (one from Fast Forward) that made the evening interesting, along with a rendition of “Steppin’ Out” that mimicked the original recording to perfection, including a glockenspiel and Jackson’s Boss DR-55 drum machine whose “club beat” was used in the original.

All of the musicians were excellent and given various moments to shine, though Jackson took more solos than I remember from previous concerts, including one from his once-ubiquitous melodica.  But it was drummer Doug Yowell’s high energy performance who really sole the show.  Animated, forceful and dexterous, Yowell blew me away with the beginning of one of my favorites, “Another World,” when he managed to play the drum beat and accompanying cowbell and timbale beat simultaneously.  My drummer son and I turned to each other with mouths agape.

The biggest surprise of the evening was the final track from 1991’s Laughter and Lust, the moody tune of resignation to love, “Drowned,” along with the opening – and closer! – “Alchemy” from Fool.  That’s right, Jackson both opened and closed with the same song under dim, red lights.  I loved it, if only because it meant that we didn’t have to hear the band end with “Slow Song” again as they had repeatedly since 2000.  Adding “I’m the Man,” “Got the Time,” and Steely Dan’s “King of the World” were welcome crowd-pleasers near the evening’s end, and the new song, “Fool,” was among the most exciting songs of the night.  Jackson pointed out that it is sometime the fool – or jester – who makes life sane (“If you lose your sense of humor, you’re fucked.”) and the song’s playfulness seemed contagious to the four musicians on stage.

All in all it was a great concert.  Jackson continues to use an iPad teleprompter for his lyrics, which is a little odd for songs that he’s been singing for forty years, but hey, if that’s what the guy has to do to keep touring, then I’m all in. I’ve seen Jackson perform eight times now, and this show ranks in the top three for sure. Keep ‘em coming, Joe!

Joe Jackson in Chicago

In 2012 when I last saw Joe Jackson perform, he led a 7-piece band that showcased interpretations of Duke Ellington originals.  Last night at the sold-out Thalia Hall in Chicago, it was back to the basics.  Only four musicians graced the stage, including Jackson’s long-time bassist Graham Maby and two fabulous session musicians: guitarist Teddy Kumpel and drummer Doug Yowell (whose crack of the snare is still ringing in my ears).  Together they blazed through a set that included Jackson’s usual fare, a couple of surprises and several new songs that held up very well against the older material.

Jackson – sporting an olive suit, white shirt and black shoes – began the evening as a solo artist, playing familiar versions of “It’s Different for Girls,” “Hometown” (a sentimental song about “a place that’s hard to be sentimental about”) and “Be My Number Two” before covering The Beatles’ song “Girl” (yawn).  He then played the first of seven songs off of what was supposed to have been four EPs but instead became the full-length Fast Forward due to record company pressure.  It was during the complex title track that it became abundantly clear that Jackson was reading his own lyrics – he even pressed the button on his tablet to “fast forward” to the next page of lyrics (and/or chord changes?).  Unfortunately, he spent the rest of the evening squinting in what I can only deduce was mock emotion as a way to conceal his reading of the written word.  Embarrassing?  Well, if he’s suffering from memory loss, then I’ll give him a free pass.  Otherwise it comes off as sheer laziness, as he even appeared to be reading lyrics that he’s played live for over thirty years.

After “Fast Forward” the band came up one by one during “Is She Really Going Out With Him” (an act that would be reversed in the closing encore of “A Slow Song”) before kicking it in for “Real Men” – with Kumpel’s lead guitar effectively taking place of Jackson’s original “Oh ohhhh” chorus – and “You Can’t Get What You Want.”  The new album then took center stage.

I don’t own Jackson’s first album of original material in seven years (yet), but if last night’s performance is any indication, Fast Forward is a collection of strong, complex songs that – when in the capable hands of last night’s supporting cast – are urgent, energetic and poignant. The album was recorded in four sessions (hence the original idea of releasing four EPs) from four different cities with four different groups of musicians, and last evening’s selections showcased what has become Jackson’s greatest skill – weaving memorable, tuneful melodies against unpredictable chord changes.  You won’t hear any three chord songs here, and I’m impressed with how Joe continues to find new ways to compose what are essentially pop songs.

Aside from Jackson’s personal teleprompter, the only other criticism I have of the show is his tendency to lean too heavily on familiar territory.  I get why he plays the hits, and sure, “Hometown” and “Be My Number Two” are great songs, but why not “Shanghai Sky” or “The Best I Can Do” as substitutes?  Instead of “It’s Different for Girls” why not “One to One”?  The only surprises of the evening were “On the Radio,” “China Town” and “Love at First Light” from Volume 4.   All sounded superb, and I wish there had been a few others.  As for the cover songs, “Peter Gunn” – with lyrics! – was a terrific example of one of only two reasons a band should ever play a cover song:  to offer a completely different interpretation than the original or to play a song people don’t already know by heart.  As for The Beatles’ “Girl” – what’s the point?

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved