Joe Jackson At State Theatre NJ: Looking Sharp And Still The Man

I almost would have missed Joe Jackson, just like my recent Who concert. Here’s to hoping that my apparent lack of music attention doesn’t become a trend, though it would probably not hurt my wallet! 🙂 Wait, what did I want to say? Right, the British artist who they called an “angry young man” when he broke through with his studio debut Look Sharp! in January 1979. While I don’t know whether Jackson was pissed then, he certainly doesn’t look angry to me these days! Instead, the man who once sang, “Everybody wants a happy ending,” comes across as feeling very comfortable in his skin and happy to still be making music people want to hear. I suppose that’s really all you can ask for as an artist!

By the time Jackson’s ongoing Four Decade Tour registered on my radar screen, all tickets I could afford seemed to be gone, and I just wasn’t willing to throw hundreds of bucks at some greedy reseller!  Then I received an email from State Theatre New Jersey, a nice midsize venue in New Brunswick, cheerfully announcing Jackson’s gig there. I thought, ‘what the hell,’ so checked out the situation one more time. And, voila, while there weren’t many seats left, I managed to get one without losing my blue shirt. Last night was showtime – and, yes, you probably already guessed it, after 40 years as a professional recording artist, Jackson continued to look sharp and proofed he’s definitely still the man!

“So, here comes a big tour,” Jackson said in an announcement last October. “We want to celebrate the fact that this is happening after 40 years – anything else, would be like sulking in a room by yourself on your own birthday party. Looking for some way to organize a show out of 40 years’ worth of material, I decided to draw on five albums, each representing a decade: Look Sharp (1979) Night And Day (1982) Laughter And Lust (1991) Rain (2008) and Fool (2019). We’ll also throw in a couple of songs from other albums and some new covers. I can’t wait. Let’s party.”

Joe Jackson and Band 2019
Joe Jackson and band (from left): Jackson, Graham Maby, Doug Yowell and Teddy Kumpel

And, boy, what a party it was! In addition to singing splendid lead vocals, Jackson played keyboards – something I read he typically didn’t do during past tours. If that’s true, it was certainly great he changed his mind this time. After all, he’s a true musician and multi-instrumentalist, who spent three years in his late teens and early twenties at London’s Royal Academy of Music, studying composition, piano and percussion. During that period, Jackson also learned jazz at the Academy and in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Apart from writing pop-oriented songs in genres like punk, new wave, rock, jazz and Latin, Jackson has also composed classical music. The question really becomes what the man has NOT done musically!

Once again the notion that great musicians tend to play with other great musicians turned out to be true. Jackson’s backing band was simply top-notch! The first guy I need to call out here is Graham Maby – and yes, I’m probably bassed, I mean biased. One of my favorite bassists, Maby still has a superb tone and a great sense for rhythmic and melodic basslines. Paul McCartney is who I wanna be when I grow up, but I’d also happily settle with Maby! 🙂 Jackson’s long-time friend and musical collaborator effectively drove the groove together with excellent drummer Doug Yowell, who by the way hails from New Jersey. They really breed musicians in the Garden State – just sayin’! Last but not least, Teddy Kumpel did an outstanding job on guitar. Man, what a fucking great band! Okay, I think it’s time to get to some music, shall we?

The set kicked off with Alchemy, the closer from Jackson’s great new album Fool,  released this January, and then launched right into the furious One More Time, the opener from his debut Look Sharp! – a cool 40-year jump back in time, not to mention style, and a nice illustration of the band’s versatility. I thought Kumpel’s guitar-playing shined in particular during the more rock-oriented tunes. Unfortunately, my smartphone outsmarted me at the wrong time, so I’m relying on another clip I found that cut off the beginning of Alchemy, but it still gives a good impression of the tune.

Jackson’s new album featured prominently in the show with three tracks, one of which (Alchemy) was repeated at the very end, providing nice bookends to the set. I have to say the new songs absolutely held up to his older, better known material. Here’s Fabulously Absolute, a rocker that was also released as a single. Stylistically, the tune isn’t that much different from Jackson’s first two albums. Whatever genre the man plays, he always has a great ear for catchy melodies, though he never aspired to become a pop star and never did – at least not in the traditional sense.

