Cullen Performance Hall
October 11, 2015
Joe Jackson’s Houston stop last night was not only highly entertaining, it answered a question pondered more than 30 years ago by a long-departed esteemed Houston music critic.
Early in his set, Jackson admitted to the fans that he couldn’t recall the last time he’d played Houston, which may have been a blessing. It was 1986 and Jackson had been booked at Southern Star Amphitheater, the old concrete shed behind AstroWorld that was better suited for New Kids on The Block and Tiffany than a musician of Jackson’s ambition. The kids, fresh off Greezed Lightnin’, weren’t ready for the musical explorations Jackson was taking at that point in his career. When they cried out for songs like “Look Sharp,” he chastised their boorish behavior.
The scene was quite similar two years earlier; I know because I was at both those shows. In 1984, on his Body and Soul tour stop here, Jackson had to quiet overzealous fans during his Music Hall set. As I always did, I clipped the Houston Post’s review by the late Bob Claypool. I still have the clip, 31 years later. Calling loud fans “lobotomized bozos,” Claypool wrote, “too many of them yelled out requests and wordless cries and Joe got testy, so much so that he asked an immortal rock and roll question – ‘What the hell does "Let’s go, Joe!" mean! And what does ‘EEEEAAAAHH’ mean? Are you trying to communicate something or are you just being a jerk?’ History awaits the answer to that one.”
It turns out fans were trying to communicate something. The words they couldn’t find then were something akin to, “We love your prolific, diverse and underappreciated output, Joe, and we hope to mature into enduring and polite fans who will be here for you 30 years later when you are still producing new and exciting music.”
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That’s the Houston crowd Jackson deserved and finally got last night. He performed more than 20 songs, many of them from his stellar new album Fast Forward, and the audience proved it could embrace Jackson’s latest and celebrate his greatest.
The show began with Jackson sitting alone at the piano, stage right, for opener “It’s Different For Girls.” By the third song, “Home Town,” it was evident time hadn’t been unkind to his always unique voice. It was strong, he could still hit the high notes and his playing was passionate, too, particularly on Beatles cover “Girl." In Jackson’s hands, it sounded as if it had first been born in a Prohibition-era speakeasy and later reincarnated by John Lennon.
After a solo turn at the new album’s title track, Jackson’s longtime bassist Graham Maby joined him just in time for the familiar bassline to “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” Because Jackson’s life in music has been a serious endeavor, which began with classical training and has gone on to include writing symphonies and paying homage to influences like Duke Ellington, he surrounds himself with capable musicians. Maby doesn’t get the credit he should when the conversation hinges on rock’s greatest bassists, but the audience on hand last night proved they knew his pedigree with extended applause whenever he was featured. Drummer Doug Yowell and guitarist Teddy Kumpel rounded out the quartet, lending their skilled playing to jam-heavy songs like “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)” and “Another World.” Then, they showed off their voices on several songs, particularly a cover of David Bowie’s “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” and Television’s “See No Evil,” which is on the new album.
Having read passages from the Claypool clip and one the Houston Chronicle’s Marty Racine wrote on the 1986 show (yep, kept that one, too), I was prepared for Joe to murdalize today’s smartphone-carrying, chitter-chattering audience. But those folks, by and large, weren’t around. A few wooohooooos and yeaaaaaahs could be heard, but surprisingly, Jackson ignored them. He took several opportunities to chat casually with the crowd, telling us how the new songs had originally been recorded to be released as a series of EPs and were recorded in Amsterdam, Berlin, New Orleans and New York. He shared that the beverage he sipped between songs was tea to soothe his throat but, “after the show — vodka martini.” Like an old friend who had been gone far too long, only to return to find a group ready to finally hear his message, he delivered this: “No matter how fucked up the world is, there really is such a thing as joy. So, when it comes along, make the most of it.” Maybe, over all these years, Joe has matured some, too.
Personal Bias: “Sunday Papers” and “One More Time” rocked as hard as they did 30 years ago. Wish I could have heard at least one track from Beat Crazy.
The Crowd: Enthusiastic. Well-heeled. Old enough to have kids in dorms right there on the UH campus.
Random Notebook Dump: Jackson opened the show alone at the piano and finished it that way, too, as Yowell, Kumpel and Maby each departed at different points during the closer, “A Slow Song,” from Night And Day. There was something poignant and slightly somber in this act of fading away, rather than the routine group bow or the triumphant tossing of the drumsticks and guitar picks upon exiting. When Jackson played the last note, I immediately hoped it wouldn’t be the last time we’d get to see him here.
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It’s Different For Girls
Be My Number Two
Girl" (Beatles Cover)
Is She Really Going Out With Him?
You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)
A Little Smile
Kings of The City
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (David Bowie Cover)
Keep On Dreaming
Ode To Joy
See No Evil (Television Cover)
One More Time
A Slow Song