The Roots Report: Joe Jackson at The Strand

Okee dokee folks… “It’s Different For Girls” got things going for Joe Jackson on Monday night at The Strand in Providence. Jackson sat down at his digital keyboard and performed a touching, solo rendition of the song from his 1979 album I’m The Man. The refrain, “You’re all the same…” faded the song to the end. He jumped right into the song that introduced most of us to his music, “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” Bassist Graham Maby joined in on this one. When Jackson sang the line, “look over there” the audience shouted back, “WHERE?” and then they joined in singing on the chorus. The remaining members of the band, Teddy Kumpel on guitar and drummer Doug Yowell, took the stage. The background lighting turned a deep purple on the black drapery and Jackson sang the socially poignant “Real Men” from his Night and Day recording. Not missing a beat he launched right into his 1984 hit, “You Can’t Get What You Want (‘Til You Know What You Want).” Though the studio version was horn-heavy, it carried well with the four-piece treatment. After the next song, “A Little Smile,” Jackson commented, “It’s been quite a long time since we’ve been to Rhode Island. We are trying to get to some places that we haven’t been to in a while, or ever. Thanks for being here. We’re going to be trying out some new songs now. Every one starts as a new song at one time. You can take this time to go to the bathroom if you’d like.” He added, “This one is about fear and paranoia … like what is going on in this country right now,” and followed with the new number, “Big Black Cloud.” He sang, “Save us from the big black cloud, shout it out not too loud, shout it out,” as the intensity of the song increased and then faded. The response was polite at first, but grew to sincere appreciation. I liked the song, but I feel like a studio version or more instrumental and vocal accompaniment would add to the bare four-piece version. At this point, Joe’s iPad seemed to have technical difficulties and needed a little tlc to continue. From what I could garner, his set list and lyrics/music were contained on the device. After the resolution of the stage crisis, he talked about his next new song, “The Fool” and compared it to the Shakespearean fool and superheroes. It seemed to be a musical patchwork of styles — a little sitar, some Latin and a touch of punk. Two songs from the heart followed, “Be My Number Two” and “Breaking Us In Two.” The latter was performed as a trio — sans guitar — and featured a piano solo by Jackson. At this point he mentioned that because of the tech difficulties with the iPad he was going to switch up the set and “wander around a bit.” Jackson spoke about the next new song he would play about “People who are convinced something is either right or wrong or good or bad and how fucking annoying they are.” That song, “Fabulously Absolute,” had an early ’80s new wave sound with a dash of a “Dear Prudence” feel. “This one is from 1982,” was the brief intro to “Another World,” which featured a bass solo by Maby and Jackson soloing on piano that brought many in the audience to their feet. “Sunday Papers” transported us back to Look Sharp’s critical cut about the press. Jackson played a melodica solo on this one that appeared to get him a bit winded. “Ode to Joy” from his 2015 Fast Forward CD featured a drum duel with drummer Doug Yowell and Jackson with an arsenal of Key-synth generated percussion sounds. They faked the crowd out with the ending and appeared to be frozen in time with their instruments for about 30 seconds. The cheering of the crowd brought them back to life for a formal finale to the song. A slow and soulful “Steppin’ Out” followed to close to show. This lackluster version didn’t meet up with the driving feel of the original and missed the all-important signature bass line. Jackson stepped out into the wings while the audience stood and applauded for a couple of minutes. When he returned he announced that they would play a cover song and mentioned that he liked TV crime show themes and he’d discovered a version of the the instrumental piece with Sarah Vaughan singing added lyrics. He added, “I don’t sing like Sarah Vaughan” and performed Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn.” He continued with up beat, new-wavish, “One More Time” from Look Sharp. He thanked the crowd for coming out and went further saying, “We couldn’t do this without you … our scrappy experimental show. And I can’t believe that I am still getting away with this!” As he played “Slow Song” it took on a sort of the Von Trapps at the Austrian Folk Festival feel as each member finished up their part, left the instrument, waved and exited the stage until it was just Jackson remaining. So it ended as it began with Joe solo. He kept playing an interlude on the ivories and then raised his hands as a magician would to show the mystery of the looped music that kept on going. He took center stage as the enchanted piano kept playing and he thanked the crowd.

The show was extremely enjoyable and whether you were a light duty or hardcore Jackson fan you were probably satisfied. If you were waiting for “I’m The Man,” like I was, you were unfortunately disappointed. At 63 years old he still looks the same as he always has except for the transition to grey. His voice can still adequately carry the songs of his youth, though with an occasional crackle, but that is his style. He remained seated at the keyboard at stage right for the entirety of the show. This took the focus off of Jackson and spread it across to the whole band. I personally think that it would have energized the show a bit more if he had taken center stage for a couple of songs, but I guess that is now part of his past. Fortunately the volume of the show was not excessive, but that left it, at times, competing with the din of chatty people.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

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