Saturday, May 17, 2008

Joe Jackson Concert Review By: Terry Lowe

May 5, 2008 at the Chan Centre for the Perfoming Arts

Capacity Crowd (1,200) - sold out

Twenty-nine years after his “Look Sharp” debut, Joe Jackson is still actively touring the world, basking in the consistently warm reception of his fans. The stage at the Chan Centre contained an trio of instruments usually found at a jazz show: an electric bass guitar, an elaborate drum kit, and a full-size grand piano.

At 8:40 the musicians took the stage; Graham Maby playing bass, Dave Houghton on drums, and Joe on piano. The tour is to promote his latest album, Rain (also known as Volume V, it being the fifth album the original members have recorded together).

Jackson, dapper in a charcoal grey jacket, matching striped pants, and a white shirt, appeared amused by the polite, Canadian audience. He remarked several times on how ‘clean’ and ‘nice’ the audience and venue was, and joked modestly that he didn’t really ‘deserve’ the Chan Centre.

The Chan Centre is an acoustically wondrous oblong “soft seat” venue, more often used for string quartets, visiting sopranos, or jazz offerings. There is no dance floor, and the audience for Joe Jackson was much older than for the shows we usually attend.

Then too, so is he. Joe Jackson’s music began as witty New Wave pop songs, but then very quickly matured into sophisticated fusions of jazz, Caribbean, and world music, all with an appealing urban flavour. He’s a musician’s musician, and has developed a trademark style, instantly identifiable as a “Joe Jackson song.” This style is rich in percussion, with Joe’s piano playing many roles, and, of course, his distinct voice.

The set list offered up six songs from “Rain,” interspersed with some oldies, some hits, and a few covers. The trio performed well, and Joe played his piano as a rhythm instrument, as a lead instrument, and as a percussion instrument - sometimes simultaneously. There’s only so much a trio can do, though, and there were spells where some more instruments would have been welcomed. The occasionally abrupt and strained mix would have been softened and extended beautifully by a horn or two, and the absence of a guitarist was noticeable in places. Mr. Houghton’s battery was occasionally a bit hyperactive, but this is not uncommon in trios.

Those quibbles aside (and the adoring crowd certainly did not appear to care), the show was a success. He made us wait until the encore before he played “Is She Really Going Out With Him,” but he also delighted us with a cover of Duke Ellington’s “Don't Get Around Much Anymore,” and finished with his own “A Slow Song.”

Joe Jackson is as valuable as he is unclassifiable. A guy who started by making New Wave singles, and who then went on to win a Grammy for a symphony, is still experimenting, still proving his musical diversity, and still writing really good songs.

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