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Joe Jackson at Town Hall

Mike Perciaccante By

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Joe Jackson
Town Hall
New York, NY
October 21, 2015

Joe Jackson is a musical chameleon. His music easily shifts from genre to genre...and his career output proves that fact.

The Grammy Award-winning British singer-songwriter was born David Ian Jackson on August 11, 1954. During his career he has released twenty studio albums (including soundtrack work and classical releases). His latest, Fast Forward (Caroline/Universal), was released in early October 2015. During his career, Jackson has garnered numerous Grammy nominations—his win came in 2001 for Best Pop Instrumental Album for Symphony No. 1 (Sony Classical, 1999).

In the early 1970s, Jackson fronted a band called Edward Bear (its moniker was an homage to a character in Winnie the Pooh). His bandmates in Edward Bear, later called Edwin Bear and finally Arms and Legs thought that Jackson bore a strong resemblance to the title character on a television puppet show called Joe 90. They began to call Jackson "Joe," and the rest is history.

Jackson first made a name for himself in the late '70s with "Is She Really Going Out With Him?," "Sunday Papers," "I'm The Man," "Fools In Love," "Kinda Kute," "Got the Time," "Friday" and "Beat Crazy." Eventually he abandoned new wave, and rock and moved to a more jazz-infused hybrid pop music. In 1982, he reached the Billboard Top 10 with "Steppin' Out" from Night And Day (A&M Records), and had another huge hit in 1984 with the jazzy R&B influenced "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)" from Body And Soul (A&M Records). In addition to the Grammy-winning Symphony No. 1, he has released other classical albums including Will Power (A&M Records, 1987) and Night Music (Virgin Records, 1994), an album that attempted to fuse pop and classical music. He has also released a number of neo-swing albums—Joe Jackson's Jumpin' Jive (A&M Records, 1981) and the 1988 soundtrack to the Francis Ford Coppola film Tucker: The Man and His Dream (A&M Records) which earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Album of Original Instrumental Background Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV.

His 2012 release, The Duke (Razor & Tie) was a tribute to one of his heroes, Duke Ellington. Jackson was not content to just cover Ellington. He decided to re-imagine Ellington. Jackson's tribute album featured different arrangements and new rhythms as well as guest appearances—one notable guest was Iggy Pop who performed a duet with Jackson on a version of "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" that would have done many a lounge singer proud.

Fast Forward was released in early October 2015. The album was originally conceived as four separate EPs recorded in four separate cities. The final product is four sets of four songs that were recorded in these four different cities—New York, Berlin, Amsterdam and New Orleans. Each of the tracks pertaining to each individual city was arranged and recorded in said city. The mood and milieu of each set of four songs clearly produces a vibe, a feel and an arrangement that is "special" and indigenous to that particular city.

On a pleasant New York City evening in late October, Jackson along with longtime bassist Graham Maby, guitarist Teddy Kumpel and drummer Doug Yowell performed an amazing concert at the city's fabled Town Hall. The high energy set featured a career-spanning selection of Jackson's greatest hits many of which he reinvented without destroying the integrity of the original versions of these beloved treasures. Peppered throughout the set list were "It's Different For Girls," "Is She Really Going Out With Him?," "Real Man," "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)," "Sunday Papers," "I'm The Man" and, of course, "Steppin' Out."

The evening started with Jackson performing a five song solo set. The singer appeared at shortly after 8pm and opened with a very pleasing solo piano version of "It's Different For Girls" followed by "Home Town." At the conclusion of "Home Town," a very jovial Jackson smiled and took a moment to announce his appreciation to the audience. He said, "Thanks! Good evening. That was a nostalgic song. I try to not write too many of those. But after a while," he chuckled, "they're all nostalgic. By the way," he continued, "the band will be out soon. I'm the warm-up act. Here's another one that might be nostalgic to you." "Be My Number Two," a ballad about the complexities of modern relationships, was then performed and was warmly received. Jackson again took a moment to address the crowd. He seemed to want to set the tone for the evening with jovial banter. He first stated that the "new album is called Fast Forward." He said, "We're going to do some songs from it, some old stuff," and then cracked himself up when he finished the thought with, "and some stuff that is really from the Jurassic Era and some covers too." He introduced the first cover by explaining that he had performed on a Joni Mitchell tribute album and that covering Joni Mitchell is no easy task "because it's hard to get the vocals down. Joni's are so distinct, especially on 'Big Yellow Taxi.' So I decided to re-imagine it. I'm a big fan of New Orleans music. I love New Orleans piano players like James Booker and Professor Longhair. This is what the song might have sounded like if Joni had been a pianist from New Orleans. I hope you like it." He then delivered a very barrelhouse bluesy, somewhat jazzy and jaw-dropping version of "Big Yellow Taxi."

