Monday, February 26, 2018

Rachael Sage and Howard Jones

I've seen Howard Jones three times in the last year (and five times altogether). You'd think I'm a superfan, but I'm not. It just worked out that way.

I first saw Howard Jones back in the '80s at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, sandwiched between Martha and the Muffins and Eurythmics, and it was one of the best shows I ever saw. I was totally unfamiliar with Jones, then -- I was there for Eurythmics, and I was a little familiar with Martha and the Muffins thanks to their hit song "Echo Beach" (although I didn't realize who they were until the show started, because by then, they were billing themselves as M+M). Jones played solo, with no one but a mime for accompaniment, and it was pretty great. As it happened, I taped the show that night on an old  cassette recorder, so while the sound quality was lousy, I got to relive that show again and again for many years until the tape wore out.

I saw Jones again at Jones Beach a few years later. I'm not even sure who he was opening for. Could have been Culture Club. He was OK, but I really don't remember much about his set that night. It was pretty forgettable.

Then, last summer, Denise and I caught him headlining the Retro Futura Tour (which included five other '80s acts) at The Borgata in Atlantic City. We had a lot of fun that night, and Jones was awesome, so Denise really wanted to get tickets to see him a few months later at The Paramount.

The Paramount show was a bad experience, not because of anything Jones did, but because of a run in with a loud, obnoxious drunk. So this Christmas, when I wanted to get Denise some concert tickets, and I saw that Jones was doing a quiet one-man show at The Boulton Center, I figured it was time for a do over.

We hooked up once again for this show with our friend Rich the drummer. We met him in Bay Shore about an hour and a half before the show. The plan was to eat at the excellent Chinese food restaurant on the corner near the theater, but unbeknownst to me, it was Chinese New Year. This meant that 1. There was a full house inside with at least a 25-minute wait, and 2. They were putting on an exhibition that included some employees dressed in a colorful dragon suit (which was fine), and some other employees beating loudly on a drum (which wasn't). So we called an audible, and instead went to a Thai food place just on the other side of the theater, which also turned out to be pretty good.

We finished up and got to the Boulton Center minutes before the first set. One quick note: The Boulton Center has "purdied" up the box office area and their front lobby since I was there last, and it's looking great. They've even installed a new refreshments counter.

The opening act was Rachael Sage, an indie musician from Manhattan, who I had heard of before, but I'd never heard her music. She played as a duo with an excellent violinist named Kelly Halloran. Sage reminded me of a more cheerful Tori Amos. She played a too-short 30-minute set that mostly found her playing keyboards, although she also played a little guitar and even did one song a cappella. She also snapped her fingers a lot, and sometimes stomped her feet too, for percussion. She did a few songs from a forthcoming album called Myopia, which is due out in May. She closed her set with a song I really liked off of her 2016 Choreographic album, called "I Don't Believe It" (which was apparently one of a number of her songs used on the TV show Dance Moms). We were all entertained by her set, enough so that I'll likely review her new album when it comes out.

After a quick break, Howard Jones took the stage. By this time, the house (which appears to have been sold out) was full.

This was a very different kind of show than I had seen Jones do before. The title of the tour is "Solo - the Songs and Stories", and it was an apt description. He confined himself musically to the piano all night (which I'd never seen him do before), and he had stories for each song. Over the course of the evening, I learned that Keith Emerson was his keyboard idol, that "Hide and Seek" is his favorite among his own songs (good choice!), and that over the years, he's  rubbed elbows with people such as Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Bob Geldorf, Midge Ure and even Princess Diana (among others).

He played all of his best songs, and threw in a few rarer treats as well, including a cover of George Michael's "Careless Whisper", a song he wrote for the film Eddie the Eagle that didn't make the soundtrack album called "Hero in Your Eyes", and a song from his People album (which he said is his daughter's favorite of his albums) called "Back in Your Life Again".

It was great to hear him in such an intimate setting. I got to enjoy him a lot more this time (the only minor irritation being we were seated behind a bunch I like to think of as "The Phone Family", a mother and father with their adult daughter and her husband, who spent a good part of the night recording Howard on their cell phones, heedless of the glare it created for the people behind them). And the stories were great. Even the female usher on the side we came in was loving it -- I saw her at various times throughout the evening dancing and singing along.

If you ever get the chance to see Howard Jones again in a situation like this, I highly recommend it.

I did see Rich Branciforte of Good Times at the show, standing against the far wall, but by the time I got downstairs he was gone, so I didn't get to say hello. (Rich has perfected the art of booking after a show from his many years having to dodge angry bands who lost their evenings in the Long Island Music Festival, so I kind of figured I didn't have much hope of catching up with him).

Anyway, the setlist for Howard Jones, as best I remember it, can be found at .