(Michigan Theatre, Ann Arbor, MI - September 27th, 2012)
“Good things come to those who wait…” I don’t know exactly who it was that coined that phrase, but if they were into music, they were probably at the Joe Jackson concert Thursday night in Ann Arbor. A throng of concertgoers were stuck out in the autumn night for about a half hour later than they should have been, thanks to some pesky sound check issues. But when at last the doors were open, everyone was seated, and the lights were turned down, Joe Jackson took to the stage.
“Good evening,” were his only words as he sat down at the keyboard to a chorus of “Welcome back, Joe!” And then, sans any other musicians, Mr. Jackson gave us a few lines of 'It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing.') He continued on as a “solo” act through 'Be My Number Two.' And as I listened, I couldn’t help but think that I’d be perfectly content if the night consisted of what I was hearing at that very moment: Just Joe and a piano.
But that notion was (obviously) proved untrue as half of the band joined Jackson onstage. When the number ended, Jackson shared with us all an anecdote about a past gig he’d played in Detroit--in an English accent! I hadn’t previously been aware that he hailed from England, and the Greatest Hits CD I’d listened to on the way over to the venue gave no indication, either, so that was a really nice surprise. At that point, the band launched into a very quiet, relaxing arrangement of Duke Ellington’s 'In a Sentimental Mood.'
This aspect was half of the appeal of the concert for me; Jackson was incorporating into the set songs off of his 2012 release, The Duke, a collection of revamped Ellington tunes. At the end of the number, the rest of the aptly-named The Bigger Band appeared onstage, and now the lineup was complete: Regina Carter on violin, Jesse Murphy on bass, guitarist Adam Rogers, percussionist Sue Hadjopoulos, Allison Cornell on keys (and a few other things,) and finally, Nate Smith on drums.
From there, it went into another song from The Duke, a number called 'Caravan.' This one was much more up-tempo, with a little bit of a Mediterranean flavor, with maybe a dash of Latin thrown in. It was here more than any other place where Hadjopoulos really showcased her talents, beating the bongo and conga drums into submission! And it was also this song in which I discovered the single aspect about Joe Jackson’s stage presence that I loved the most. He was 150 percent in tune with his band; he saw to it that they performed as one well-oiled machine, not just seven people sharing the same stage.
And when Jackson himself wasn’t singing, he was just groovin’--rocking in time with the music as his fellow performers helped carry the whole thing along. I was very much taken by his ability to completely rock out! Jackson’s own 'You Can’t Get What You Want (Until You Know What You Want)' came next, and it occurred to me that Jackson sounded like a slightly older version of the guy I’d heard singing the same song on a CD only an hour or so before; and that is a welcome conclusion to draw: That a performer is as good live as they are on record.
The songs tended to bleed into one another, it seemed, making it hard to distinguish one’s beginning from another’s end. Whether this was done to make up for lost time, however, was anybody’s guess. 'It’s Different For Girls' brought with it intermittent claps and head nods from the audience. The night waned with songs that included Ellington medley 'Beginning to See the Light/Take the A Train/Cotton Tail,' 'Rockin’ in Rhythm' (which featured a tuba, in parts,) and something of a live rarity, by Jackson’s own admission: 'We Can’t Live Together.'
'Real Men' didn’t seem to quite fit in with the rest of the songs thus far, perhaps because it actually had a statement to make, pertaining to the way society expects men to behave. It was just a little too “preachy” for my taste. More Ellington happened then, with Allison Cornwell singing lead on 'Perdido/Satin Doll'--in Portuguese, no less! And when that was done, the crowd burst into applause, causing Jackson to comment: “Anyone who performs onstage is a whore for applause.” Needless to say, we went bonkers.
Having Carter and Cornell both play fiddle on the slightly haunting 'Satin Doll/Black and Tan Fantasy' had me hoping for dueling violins, but hopes were dashed. One slightly low note was that sometimes, the stellar music the band played would overpower the vocals. During one instrumental jam session, Jackson whipped out a cowbell, bringing to mind a certain Saturday Night Live sketch. It left me wanting, of course, more cowbell.
'Steppin’ Out' and a full-on reprise of 'It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)' drew impressive back-to-back standing ovations. The stage went dark, then, and it all seemed to be over. Jackson and company came back out, though, and played what was perhaps the signature hit: 'Is She Really Going Out With Him?' This particular song included audience participation to the extreme during the “Look over there!/WHERE?!/There!” portion, and was probably the highlight of the show in my book.
'Sunday Papers' had the entire house on its collective feet. Jackson reintroduced the band, and informed us all that Regina Carter was a Michigan native! The very final number was the oddly-placed 'A Slow Song,' during which the band went offstage one by one.
And so we ended the night the same way we began it: With Joe Jackson, and his piano. So was this night worth the late start, and even later night? Absolutely. Would I do it again? You bet. The only disappointment was the absence of my personal favorite Joe Jackson song, 'Look Sharp!' But that’s okay…maybe next tour.
I just hope I’ll be able to wait until then!
Review by: Ashley J. Trombley