Steppin' Out with Legendary Joe Jackson at Northampton's Academy of Music Theatre - ACADEMY OF MUSIC

From STANDING ROOM ONLY, Northern New England’s Music, Arts & Dining Guide

NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS – Joe Jackson is one of those artists that transcends music genres; pub rock, punk, jazz, R & B, ballads and even vibes of world music… and they were all on display on this fall night at Northampton’s Academy of Music Theatre, which has the unique distinction of being the first municipality-owned theatre (established in 1891) in the United States.

Review and photos by Joe Milliken

Jackson would actually mention the very fact, that he “felt much more comfortable here,” after having just performed at the much more modern “Egg” venue in Albany, New York. He was clearly impressed with the vintage atmosphere, after revealing that his dressing room was actually called “The Mae West Dressing Room.” But I digress…

The Academy Theatre was packed as Jackson strolled on stage to an enthusiastic reception, sitting down at the piano as his own opening act to perform elegant versions of the fan favorites “It’s Different For Girls,” “Hometown” (which he called the only song he ever wrote about nostalgia) and “Be My Number Two, ” before a warm and thoughtful rendition of John Lennon’s “Girl” brought a seemingly awe-inspired reaction from the audience.

At age 61, J.J.’s voice remains as stellar and versatile as ever… this listener has always loved the way he fades back from the mic as to embellish that unique timbre… as for his piano playing – elegant, emotional and downright breath-taking are adjectives that come to this long-time fan’s mind.

Jackson then played the title track from his new CD,Fast Foward, which featured a quickened drum loop set behind a song about the ability to travel forward in time in order to put “the now” in perspective. Fast Forwardis also J.J.’s first release of new material since 2008’s Rain

Before introducing said title track, Jackson set the back story of the new release, briefly explaining the original intent was to release a series of four EP’s and all recorded in different cities; Berlin, Amsterdam, New York City and New Orleans. However, he decided in the end to release the songs as a complete, 16-track package.

This all marked the end of Jackson’s “warm up” set, as his long-time band mate and bassist, Graham Maby, strolled on stage as J.J. went into a cool, toned-down version of one of his biggest hits “Is She Really Going Out With Him?.” Receiving a nice ovation, Maby is actually Jackson’s original bass player, going all the way back to Look Sharp in 1979.

Drummer Doug Yowell and guitarist Teddy Kumpel would enter the stage next to join in on “Real Men” from 1982’s Night and Day and the 1984 hit “You Can’t Get What You Want (‘Till You Know What You Want),” which got the already enthusiastic audience really swingin’.

The quartet was immediately pristine on stage, creating tight grooves and intricate flourishes throughout, including the Steely Dan vibe of “Junkie Diva,” the pop-flair of “A Little Smile” and the New York City jazz-feel of “Kings of the City,” all taken from the new release. All before kicking into the old favorite, “Chinatown” and the tongue-in-cheeky “Love At First Light” from 2000’s Volume 4 release.

For his next exercise, Mr. Jackson ever-so-nonchalantly reached into his hat (literally, which was perched next to him and full of cover song titles) and pulled out the David Bowie classic “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps),” just in time for Halloween, of course! On a side note, the title was announced right after one of my concert-going companions had stated: “The only song in that hat that I know of is ‘Scary Monsters’… I hope he picks that one!” J.J. also indicated the song title to his band mates by gesturing little devil horns coming out of his head.

Then came this fan’s favorite moment as the band tore into (my) ultimate Jackson song “Sunday Papers,” featuring Maby’s thunderous slappin’ bass grooves and that unmistakable, aforementioned timbre which J.J. delivered on this night as if it were 1979 all over again! Indeed, one of those unforgettable concert moments for this long time fan.

After “Keep on Dreaming” and the New Orleans-flavored “Ode To Joy” from Fast Forward, the band performed a romantic, ballad-version of arguably Jackson’s biggest hit “Steppin’ Out,” for which J.J. offered up as “a quieter version, before the cheesy, 80’s disco beat was added.” Ah, that dry English humor poking its ugly head once again, to the chuckling delight of the audience.

Then, after a very brief backstage retreat, the band returned to a standing ovation as they kicked into a blistering cover of Television’s “See No Evil,” before Joe unleashed his own inner-punk with 1979’s “One More Time” from the aforementioned Look Sharp album. You see, J.J. still has that inner rage from his early pub days, (by the way, fans should get his book A Cure For Gravity, for there’s some wild stories to be told) tucked away in his soul somewhere… and he certainly let it all out for those two numbers!

After everyone calmed down, each band member, one-by-one, waved goodbye and exited the stage as the maestro (after all, Mr. Jackson is a Royal Academy of Music alumnus) finished the night with “A Slow Song,” another heart-felt, classic ballad from the aforementioned Night and Day album.

And there he was alone again in the aftermath, after he (and his band) truly evoked a multitude of moods, emotions and energy spanning several decades and musical genres, proving without a shadow of a doubt, the brilliance of a performer who has seen it all; from dirty pubs, to stadium concerts and top ten hits and on this night, the seemingly perfect theatre atmosphere.

Editor’s Note: I would be remiss not to mention this reviewer being happily shocked when before the show, I was tapped on the shoulder by my long time college buddy, Mike, who I hadn’t seen in some 20 years and decided to surprise the living day-lights out of me by coming to the show… the proverbial “icing on the cake!”