Jackson, "the opening act," ended his solo performance with a scaled down version of "Fast Forward," the title track of the newly released CD of the same. The song began with Jackson playing solo and as it came toward its close, first Maby, and then Yowell and finally Kumpel appeared on stage one-by-one and the song morphed into "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" "Real Man," featuring some impressive fretwork by Kumpel, and a muscular version of "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)" quickly followed before moving onto new material.

Jackson, who spent the entire evening smiling and singing with a joy and a passion that seemed to convey an inner peace, explained that the new album was supposed to be a quartet of EPs, recording tracks in four different cities. "I'm the only one who thought that was a good idea," he said with a laugh. It was during this portion of the show that he chose to shift the spotlight toward his new material introducing the New York crowd to some of the tracks on Fast Forward. He described "Poor Thing" as a song for anyone feeling sorry for themselves. The next song, "Kings Of The City," he said, was "very much a New York song about people who come to the big city from out there somewhere; it's about the things that they find and the things that they leave behind." The rocker "A Little Smile" could have held its own with any of the fast rockin' tracks on any of his first three albums.

Jackson and his band spent the rest of the evening treating the middle-aged crowd in the packed-to-the-gills theatre to exactly what they came for—an evening of his best loved songs (big hits, deep album tracks and fan favorites that have driven and defined the past thirty-five years of Jackson's musical life). In addition to the new songs that dominated the middle of the set, Jackson led the band (and the audience) through songs Night And Day ("Another World"), the 2003 Rykodisc CD Volume 4 ("Love at First Light") and Look Shape! ("Sunday Papers") as well as the fiery cover of Television's "See No Evil" which Jackson recorded and released on Fast Forward. Other material Jackson offered during the main set included two songs that he stated were "from the New Orleans EP. The first one is about telling everyone to fuck off." Jackson and the band breathed fire on the angry rocker "The Neon Rain." The next song, "Ode To Joy," was a peaceful tonic that was as soothing as a cool breeze.

"Steppin' Out" was introduced with less fanfare about the song, but rather with gratitude to the audience. Jackson said, "We take nothing for granted. Thank you!" My first album came out in nineteen-seventy-fucking-nine. Its' a bloody miracle that I'm still here. Thank you for coming. We're so lucky to have two sold-out nights here. Thank you!" The version of the song was letter-perfect, crisp, tight and stellar. When the song ended, the musicians came to the center of stage, took their bows and exited to their right.

The encores were awe-inspiring. The first, "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," was introduced as a twisted version of one Duke Ellington's songs. "I did it with Iggy Pop," Jackson stated. When the crowd erupted, Jackson deadpanned, "He's not here." He and the band then offered a dazzling and enthusiastic version of the song which ended with an extended coda. The audience was then sent into a frenzy as the frenetic, feverish and furious "One More Time" got the juices flowing and the feet moving. The entire crowd rose to its feet (almost in unison) and sang along while dancing to the beat of the rockin' song from 1979's Look Sharp!. Jackson appeared amused as he sang while surveying the insanity from his perch at the piano bench. The evening's festivities ended with band introductions and a sensitive, beautiful version of "A Slow Song." The ballad, which longtime fans have come to know as the finale to a Joe Jackson show, ended with the band members having their individual opportunities to shine and then slowly one-by-one laying down their instruments. The first to leave was Yowell, who, following one of the song's crescendos, placed his drumsticks on the snare, waved to the crowd and left the stage. Kumpel was next to depart. Following a short but beautiful guitar passage, he placed his guitar on its stand and exited toward the left of the stage. At this point only Maby remained onstage playing with Jackson. They played together for a few moments before Maby unplugged his bass, gingerly placed it down and silently headed backstage. The lights dimmed and finally went dark as Jackson continued playing and finally sounded the last notes of the song. As the final note faded, he stood-up, bowed and left the stage.

It was an evening filled with imaginative rephrasings of old familiar favorites as well as new offerings that should soon become fan favorites. Following the show, Jackson fans—young, old and in-between were seen happily purchasing memorabilia, t-shirts and CDs at the merchandise stand. Many were milling about having deep discussions about the great show that they had just seen. Unfortunately, for them, they were blissfully unaware as Kumpel made his way through the lobby. They would have been even more surprised had they left their seats as soon as Jackson departed the stage. Had they hightailed it to the venue's front doors, they might have had had the opportunity to tell their hero face-to-face how much they enjoyed the performance.

Photo Credit: Christine Connallon
[Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon].

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