February 8th 2016
I had something of a musical epiphany when I first discovered Joe Jackson’s music in the late 70’s. Punk had passed me by; but New Wave which followed was right up my street; especially Graham Parker, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson – grown up Pop Songs, that generally talked about ‘my life’ like no one else had ever done before (and very few since).
Even when they all moved to America and turned their collective backs on ‘angry songs’ about adolescence and growing up in general; it mirrored my own life and I hung on in there.
While I kept buying Costello albums; even though they were identi-kit recordings every couple of years; Joe Jackson genuinely progressed; with Night and Day then Body & Soul introducing me to a whole new area of jazz influenced music.
Then he lost me.
Until Fast Forward, at the end of 2015 which was perfect night time listening and had me eagerly anticipating tonight’s concert.
After a couple of false starts when the pre-show music stopped abruptly, a very dapper looking Joe Jackson strode onto the stage, mug of tea in hand, and took his place at the duo of electric pianos.
The first song of the evening took me royally by surprise. A very stripped back and introspective It’s Different For Girls sounded amazing.
With only a change of coloured light marking the move to Be My Number 2, a personal favourite from Body and Soul. Again it was just Joe’s impassioned voice and the piano; but they combined to fill Hall 1 at Sage Gateshead with lung busting grace.
The next few songs were in in a similar vein; apart from a delightfully unrecognisable version of the Beatles’ Girl which was perfect for Jackson’s distinctive voice.
The solo section came to a close with the title track from Fast Forward; a particularly articulate song; which had a charming intro; but included a jarring electronic drum loop; that wasn’t in the least bit necessary; as Jackson’s piano playing was immaculate and was all the song needed.
As that faded away a handsome young man, with a foppish fringe entered from stage left; plugged in a red bass guitar and; much to the ‘surprise’ of the singer (?), regaled us with the opening chords to Is She Really Going Out With Him? Which received a loud cheer and elongated applause.
This stripped back song was certainly one of the highlights of the show; especially when Jackson delivered the impassioned line “Look, over there” and someone in the audience responded “Where?” which gave the singer a fit of the giggles. He kept playing the piano but it took a few seconds before he regained his composure well enough to finish the song. Which is one of the reasons that I love live music; every night is different.
Although the concert was billed as ‘Celebrating the new album Fast Forward’ I was pleasantly surprised to hear so many older songs included; even if their arrangements had all been turned on their heads.
Not everything received an intro tonight; but for Junkie Diva; Jackson went to great lengths to explain that it was loosely based around the ‘cult of celebrity’ that surrounded Billie Holiday and had nothing at all to do with Amy Winehouse (although I made exactly that mistake in my review). The spartan; but passionate arrangement was perfect and was a perfect example of Jackson’s current forte of writing ‘grown up songs for grown ups.’
While all featuring Jackson’s ‘trademark’ sound the next few songs from Fast Forward didn’t quite match the passion embodied in them on the album; and not for the first (or last time) in the night the harsh lighting proved very distracting and did the singer no favours at all.
Thankfully the pace; and mood finally picked up on The Obvious Song and a very spiky Sunday Papers; but quickly drifted back down again on the two songs from the New Orleans sessions from Fast Forward; with Ode To Joy drifting into Jazz Rock at one stage.
The last song of the evening (well; the last one before the obligatory encores) was a rather austere rendition of Stepping Out; another favourite song of mine; but tonight’s version; while in keeping with the rest of the set; won’t stick in my memory bank for too long.
Then; as the band took their leave I got the biggest shock of the night; a cluster of people to my left jumped to their feet like meerkats applauding wildly! The same people had spent most of the night on their phones; taking over exposed photos, blurry videos and doing things on Facebook. Others followed suits and before you knew it a standing ovation was in full swing.
Thirty seconds later Jackson and band returned to regale us with an Acid-Jazz tinged interpretation of It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing and then the sparkiest song of the evening; One More Time, from 79’s Look Sharp! which launched a minor burst of head-banging; but no actual dancing.
Aha! I though as my brain racked up numerous fast songs that would undoubtedly follow; but no, it was actually followed by a very intense Slow Song; during which the band made their way off stage one by one leaving Jackson alone to complete the song; and ‘as if by magic’ stood up to wave to crowd and his piano was still playing! Oooh.
What can I say? Joe Jackson is unquestionably a great songwriter and one of popular musics finest pianists; but tonight, I was left feeling ‘Mwaah’ as not everything ‘gelled’ leaving it all a bit flat, soulless and just a bit too ‘functional’.