Following a crisp and honest take on the obscure original gem, “My Hometown,” four songs in to his performance at the Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts on June 16th, Joe Jackson had a word with the sold-out room. Following the performance of this number from 1968’s Big World, Jackson realized his hometown of Portsmouth, England is about as different as any place in the world from Arizona. “My hometown is rainy, cold, dark and full of seagulls,” he went onto explain. Then again sunshine and blue skies, never quite resonated with a man who is more acclimated with the classic urban creatively infused surroundings of New York, London and Berlin vs the rather sterile Phoenix metropolitan area.
Kicking off the second leg of his tour in support of his excellent 2015 release Fast Forward, perhaps his strongest album since 1984’s Body and Soul, Jackson sometimes remembered as moody and introverted, displayed showmanship, affability and a voice that hasn’t changed since his new-wave days in the late 70’s with his debut breakthrough album Look Sharp.
The crowd was filled with late 50’s early 60’s types with steak bellys, Tommy Bahamas, and plenty of obnoxious two handed whistles between songs. Jackson did open for The Clash and had a song covered by Anthrax (“Got the Time”) so, there was an underlying edge to the history of this retiree crowd.
Jackson started the show by performing five songs solo on his Rhodes RD-800 admitting ‘Im the opening band,” before he was joined by this three band-mates. Although silvery white on top, Jackson still appears cherubic young in the face and looked dabber with a blue on black on blue suit with a tiny handkerchief in pocket.
The solo set on the piano featured emotive versions of his more introspective compositions: “It’s Different For Girls” and “Be My Number Two.” Along with the pre-mentioned take of “My Hometown,” Jackson played “Take It Like A Man” off 2003’s Volume 4 which featured some crafty dexterity on the song’s aggressive chords. One of three covers of the night followed, a take on The Beatles’ “Girl” that melded perfectly with Jackson’s capable voice, taking John Lennon’s high notes and putting a new twist on it.
Longtime musical partner and bassist Graham Maby came out and laid the foundation for Jackson’s most obvious hit- “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” “Real Men,” a poignant composition that gives insight to gender roles and identification was poignant following the tragic events in Orlando the weekend prior. The band, now joined by drummer Doug Yowell and guitarist Teddy Kumpel lept into the should have been pop rock classic “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)” which was arranged and performed with the same charisma of its release some 32 years ago.
Fast Forward was recorded in four different cities and was originally planned as four separate EPs, but according to Jackson – “I was the only one who liked that idea.”Eventually, the EPs were combined and arranged into a full-length studio album. The four cities represented are New York, Berlin, Amsterdam, and New Orleans, with each of the city’s specific tracks having been arranged and recorded there. Jackson worked with a different set of musicians in each location. All cities but Berlin made an appearance in this second leg opener. When most artists play new songs off their new albums, it usually spells bathroom or beer break time. Try the other way around here as “Kings of The City” and “If It Wasn’t For You” were poignant and administered all the digestible mixes of jazz, pop and rock- quite like that of say – a minimalistic Steely Dan.
Yowell showed his crafty fills and worldly rhythmic flair as he crushed the opening drum phrase to Night and Days’ “Another World” which cruised into the song’s themes of navigating a complex emotional world. “Some bands play the same show every night and I don’t know how they stand it,” said Jackson before reaching into a hat to pull a song name during the cover portion of the show. Out pulled “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps” by David Bowie, and although there might be other Bowie songs more in gel with Jackson’s tone (check “Modern Love” or “Golden Years”) this was a nice break from the original material.
A ska accent dominated some of Jackson’s earlier new-wave numbers and the scratchy guitar intro to “Sunday Papers” courtesy of Kumpel made for a winner, a nice precursor to the sheeny early MTV era keyboard melodies of “Steppin’ Out.” For the third cover of the night, Jackson paid respect to his early NYC days with a spirited cover of Television’s “See No Evil” which appears on Fast Forward. The scratchy ska retuned with “One More Time,” and then each band member slowly left the stage during the sly and soulful “A Slow Song.”
At 61, Jackson really hasn’t really hasn’t lost a step in his songwriting and the cuts from Fast Forward prove that. He may never play Coachella or open for The Arctic Monkeys, but one things for sure – Joe Jackson has earned a creative license to do whatever he wants and his fan-base will still buy the records, attend the shows and maybe even whistle loud in your ear.