Next is a track from an album I don’t know well: Goin’ Downtown from Laughter And Lust,  released in April 1991. The tune is co-credited to Jackson and a British singer-songwriter named Drew Barfield.

My personal highlight of the evening was a medley of three songs: A cover of Rain by The Beatles, Invisible Man and It’s Different For Girls. Jackson announced it by saying they are now playing the title track from an album called Rain (January 2008). He dryly added no such track exists, so they borrowed it, deciding to change some of the chords. Invisible Man is the opener of Rain, a fantastic song I frankly had forgotten about, which reminds me a little bit of Steely Dan. Apparently, Jackson digs the Dan; in fact, later in the show, he covered King Of The World from Countdown To Ecstasy, Steely Dan’s sophomore album from July 1973. And then there’s It’s Different For Girls, featuring Jackson’s lyrics reversing the stereotypical roles of men and women when it comes to sex and love – one of two tunes he played from I’m The Man.

His sophomore release from October 1979 remains my favorite Joe Jackson album. In fact, it was my introduction to him when I received it as a birthday present in July 1980. I own the vinyl record to this day, and it’s still in perfect shape! Instead of relying on his band, Jackson treated the audience to a solo performance of It’s Different For Girls. Okay, nuff said! This is a long clip, and the video is sometimes out of focus, but, hey, it least it’s authentic! Plus, the sound is pretty decent and, most of all, the musicianship is just outstanding. What I’m trying to say in so many words is if you dig Jackson, you should watch the friggin’ clip!

Another Jackson tune I’ve always liked is You Can’t Get What You Want. It appeared on his March 1984 gem Body And Soul blending pop, jazz and Latin. Even though the horns from the studio version are “missing” and Jackson plays their fill-ins on keyboards instead, I think the band does a beautiful job capturing the tune. Check out Kumpel’s funky guitar, which is really cool!

The last track of the regular set was I’m The Man. The title track from Jackson’s sophomore album was another highlight of the evening, which once again showed this band can rock. Not surprisingly, it brought the audience up to their feet!

The regular set was followed by a three-track encore, starting with Jackson’s biggest hit: Steppin’ Out, from the Night And Day album released in June 1982. I’m not a fan of drum machines, and that aspect has always bothered me about an otherwise great tune; but I just couldn’t resist filming it, especially after Jackson noted they’re about to do something truly shocking – playing a song almost exactly the way it appears on an album! Jackson is known for altering studio tracks for live performances, which has frustrated some of his fans in the past – a fact he acknowledged during the announcement of the tune, teasingly adding he doesn’t quite get it, since it’s so much fun changing up songs.

Next a roadie walked out on stage, carrying a small box. It was the original drum machine Jackson had used for the recording. He proudly explained he got that drum machine in 1979, adding it’s pretty much impossible to get this gear nowadays. On Night And Day, Jackson played all of the instruments by himself, except for the drum snare, which doubled the drum machine’s snare, a natural task for Yowell. Jackson also explained the other instruments on the studio recording, including a Glockenspiel that last night was played by Maby. Of course, they also had the programmed synthesizer bassline – again, something else I’m less than fond of! Kumpel took over the organ part on the keyboards, while Jackson handled the electric piano. The following clip captures some of Jackson’s introductory explanations. If you’re bit of a music nerd like I am, this footage may be for you.

Joe Jackson is definitely worthwhile seeing, and I’m glad I finally did so! The ongoing second U.S. leg of the Four Decade Tour lasts until June 1. Some of the upcoming gigs include Miami (May 24), New Orleans (May 28), Houston (May 29) and Dallas (June 1). Afterwards, Jackson is returning to Europe, with shows in Germany, France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Italy and Spain. The last date on the current schedule is Tel Aviv, Israel on July 28.

Sources: Wikipedia, Joe Jackson website, Setlist.fm, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Joe Jackson/Geraldine And John

Lately, I’ve been listening quite a bit to I’m The Man by Joe Jackson. His sophomore album from October 1979 is my favorite among his records I know. The timing is not entirely a coincidence.

