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! ūüôā 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!

‚ÄúSo, 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 ‚Äď 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.‚ÄĚ

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! ūüôā 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

The Venues: Rockpalast/Rockpalast Nacht

The 6-hour German TV live program featured top music artists between 1977 and 1986

Rockpalast is a live music program broadcast on the German television station Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR). It became particularly known for Rockpalast Nacht, a six-hour live late-night show featuring concerts from top international artists.

The inaugural¬†Rockpalast Nacht aired on July 23 and 24, 1977. The line-up included Rory Gallagher, Little Feat and Roger McGuinn’s Thunderbyrd. Fifteen additional shows followed until the 17th and final¬†Rockpalast Nacht¬†on March 15 and 16, 1986. That show featured Big Country, Jackson Browne and the German rock band BAP.

The concert events were conducted at Grugahalle, a well known concert hall in the German town of Essen, and broadcast throughout Europe. The TV show was simulcast on various radio stations, so viewers could mute their TV sets and instead use their home stereos to listen to the sound for better quality.

Rockpalast Nacht mostly featured three or four rock bands. Typically, it mixed relatively unknown artists with top international acts, such as Peter Gabriel, The Police or The Who. The program helped put various music artists on the map in Europe, such as ZZ Top and Bryan Adams. Rockpalast Night gained cult status and is considered a unique program in German and European television history.

Following are clips from throughout the program’s 10-year history.

Roger McGuinn’s Thunderbyrd/Turn! Turn! Turn!, Mr. Tambourine Man & Eight Miles High (1st Rockpalast Nacht, July 23-24, 1977)

Peter Gabriel/Solsbury Hill (3rd Rockpalast Nacht, June 15-16, 1978)

ZZ Top/Dust My Broom (6th Rockpalast Nacht, April 19-20, 1980)

The Police/Message In a Bottle (7th Rockpalast Nacht, October 18-19, 1980)

The Who/Baba O’Riley (8th Rockpalast Nacht, March 28-29, 1981)

The Kinks/Add It Up (10th Rockpalast Nacht, April 3-4, 1982)

Joe Jackson/I’m the Man (12th Rockpalast Nacht, April 16-17, 1983)

Cheap Trick/Surrender (13th Rockpalast Nacht, October 15-16, 1983)

Wolf Maahn & Die Deserteure/Der Clown Hat Den Blues (15th Rockpalast Nacht, March 30-31, 1985)

BAP/Verdamp Lang Her (17th Rockpalast Nacht, March 15-16, 1986)

With the 17th Rockpalast Nacht, the program stopped in 1986. Rockpalast resumed production in 1995 and continues to air to this day, though Rockpalast Nacht remains history.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rockpalast website/Archive, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Joe Jackson/I’m the Man

After recently rediscovering this 1979 gem from Joe Jackson, I decided “I’m the Man” is definitely worth a post.

The first time I listened to I’m the Man was when I got it as a surprise present for my 14th birthday many moons ago. While I liked the music, I didn’t appreciate how brilliant this record is.¬†At the time, I was primarily into mainstream pop and oldies. Today, I consider¬†Joe Jackson’s second studio album to be one of the jewels in my vinyl collection.

When I listened to the album again recently, I was asking myself which genre best describes Jackson’s music. Undoubtedly, there are traces of punk throughout I’m the Man, though the catchy melodies are not what you typically associate with punk. And if you look at Jackson’s later releases, his music is all over the place, including new wave, jazz and R&B – he has even composed some classical music. This guy is one of the most versatile contemporary music artists!

Reportedly, after the release of his debut album Look Sharp!, Jackson told Rolling Stone, “I think people always want to put a label on what you do, so I thought I’d be one step ahead and invent one myself – spiv rock.” I think he was spot on. It really doesn’t matter whether music fits any genre. The only thing that matters is whether it’s great music, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to I’m the Man and pretty much all of Jackson’s other work I’m aware of.

When it comes to I’m the Man, the thing that stands out to me is how tight the band sounds. The first musician I have to mention here is bassist Graham Maby. Combining an edgy punk-like sound with great melodic runs, he is driving much of the music’s groove. As a former bassist, I think I fully appreciate Maby’s brilliant playing – and, yes, I’m probably also a bit biased! David Haughton (drums) and Gary Sanford (guitar) round out the band’s sound, together with Jackson’s piano, harmonica and melodica.

The album is full of energy, with the majority of songs being mid and uptempo tunes. Things kick off furiously with On Your Radio, both in terms of its fast and pumping beat, and Jackson’s lyrics telling ex-friends, ex-lovers and enemies that unlike him who’s on the radio they’re nowhere – no wonder some people called him “an angry young man!” The second song, Geraldine and John, is one of two slower numbers. It’s also one of the best examples on the album of Maby’s great melodic bass lines. The second slow tune is Amateur Hour, which also has a great bass track. Okay, I guess it’s abundantly clear I’m a big fan of Maby’s bass playing!

From a lyrics perspective, It’s Different for Girls is the album’s most outstanding song. In a twist, Jackson reverses the cliche that all men want is sex, while women are longing for love. In this case, it’s the woman who tells the man, “who said anything about love…don’t you know that it’s different for girls.” In an interview with Songfacts in 2012, Jackson explained, “It was something that I had heard somewhere that stuck me as a cliche…And maybe the idea was to turn it on its head and have a conversation between a man and a woman and what you’d expect to be the typical roles are reversed.”

It’s Different for Girls¬†was the second single from the album. It became Jackson’s highest charting single in the U.K. where it climbed to no. 5 on the singles chart. U.S. audiences apparently were less receptive. The song just missed cracking the top 100 on the Billboard charts, peaking at no. 101. The album’s other single was the title track, I’m the Man. It’s similar in musical style and “angry young man” lyrics to On Your Radio. Unlike It’s Different for Girls, it did not chart in the U.K. and the U.S.

Released in October 1979, I’m the Man¬†peaked at no. 12 on the U.K. Albums Chart and no. 22 on the U.S. Billboard 200 –¬†a remarkable success for a sophomore album. It was produced by David Kershenbaum, who has also worked with many other well known music artists, such as Duran Duran, Tracy Chapman, Bryan Adams, Supertramp and Cat Stevens. Kershenbaum¬†had signed Jackson to A&M Records¬†in 1978 and also produced three of his other albums: Look Sharp! (1979), Body and Soul (1984) and Night and Day (1982), Jackson’s most successful album.

Here’s a great clip of a stripped down version of It’s Different for Girls, featuring Jackson on piano only. Apparently, it was¬†recorded during his¬†2016 Fast Forward Tour.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Songfacts, YouTube