Concert: Joe Jackson and his Bigger Band in New York, NY
The litany of Joe Jackson hits can sneak up on you -- especially if the earworm firmly implanted in 1979 is still singing his infectious "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" with annoying frequency.
There is the buoyant ditty "Stepping Out," the sadly evocative "Breaking Us In Two," the joyous, horn-driven "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)," or Jackson's biting rant against the tabloids, "Sunday Papers."
Then there are crowd favorites like "Another World," "Be My Number Two" and "A Slow Song," all of which were performed with breathtaking musicianship during the second of a two-night stand at New York City's Town Hall on Friday (9/22).
Jackson's return to the Big Apple was the fifth stop on a tour that will continue from Red Bank, NJ, on Tuesday (9/25) and to Los Angeles on Oct. 6, before jumping the pond for a European jaunt that wraps just before thanksgiving in France. And it was markedly different from his last visit a few years back when Jackson was promoting his album "Rain," with a stripped down ensemble consisting of piano, with only bass and drums as accompaniment.
This year's tour, behind Jackson's Duke Ellington tribute "Duke," featured his "Bigger Band" -- jazz violinist Regina Carter, who also contributed to the album, Jesse Murphy on bass, vocals, and tuba, Adam Rodgers on guitar, Nate Smith on drums, and two former Joe Jackson band members: percussionist Sue Hadjopoulos and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Allison Cornell.
The wildly diverse flavors these incredible musicians brought to the set made each of the 23 numbers quite unique, even in the case of "Steppin' Out," which was the only hit Jackson performed note for note like the original recording.
The show opened with Jackson alone on stage tinkling the keys to Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing" (If It Ain't Got that Swing)," before segueing into "Be My Number Two," during which the rest of the band moved into position.
The samples offered from "Duke" were woven into the two-hour show with great effect, and continuously provided opportunities for each band member to shine. Carter was by far the most well received in her white go-go boots and serving as the lead instrument in almost every song, sometimes trading blistering finger work with New York native Rodgers on guitar.
Sadly, Rodgers' moment in the spotlight was ruined by a technical glitch after Jackson introduced what was to be an piano-free take on "Home Town" featuring Rodgers on a pesky six-string acoustic that refused to turn on. But after a few moments and a few choice profanities from the bandleader, Jackson mustered ,on nailing the plaintive ballad with keyboards and no further incidents.
Rodgers also created a wonderful, tipsy feel during "Mood Indigo," with some slightly off-tone and deeply reverberating surf-guitar licks, switching to a funky wah-wah for a medley of early Ellington compositions "The Moochie / Black & Tan Fantasy."
Cornell proved an invaluable asset jumping from piano to synth to viola to banjo, and contributing haunting vocals to the Duke's "Caravan," and later, "Perdido," which she belted out in Portuguese. Murphy was also impressive, swapping a hulking string bass he manipulated with great effect during "In a Sentimental Mood," to a Fender electric to nail the bubbly bass line that anchors "Steppin' Out."
Hadjopoulos enhanced that same number with a spot-on glockenspiel solo, as well as "Another World," where she slammed the timbales with syncopated abandon. Smith had an opportunity to unleashed his tasty but restrained drumming on "Invisible Man," the only featured number in the set from "Rain."
After the thousands of times playing "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" over the past 33 years, it must have been a real treat for Jackson to rediscover the hit with the exotic instrumentation of tuba, accordion, violin and banjo. The audience certainly didn't seem to mind, erupting into cheers as Murphy began blatting out the familiar bass line on his huge brass instrument, with a pleasantly cheesy counterpoint from Jackson's squeeze box.
Jackson returned to the Ellington catalog for the final pre-encore number, a reprise of "It Don't Mean a Thing," this time with vocals. And as hesent the Town hall audience home with "A Slow Song," his band peeled off one at a time leaving the lanky songwriter alone again at the piano to complete the show before slowly sauntering into the wings with a couple of appreciative bows.