I grew up on piano pop, and it has a dear place in my heart. I've also missed Joe Jackson live on his previous tours, so I jumped at the chance to catch him at Metropolis. It's the first time I've seen them set up cabaret-style seating at the venue, reminiscent of its older sister venue, Spectrum. I snagged the very front table to check out the trio of Jackson on piano and vocals and his two longtime compatriots, Graham Maby on bass and Dave Houghton on drums.
Let's get the geeky nitpicking out of the way. Houghton played a set of Roland V-Drums complemented with a real snare. He's the first live touring drummer I've seen using an (almost) exclusively electronic kit. There was a certain audio-visual disconnect because the sound was coming from two different places at once. I sometimes felt the V-Drum samples didn't allow him to really drive the band as necessary - there was a certain gloss and lack of punch in the louder sections. The songs that used auxiliary percussion and tighter, more processed drum sounds benefited from the presence of electronics, and toward the end I noticed it less. It was still just somehow strange. Jackson's piano, assuredly a real honest-to-goodness piano with some newfangled pickup/mic system, sounded not much better than a digital piano, with some bizarre digital aliasing sounds in the higher register. It wasn't as noticeable with the band in full throttle but on "Solo (So Low)" and in quieter parts of trio tunes it was really exposed.
Elements of artifice aside, the band is tight. The three-part vocal harmonies were lush, and the trio has a solid pocket. Jackson played majority of new album, Rain, in addition to tunes drawn from across his back catalogue, including the rarer albums Body and Soul and Laughter and Lust. The setlist (below) was rounded out with an entirely un-ironic ABBA cover. He seems to have finally unified his penchant for driving rock with the later tinges of jazz, Latin music and classical song cycles that characterize his later work. The new tunes feature the driving New Wave-y piano pop Jackson's identified with, as well as some sharp harmonic turns in his interludes and bridges that bear resemblance to his late 90s endeavours of Heaven and Hell and Symphony No. 1. I thought I heard sly quotes of Nat Adderley's "Work Song" in "Too Tough" and Eddie Harris' "Cold Duck Time" in "Uptown Train." Lyrically, he's tempered his sardonic wit ("Solo/So Low," "Too Tough") with a sense of innocence and sentimentality ("Rush Across the Road," "A Place in the Rain"). And of course, it's great to hear those older tunes live. He mentioned, by way of trying to politely discourage requests, that they've amassed a huge library of tunes to play, and it's impossible to even play half of them on any given night. So we got "On Your Radio," "Not Here, Not Now," and "Stranger than Fiction." I heard multiple requests for "Nineteen Forever" (which he hasn't been playing on this tour); for my part I was hoping for "Obvious Song" and "Hometown" (which he has been performing lately).
It's been years since Jackson has appeared in Montreal, and he spoke to the crowd in a mixture of English and "BBC French." He had no idea what to expect, in his modesty joking that there could have been an empty room, and that he no longer takes audiences for granted. I guess he's unaware of Montreal's love of all things prog, so when he announced that they had a Frank Zappa cover in the book the crowd went nuts. After the final chord of "A Slow Song," Jackson appeared truly gracious and surprised at the amount of support he had here.
The opening act, Philly singer-songwriter Mutlu, served up a set of innocuous acoustic pop. I liked it in a guilty pleasure sort of way, but he's no different from the other people I know who do the exact same thing. Expect his full-length record, out this summer, to be in many college dorm rooms next school year.
- Setlist: synth drone -> Steppin' Out; Invisible Man; Too Tough; Not Here, Not Now; Rush Across the Road; Goin' Downtown; Stranger Than Fiction; On Your Radio; Solo (So Low); The Uptown Train; Knowing Me, Knowing You (ABBA cover); It's Different For Girls; Take It Like a Man; You Can't Get What You Want; One More Time; A Place In the Rain. Encore: Dirty Love (Zappa cover); Is She Really Going Out With Him?; A Slow Song