Monday night, Joe Jackson drew a full house to the Carolina Theatre, and the crowd clearly wanted to hear the familiar oldies from his days as a new-wave hitmaker. Jackson obliged, but it was one of the new songs that kind of summed him up perfectly - the title track to his most recent album, on which he said he wanted to, “Fast forward till I understand the age I’m in.”
Even back in his angry-young-man days in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Jackson wore his youth awkwardly, displaying far more affinity for the likes of Beethoven and Cab Calloway than whatever else was topping the charts. Not surprisingly, Monday’s pre-show music consisted of vintage jump-blues.
But at a spry 62 years of age, Jackson seems more at ease with himself and the rest of the world; even obnoxious hecklers in the crowd didn’t seem to bother him. It seems as though he fits his voice better now than he did three decades ago.
Jackson admitted he wasn’t sure when he last played in the Triangle, “or ever.” Regardless of how long it’s been, he made up for lost time with a show that clocked in at just under two hours.
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It opened along the same lines as the 1984 Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense,” the band coming onstage one member at a time. Jackson himself started solo at his keyboard (quipping that he himself was “the opening act”), and he got right to the hit parade with 1979’s “It’s Different for Girls.”
Jackson’s longtime bassist and co-pilot Graham Maby was next to enter, joined shortly thereafter by drummer Doug Yowell and guitarist Teddy Kumpel. Jackson being Jackson, the live arrangements and song-to-song transitions were first-rate. Kumpel’s blues-rock tones also made for some intriguing reinterpretations of the old songs, the twang-bar riffs on “Another World” being one example.
Of course the set included “Is She Really Going Out With Him?,” a song that will follow Jackson to his grave. But he still put that one across with flair 38 years after it became his first top-40 hit in the U.S. Also of similar vintage, “Sunday Papers” and “On Your Radio” were in the pocket.
“Night and Day,” Jackson’s 1982 magnum opus and commercial high-water mark, accounted for four songs, including a radical rearrangement of “Steppin’ Out.” And there might have been a song or two more from “Fast Forward” than anyone wanted to hear, although most of the new material was solid - especially the almost funky adaptation of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
But the show’s major high points were actually a couple of covers. During the early solo portion, Jackson dusted off John Lennon’s “Rubber Soul”-era lament “Girl” and gave it a very nice cabaret treatment. And the closing stretch featured the late David Bowie’s 1980 classic “Scary Monsters,” made all the spookier when Jackson murmured the chorus.
The show ended as it began, with the band retreating one by one until Jackson was alone again at his keyboard, pleading for “A Slow Song.” It was even more convincing than it had been in 1982.