One of the reasons I dig the album is because of the bass parts by Graham Maby, with whom Jackson works to this day. A few months ago, I decided to get inexpensive bass equipment for home use to see whether I could revive the moderate skills I once had close to 30 years ago.

Since I’ve always liked Maybe’s bass playing, I’ve been working to figure out some of his bass parts. I’m not gonna lie – some of this stuff ain’t easy, especially when you’re rusty, but fortunately there’s YouTube. Plus, I’m doing this to relax and have some fun, not because of any bigger ambitions. I simply don’t have the time to take things to any higher level, not to mention that my skills would certainly need to improve!

Anyway, this is where Geraldine And John came into the picture. Except for a cover of Chuck Berry’s Come On, all tracks on the album were written by Jackson. Not only do I love the laid back groove of the tune, but I also dig Maybe’s bass line. It’s not super complicated, which is why I guess I’ve been able to figure it out 95 percent. But it’s just great, both rhythmically and melodically, effectively helping propel the song forward – exactly what a bassist is supposed to do!

I also like to acknowledge the two other musicians in Jackson’s band at the time: Gary Sanford (guitar) and David Houghton (drums, backing vocals), who both do an excellent job as well. On December 15, 1980, the band played their last gig in the Netherlands in the wake of Jackson’s third studio album Beat Crazy. Jackson decided to reunite them for his 2003 album Volume 4. They also toured together leading up to the record’s release and thereafter.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Joe Jackson/Fool

Boy, this is quite a seductive record, which I stumbled across yesterday. And it actually gets even better after you listen to it for a few times! I had completely missed Joe Jackson’s 20th studio album Fool when it was released on January 18. How foolish of me! It has all the elements I’ve liked about Jackson for many years: His great sense of melody, his versatility as a musician and good lyrics. Moreover, despite having been a heavy smoker for many years, Jackson’s voice still pretty much sounds like on his 1979 debut Look Sharp!

As is typically the case on most of his albums, all songs were written, arranged and produced by Jackson. Here is the opener Big Black Cloud. “It is a dark song but it’s also defiant, ’cause I’m saying, ‘Well I’m not giving in to this. I’m not gonna be scared,'”, Jackson told Entertainment Weekly.

Fabulously Absolute is the album’s lead single. The tune combines rock elements that are reminiscent of Jackson’s early punk-influenced days with a new wave keyboard sound. I feel Jackson is oftentimes at his best when he mixes different styles.

Perhaps the catchiest song on the record is Friend Better. It could come right from Jackson’s 10th studio album Blaze Of Glory from April 1989. I just dig that groove!

The last tune I want to highlight is the title track Fool. In particular, I like the Latin piano solo and the bass part of longtime Jackson friend and musical collaborator Graham Maby, one of my favorite bassists. “I had this idea a while ago to write a song about the importance of humor, and I didn’t really know how to do it,” Jackson pointed out during a recent interview with People. “And then I settled on this idea of the fool, the Shakespearean fool or the jester, being kind of a superhero.I actually find it’s very important because I’m actually amazed at how humorless most people are in this business. I really am.”

Interestingly, Jackson recorded the album in Boise, Idaho, right after the end of his last tour. “I’m not the only artist to have ever said this by a long way, but when you write a bunch of songs and record an album and then go out on tour, you find after a while that it always gets better,” he explained during the above People interview. “The band’s playing better, you know the songs inside out, and everything gets better. I find I’m singing better. You wish that you could record the album now instead of back when you did.”

“So I always wanted to do a tour and then go straight in the studio, like the day after the last show. And we finally did it…We did a tour that was long enough that we got to play all the new songs a lot, but not so long that we’d be exhausted at the end of it. We toured for a month, and wherever we ended up, we were gonna go in the studio the next day. It turned out to be Boise, Idaho, which I think is great because everyone I tell says, “What? Where?!” I just think that’s great. Everyone records in L.A. and New York and so on.”

I feel that last statement is signature Joe Jackson, who has always wanted to avoid appearing to be trendy. Undoubtedly, his approach has served him very well over the past 40 years.

Joe Jackson & Graham Maby
Joe Jackson & Graham Maby

In addition to Maby, Jackson’s current band includes Teddy Kumpel (guitar) and Doug Yowell (drums). “One of my inspirations for this album was the band I’ve been touring with on and off for the last 3 years,” Jackson notes on this website. I’ve had many different line-ups but this one is special. I met Graham Maby when I was 18, and he’s still one of the best bassists around. Doug Yowell is a vortex of energy on drums and Teddy Kumpel is the guitarist I always wanted to work with but could never find. Like my first album, this was a band effort, recorded and mixed (brilliantly, by Pat Dillett) in about a month.”

Fool appears on earMUSIC, a division of independent German record label Edel. The album’s release coincides with Jackson’s 40th year as a recording artist, which he is currently celebrating with the Four Decade Tour. Says Jackson on his website: “Looking for some way to organize a show out of 40 years’ worth of material, I decided to draw on five albums, each representing a decade: Look Sharp (1979) Night And Day (1982)  Laughter And Lust (1991) Rain (2008) and Fool (2019). We’ll also throw in a couple of songs from other albums and some new covers.”

The tour kicked off in the U.S. on February 5 in Knoxville, Tenn. The first U.S. leg wrapped up on March 9 in Phoenix. Currently, Jackson and his band are touring Europe. In May, they are coming back to the U.S. and Canada before returning to Europe again toward the end of June. The current schedule is here. After four decades, Joe Jackson still looks like he’s the man.

Sources: Wikipedia, Joe Jackson website, Entertainment Weekly, People, YouTube

In Appreciation of the Bass Player

While not always being fully appreciated, the bass player is an essential member of any rock band

Oftentimes, when people think about rock bands, the bass player is not the member that comes to mind first. Especially, for guitar-oriented rock, it’s usually the singer and especially the lead guitarist who get most if not all of the attention – after all, the lead guitarist is the guy who gets to play the cool solos. But while typically being less in the limelight, the bass player actually is an essential part of any rock band!

As a former hobby bass player, I’m of course completely unbiased here. But let’s face it, what would music be without a great groove? And that’s exactly where the bass player comes in, together with the drummer. These two guys form the core rhythm section of any rock band, and they better are on the same page!

Okay, so after having reiterated the importance of the bass player, now on to the fun part: yet another list, specifically of great bass players. There are actually many who come to mind. Undoubtedly, I don’t know all of them – not even close! But with a little help from Bass Player Magazine, the task becomes less daunting. So let’s get to it, in no particular order:

Paul McCartney

Of course, I have to start with somebody who is associated with The Beatles – I just can’t help it! McCartney is not a technical virtuoso, which I recall he has admitted himself in interviews. The thing that’s great about McCartney is not technique, but his beautiful melodic style. As The Beatles became more sophisticated in using recording technology in the studio, McCartney oftentimes recorded the bass part as one of the last tracks of the song. That way, he could hear the other instrumental parts and truly add to the music with a nice bass melody. While Rubber Soul only represents The Beatles’ early transition to more advanced studio work, McCartney’s bass part on Drive My Car is among my favorites.

John Entwistle

In some regards, John Entwistle to me falls on the other end of the spectrum when compared to McCartney. While according to Bass Player Magazine’s list of The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time, Entwistle did not consider himself to be a “proper” bass player, his virtuosity was off the charts – and he played all his crazy parts in such a cool and relaxed manner! I was fortunate enough to witness this myself during a great show of The Who at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2000, less than two years prior to Entwistle’s untimely death at age 57 in a Las Vegas hotel room. Perhaps, the ultimate Entwistle part is his epic solo in My Generation.

Roger Glover

Together with drummer Ian Paice, Roger Glover forms the kick-ass rhythm section of Deep Purple. My favorite Glover part is the terrific bass solo in Pictures of Home, one of the great tunes on Machine Head; if I would have to choose one 70s hard rock album, I think it would be this record. Undoubtedly, there were other important bands, such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but to me it’s still Deep Purple. I’m actually going to see them for the first time ever at the end of August. Three of the legendary Mark IV members, Paice, Glover and singer Ian Gillan, are still part of the mix! Glover’s solo, BTW, starts at 3:40 minutes.

