Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Tag: Night and Day

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 Wows Milwaukee

In the liner notes of Joe Jackson’s  Live: 1980/86, Jackson reveals his philosophy of live performing: artists should play what keeps them excited because an audience will inevitably see through a half-hearted concert.  It’s a mindset that – for the four Jackson performances I’ve attended in years past – never failed to satisfy.  Currently promoting his tribute album to Duke Ellington, Joe Jackson once again wowed an appreciative audience on Saturday night at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, blending old and new seamlessly, often with surprising instrumentation and arrangements.

Beginning the evening with a solo performance of Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing)” before segueing into his own “Be My Number Two” (but only after a false start after pressing the wrong patch on his keyboard), Jackson then welcomed his stellar band, including violinist Regina Carter, long-time Jackson percussionist Sue Hadjopoulus, Nate Smith on Drums, guitarist Adam Rogers, Jesse Murphy on bass and Allison Cornell on keys, vocals and viola.  The result was a refreshing mix that effectively wove traditional and well-known with eclectic and obscure.

The audience, ranging in age from the very young (a 9 year-old sat in front of me) to moderately old, some of whom may have been there to simply check out a band playing Ellington tunes, were as appreciative of the lesser-known selections as they were of hit songs like “Steppin’ Out,” “You Can’t Get What You Want,” and “It’s Different for Girls.”  The set list that spanned over a half a century never stalled, indicating that even alongside the classics of Ellington, Jackson’s catalogue contains examples of well-crafted songs.

The band looked to Regina Carter to tackle many of the improvised solos, though Jackson, sitting down at a keyboard and sporting a tan blazer, proved capable of handling intricate piano runs, especially during the Ellington pieces.   His singing was also surprisingly strong, though he did briefly flub the lyrics to “Is She Really Going Out With Him” and “Real Men” before quickly getting back on track.  

Allison Cornell beautifully sang lead vocals on several songs, and bassist Jesse Murphy – taking place of Jackson’s usual bassist, Graham Maby – played upright and tuba on a few numbers.  The most surprising arrangement was the first encore, when Murphy stood alone with his tuba, leaving the audience to consider the possibilities.  Then he started the familiar opening line of “Is She Really Going Out With Him” with Jackson supplying the harmony on accordion, and the audience sang on cue as if they were hearing a traditional four-piece rock group.  There aren’t many artists who could get away with the dismantling of familiar arrangements with such well-received results.

The show’s highlights, which stirred the audience into a mild frenzy, were the tracks from 1982’s Night and Day, including “Another World,” “Target” and Jackson’s long-time ending number, “A Slow Song.”  Jackson nailed the high note on the latter perfectly, and at various points throughout the song, band members exited the stage, leaving Jackson to finish the concert the way he began – as a solo artist playing the piano.  During the final standing ovation, Jackson bowed and appeared to be genuinely moved, grateful to still be performing after so many years for such open-minded audiences.

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved