Sunday, February 17, 2019

Joe Jackson

OK, let's see if I can write this one without as much rambling on as usual. (Probably not.)

Denise bought me tickets for us to see Joe Jackson as a Christmas present. I've always been more of a fan than she is, especially of his I'm the Man and Night & Day albums. He wandered off somewhere after that, into jazz, classical and even swing, and I just let him wander. But those two albums, as well as other assorted hits like "Is She Really Going Out With Him" and "What You Want" have always been staples of my music collection.

The tickets also came with a free download of Jackson's new LP, Fool. I downloaded it a couple of weeks ago to get ready for the show, and (much to my surprise), it's actually quite good -- very much in line with what he was doing back in those early days. (I'll probably review it here eventually.)

As I wrote a few days ago, I've been a little under the weather lately. And after coming home from Spring Awakening on Friday night, I felt like I was close to having another attack of vertigo. (I must have an inner ear infection or something.) So I started taking more meclizine, to try to keep from having an attack on Saturday. Thankfully, it worked. I wasn't 100%, but I was in good enough shape to go out Saturday night, especially after a short nap in the afternoon.

So at about 4:30PM, Denise and I started heading into the city towards Town Hall. I was relatively relaxed, even though I've written a million times how I feel about going into Manhattan these days. Part of this is because we left early, because there was a meetup of Denise's WLIR group at a restaurant near the venue. I like the folks in this group. In fact, if I had my own Facebook page (instead of borrowing Denise's whenever I need to use Facebook), I'm sure I'd join it. But mean as it is to say, I also like when there's a meetup, because I know that if we get stuck in traffic, we might miss part of the get-together, but we'll be there in plenty of time for the show. (I'm still bummed that we missed Reed & Caroline at the Erasure show last summer.) I get pre-show anxiety if I think we're going to be late.

The traffic wasn't too bad going into the city. But of course, it being a Saturday night, a lot of people were heading in to attend all kinds of events, and Town Hall is in the heart of the Broadway area. And while the Manhattan traffic wasn't as awful as it might have been, getting around to where you have to go is a bit of a math problem -- our parking garage was on 43rd between 6th and 7th. I'm in NYC so seldom these days, and most of the streets are one way, so we had to stop to think which direction does 43rd St. go, and did we have to go past it and come back while going uptown in order to get there. Denise was driving (I don't think I'll ever drive in Manhattan again. If I need to go into the city without her, I'll take the Railroad), but I probably know Manhattan better than she does. But we did the calculations, and eventually found the garage. We arrived a little before 7, about 45 minutes late for the start of the meetup, but more than an hour early for the show.

The garage was literally next door to the venue, and the restaurant was right around the corner. It was accurately named The Long Room. We found Tim and Mandy and a handful of others from the WLIR group, who were busy finishing up their food orders. The place was nice -- not overly crowded -- and it smelled good. Unfortunately, one of the delights of aging is that I have a variety of stomach ailments these days, and these Manhattan music venues tend to have awful restroom facilities, so I'm usually better off if I don't eat until after a show. So we just had sodas until it was time to head over to Town Hall.

I've never seen a show in this club, but it was a pretty typical Manhattan venue-- sort of like a smaller, less-comfortable Beacon Theater. Before heading to our seats, the WLIR group walked up front and took a photo of ourselves standing in front of the stage holding Tim's WLIR banner. Then we went upstairs.

As predicted, the restroom facilites were pretty limited -- four small unisex one-person rooms -- so the lines were long. But eventually we did what we needed to do, and got to our seats.

(OK, so at this point, I realize I've totally missed my goal of writing a review without rambling on.)

This was one of those shows that Denise bought an extra ticket for, which was good, because the seats were kind of small and cramped. We then waited for about 25 minutes, while the venue played some of the most god-awful shuck-and-jive music I've ever heard, at a painfully loud volume. If I'd have had Joe's cell phone number, I'd have texted him backstage and told him to get his ass out there and start playing in order to MAKE IT STOP! The venue also felt really warm to me, so the combination of the loud swing music and the heat was making me feel kind of woozy.

Finally, at about 8:20, Joe Jackson took the stage, accompanied by a really tight three-piece band, which consisted of Teddy Kumpel on guitar, Graham Maby on bass, and Doug Yowell on drums. He started out with a snippet from "Alchemy", a slow, smoky lounge song that closes the new Fool album. Then, Kumpel suddenly broke in with a raucous guitar riff, and we were off to the races, as the band launched into "One More Time".