Graham Maby

Graham Maby is best known for his association with Joe Jackson with whom he has worked since Jackson’s 1979 studio debut Look Sharp! One of my favorite Maby moments is his bass part on Geraldine and John, from I’m the Man, Jackson’s best album in my opinion. It’s another great example of melodic bass playing, though Maby also plays hard-pumping, punk rock-oriented bass parts on that album. I just dig the man’s sound!

Tal Wilkenfeld

This 30-year-old lady from down under simply is an amazing overachiever. Tal Wilkenfeld has worked with the likes of Jeff Beck, Prince, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock – oh, and this band called The Allman Brothers. In addition, this Australian dynamo is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who fronts her own band. Is there anything she can’t do? While in 2008 Wilkenfeld was voted The Year’s Most Exciting New Player in a poll of readers of Bass Player and was also recognized by the publication in 2013 with the Young Gun Award, surprisingly, she’s not on their 100 Greatest Bass Player list – definitely an oversight! Just watch this amazing clip of Wilkenfeld with Beck and you know why. BTW, she was 20 years at the time!

Sting

Apart from being a songwriter and talented acoustic guitarist, Sting is also a great bassist. Bass Player credits him for bringing reggae influences into rock when he was still with The Police, citing tunes like Roxanne and Can’t Stand Losing You. One of my favorite Sting bass parts from his time with The Police is in Spirits In the Material World, from the band’s fourth studio album Ghost in the Machine, released in 1981.

Pino Palladino

To me, this exceptional session bassist will always remain synonymous with the fretless bass. And perhaps no other tune captures this better than Paul Young’s cover of the beautiful Marvin Gaye tune Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home) – ah, the 80s are coming back to me! For the record, at the time, I owned a fretless in addition to a regular bass, but whatever I tried, I just could never create that distinct fretless sound – not even close!

Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce is considered to be one of the greatest rock bassists. When he passed away in October 2014 at the age of 71, there were countless tributes from fellow music artists. According to Rolling Stone, former Cream band mate Eric Clapton said, “he was a great musician and composer, and a tremendous inspiration to me.” The same story also recalled Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters saying in his 100 Greatest Artists tribute to Cream that Bruce was “probably the most musically gifted bass player who’s ever been.” While Bruce had a serious career prior to and post Cream, he will probably always best be remembered as the singer and bassist of the rock supergroup power trio, who also co-wrote some of their best known songs like I Feel Free, Sunshine of Your Love and White Room. Here’s a nice clip of Sunshine of Your Love from Cream’s 2005 reunion show at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Geddy Lee

Just like Cream, Canadian rock legends Rush are a power trio. And just like Jack Bruce was, Geddy Lee is Rush’s singer and bassist. In addition to a remarkable vocal range, Lee oftentimes uses his bass as a lead instrument. His signature style is characterized by high treble sound and furiously hard playing of the strings. Bass Player also notes his “multi-tasking chops: His ability to trigger samples, play keys, step on bass pedals, and sing vocal parts in odd time signatures while nailing Rush’s complex yet catchy bass lines…” Here’s a nice illustration of Lee’s playing – a live performance of the instrumental Leave That Thing Alone, which first appeared on Rush’s 1993 studio album Counterparts.

Stephen Oliver Jones

Who? Stephen Oliver Jones (Ojay) currently does not play in any famous band, but maybe he should. Also known as the Jimi Hendrix of the bass, he used to be a professional musician. Now it appears he’s a street musician and a YouTube sensation. During a 2015 interview with the Draper on Film blog, Jones explained he is self-taught and used to play in a rap rock band called Dust Junkys from Manchester, England. The following YouTube clip, which has more than 1.6 million views, showcases Jones’ incredible talent. When I first saw it on Facebook, I was blown away. And since this hasn’t changed, it was an easy decision to include Ojay in this list. He is going full-blown Hendrix at 2:48 minutes – unreal!

Sources: Bass Player Magazine: The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time (Feb 2017); Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Draper on Film, YouTube