October 11th, 2015 | Live reviews

Joe Jackson – October 5, 2015 – The Palace

“It’s Different For Girls” opens English singer-songwriter Joe Jackson’s solo piano set in this second of two sold-out nights downtown. There is no opening band tonight—just Jackson, bathed in simple colors and playing piano with a minimum of fanfare. Jackson’ extortionately rare quality is the palpable wistfulness in his voice; like an observer getting too involved in the story he’s telling. His is a confident, borderline strident tone of voice—with some of the most singular vowel pronunciations around—but it’s as if he’s caught himself watching, scolding himself for getting too close. He plays songs tonight spanning the four-decade depth of his career; “Home Town,” from 1986’s Big World album, further serves to whet the appetites of the rabid fans seething in the silences between numbers, waiting for the big songs.

He needs no amplification—such are the strengths of his voice and the Palace’s grand sparkling acoustics—but the mic is there, and it’s a hell of a drug. Jackson’s image—that of a man at odds with angles, hemmed in and discomfited at every turn—remains striking and, 40 years on, shows no sign of smoothing out or giving in. “What would it have been like if Joni Mitchell were a New Orleans piano player instead of a Canadian guitarist?” he asks, launching into a New Orleans version of Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” the first of several covers tonight, including ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and Television’s “See No Evil”—the song that made him want to go to New York City.

Accompanied by a basic drum loop—and a few cheap shots at life in Los Angeles, one of the very few low and corny points of the evening—he glides into “Fast Forward,” the title track of his new album. It’s a record originally meant to be four EPs named for the cities—New York, Amsterdam, Berlin and New Orleans—in which the songs were recorded. “Time is an evil bastard,” he intones, but despite this, his new material is as insightful and incisive as ever. “Fast-forward ‘til I understand the age I’m in,” he laments, and as he launches himself in the time machine of perspective, so too is there a world of space between the notes. It’s slightly reminiscent of Double’s “The Captain of Her Heart.” This is by no means a bad thing.

As soon as bassist Graham Maby joins him onstage, starting in with those loping opening notes of “Is She Really Going Out With Him?,” everyone spazzes out accordingly and screams out “Where?!” at just the right moment in the song they know and love. “Real Men” gathers the band and drummer Doug Yowell displays a deft touch amid the echoey dubby rimshots, while guitarist Teddy Kumpel wields his soaring liquid 80s guitar tone. “You Can’t Get What You Want” precedes a new song, “Poor Thing,” a title Jackson advises should be said “with heavy irony.” It brings to mind that quote by Louis CK about how everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.

Now the back catalogue flies open in all its special effects: “Kings of the City,” “If It Wasn’t For You”; the synth-drenched samba hell of “Chinatown”; “Love at First Light,” “Fairy Dust,” then two from the New Orleans EP: “Keep On Dreaming” and “Ode To Joy.” He closes with the early hits: “One More Time”; an intensely contemplative version of “Stepping Out”; “On Your Radio.” By way of farewell, he says, “Nostalgia is a recreational drug to be used in moderation,” before ending with 1982’s “A Slow Song.” There are lots of soulless managerial types reliving their assorted sordid pasts throughout the Palace tonight—but, as Joe Jackson has always clearly embraced in his music, everyone needs love.

—David Cotner