I thought the sound in the venue was a little muddy, which was kind of disappointing. But it could have been because we were directly in front of one of the speakers. And Denise said she didn't notice it, so it also could have been me. Also, it got better as the night went on.

Between songs, Joe soon let us know that the theme of the night was Four Decades, and that he'd be focusing on one of his albums to represent each decade. (Joe doesn't count so well, because although he's been playing for four decades, he was really playing off of albums from five different decades -- '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s and '10s. Didn't think we'd notice that, did you Joe?)

He then played a couple of familiar songs, "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" from Look Sharp! (his debut album from 1979), and "Another World" from Night & Day (which was representing the '80s). At this point, I was feeling really dehydrated, so when he started "Fabulously Absolute" (which is my least favorite song from the new album), I took the opportunity to run to the (now-empty) bar to get Denise and I some waters. (One of the advantages of always buying aisle seats, besides the extra leg room, is that you can get in and out without inconveniencing people too much. Unlike that lady sitting on the other side of Denise, who came late, and then kept making us get up so she could go past us and get another drink every twenty minutes or so!). I was back before the song was even finished. This was good, because his next number was "Dave", my favorite song from the new album.

Joe's voice has mostly held up pretty well. However, you could hear him strain on some of the older numbers. And unfortunately, the one he had the most trouble with was one of his best numbers, "Breaking Us in Two". But the crowd kind of sang along (at least I did), so it smoothed out some of flat notes. Joe's two years older than I am, so I know how it goes. And all things considered, he still mostly sounds pretty great.

As the show wore on, Joe waded into a bunch of material I wasn't so familiar with, from Laughter & Lust, his 1990s-representative album, and Rain, which represented the early 2000s. At this point, I was feeling a little lightheaded, and kind of left the building for a while, just sort of floating on a music haze. I knew he had changed his setlist slightly from the show he did the night before at the same venue, and although these songs weren't bad, I thought that maybe we were getting the worst of the change. But when I checked later, I actually think we saw the better of the two shows, at least judging by the song choices.

In any event, he pulled me back in for a little with "Cancer", a song I've always liked a lot for its humorous lyrics, and for his excellent Latin-beat-style piano. (He talked for a little about how artists like Eddie Palmieri and Ruben Blades had influenced him in the writing of this song, and I promised myself to explore their music more when I get the chance.) Then I kind of drifted away again until he brought me back with a pair of songs from the new album, "Strange Land" (which actually is about the confused, hazy feelings some older people -- but not me -- get), and "Fool", the title track of, and another of my favorite songs from, the new album.

Soon, we were moving towards the end of the set, with familiar numbers like "Sunday Papers" (which was OK), and "You Can't Get What You Want", (which was even better). He closed out with a rocking version of "I'm the Man", which got everybody moving.

The band left the stage for a few minutes, before coming back out for the mandatory encore. This began with one of the highlights of the night, as Joe explained that he usually tried to do something a little new every night with his songs, but this time, he and the band were going to try to recreate, note-for-note, the recorded version of one of his most popular songs, "Steppin' Out". This involved Yowell playing along with a 1979 drum machine, Kumpel moving from guitar to second keyboard, Maby moving from bass to xylophone, and Jackson playing the bass line on his keyboard. They nailed it perfectly! They then played "Got the Time" from Look Sharp!, before ending the night with the full version of "Alchemy".

Overall, it was a very good show. I couldn't really complain about the setlist, although I was getting a little nervous about it before he played "What You Want" and "I'm the Man". I could have lived without the covers of The Beatles' "Rain" and Steely Dan's "King of the World" (not my favorite songs by either of those artists). And I was a little surprised that he didn't play "Look Sharp!" (but that's never been one of my favorite Joe Jackson songs) or "On Your Radio" (which I like better, but leaving it out wasn't a deal-breaker). If I could have paid him to do one more song, it would have been "Friday", which I haven't been able to get out of my head lately. But I knew that he hadn't been playing that song for the whole tour, so I wasn't surprised he skipped it. Comparing it to his Friday night show, he left out "Real Men" on Saturday, but substituted "Cancer", which I probably like even better. And Saturday's show included "Dave", my favorite song from the new album, instead of "Big Black Cloud", which I like, but not as much. So I feel like we got the better of the deal between the two shows. And Denise said she enjoyed the concert more than she expected to, which was also good.

Afterwards, we said our goodnights to Tim and Mandy (we didn't see the rest of the group). Then we schlepped back out to Suffolk County, tired but happy.

The setlist for the show can be found at