Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Joe Jackson concert review: Riverside, Calif.

photo by George A. Paul
In a career that spans nearly 40 years, Joe Jackson has taken several stylistic detours, encompassing everything from classical, jazz and reggae to new wave, jump blues and beyond. 

The excellent “Fast Forward,” which came out last October, is the British singer/pianist’s first album to contain all-original material since 2012’s “The Duke” (a tribute to jazz master Ellington). It’s a more direct adult pop/rock effort that should appeal to longtime enthusiasts. Initially conceived as four EPs, “Fast Forward” was recorded in New York, Amsterdam, New Orleans and Jackson’s current home Berlin with different musician groupings including Regina Carter, Bill Frisell, Brian Blade and most of jam rock group Galactic.

There’s a sharp rocking Television cover (“See No Evil”) and even a German cabaret song (“Goodbye Johnny”) among the 16 tracks. The stellar results are easily Jackson’s best since “Volume 4” in 2003.

For his debut appearance in Riverside, Calif., Jackson first appeared onstage alone to play a half dozen songs on electric piano. He kicked off the nearly two-hour set on June 19 at Fox Performing Arts Center with “It’s Different for Girls,” a No. 5 UK hit in 1979.

Many fans immediately howled in appreciation upon hearing the opening notes. Jackson’s elegant keyboard sounds made “Home Town” as gorgeous as ever, sans guitar. The starkly romantic “Be My Number Two” was a showcase for his melodic piano playing.

Before doing a fun, boogie woogie-styled take on Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” Jackson recounted being invited to play at a Mitchell tribute show, then wondering what to choose. This song arrangement was the result of imagining “what if she was a piano player from New Orleans?” The crowd absolutely loved it.

A regal “Fast Forward,” aided by a drum loop, was described as a “fantasy of having a time machine and looking back on the present to make sense of it – an ironic observation.” Jackson was totally immersed in the rapturous tune.

photo by George A. Paul
When longtime bassist Graham Maby (a member of the original Joe Jackson band) finally emerged to start the familiar notes of hit single “Is She Really Going Out with Him?,” the exuberant audience participation made Jackson laugh.

Then guitarist Teddy Kumpel and drummer Doug Yowell entered. Their spirited playing on the percolating “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)” was an early set highlight – even without the recorded version’s prominent horns.

Newer selections like a hypnotic “Kings of the City” – about moving from a small town to a metropolis that Jackson called “bittersweet, like dark chocolate” and “A Little Smile” fared well live. The latter bore more of a rock edge and an intense chorus.

“Another World” was a real tour de force with some Asian-influenced piano, syncopated drums, frantic vocals, plus Jackson and Maby's solo spotlights. Fans gave it a standing ovation. They kept the energy level high with exhilarating rocker “Obvious Song” and the bouncy new wave of snarky tabloid critique “Sunday Papers,” where Jackson belted out his vocals and did a melodica bit.

Few people seemed to recognize the revamped “Steppin’ Out,” because they didn’t cheer until well into the first verse. Slowed down, it bore a more dramatic sheen and provided a chance for Jackson, 61, to flex his still-robust vocals.

Come encore time, the veteran musician reached into a top hat and pulled out a piece of paper with a song title on it. The result was “Bye-Bye Theme from Peter Gunn” – recorded by jazz chanteuse Sarah Vaughn (other tour stops were treated to a David Bowie cover). Jackson professed to his admiration for old cop show themes before he and the band had fun with their rocking rendition. The same held true for the fast-paced, jittery new wave strains of “On Your Radio,” from 1979’s “I’m the Man.”

Keeping on a similar lyrical thread, they closed the concert in typical fashion with Jackson’s criticism of deejays and station formats, “A Slow Song.” Each musician stopped playing, one by one, until their leader was alone again to belt out a dramatic finish.

North American tour dates:

6/22 Berkeley, CA…UC Theatre
6/24 Vancouver, BC…Queen Elizabeth Theatre
6/25 Victoria, BC…Royal Theatre
6/27 Calgary, AB…Singer Concert Hall
6/30 Milwaukee, WI…Maier Festival Park
7/7 Ottawa, ON…Flats Park
7/8 Buffalo, NY…UB Center for the Arts
7/9 Cleveland, OH…Trinity Cathedral
7/11 Ridgefield, CT…Ridgefield Playhouse
7/12 Boston, MA…The Wilbur
7/15 New York, NY…Apollo Theatre


Bassman said...

spot on review. my first time seeing JJ live and surely not the last. thanks for your effort posting the review. Bobby D

newwavegeo said...

Hey Bobby,
I appreciate the feedback. I hadn't seen Jackson live in 13 years. Long overdue!