Joe Jackson has been stretching the boundaries of pop music for over 35 years now. His last album, 2012’s The Duke, was an album of Duke Ellington covers, and in the past he’s ventured into classical, jazz, and experimental music. But it has always been his pop albums that have drawn the most acclaim, and his latest effort, Fast Forward, is a return to form with the sound that made him popular in the 1980s and beyond. On Saturday evening, he came to the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA (a suburb of Philadelphia) for a two hour long show featuring tracks from the new album as well as many classics from his back catalog and even a few covers.
Jackson opened the set as a solo performer, starting with a solo piano version of his 1979 hit “It’s Different For Girls,” followed by “Home Town” from his 1986 live album Big World and “Be My Number Two” from 1984’s Body and Soul. His first cover of the night, Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” was dedicated to Mitchell herself, and despite being arguably the most over-covered song in Mitchell’s extensive catalog, Jackson’s solo read on it was different enough to manage to feel fresh. Jackson closed out his solo set with the title track of the new album, “Fast Forward,” and over the course of the next several songs was joined by the rest of his band, bassist Graham Maby (who has been with Jackson since his first album), guitarist Teddy Kumpel, and drummer Doug Yowell.
Through the rest of the night, Jackson and his band intermixed classics from his catalog – “Is She Really Going Out With Him?,” “You Can’t Get What You Want (Until You Know What You Want),” “Another World” – with additional tracks from the new album, including show highlights “Keep On Dreaming” and “Ode to Joy.” A cover of Television’s “See No Evil” kept the raw energy of the original, making it the most outright rocking song of the night, with Kumpel’s frantic guitar solo and Yowell’s fevered drumming taking the foreground. The only possible misstep of the night was the closing song of the main set, a “ballad” version of Jackson’s biggest hit, 1982’s “Steppin’ Out” that lacked the energy of the original.
Returning for an encore, Jackson made the interesting choice of covering the vocal version of Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme,” as first recorded by Sarah Vaughan in 1964. Reaching way back in the catalog, he and the band next went all the way back to the first song from his first album (1979’s Look Sharp!), “One More Time.” The final song, “A Slow Song” (from 1982’s Night and Day) saw the band leave the stage one by one until the show came back full circle to where it had started, with Jackson alone on the piano. Overall, Jackson’s performance proved that, three and a half decades into a career marked by many twists and turns and ups and downs, he’s still got it.