In an era when most performers simply replicate their records on stage, Joe Jackson took bold chances with his material at the soldout Warner Theatre last night and gave his old songs brand new personalities.
His boldest move was to play two full sets of rock 'n' roll without a single guitar note. Instead he relied on an electric bass and lots of percussion to carry his mix of swing, New Wave and Latin rhythms, while electric keyboards, vibes and vocal arrangements carried his delightful pop melodies. His new, understated approach proved far more subtle and harmonic than his early, brash New-Wave records; his performance was more assured and accomplished than his recent, overreaching swing records.
"Look Sharp," his first album's title cut, was given new motion by a salsa beat from percussionist Sue Hadjopolous and drummer Larry Tolfree. "Stepping Out," the current single, and "Breaking Us in Two," the forthcoming single, both benefited from a thicker, more unified rhythm attack and inventive keyboard fills by Joy Askew and Ed Roynesdal. His first hit, "Is She Really Going Out With Him?," was transmuted into a stunning a cappella doo-wop number with Jackson adding falsetto whoops and his longtime partner Graham Mady adding bass harmony. Though his lyrics sometimes resorted to overkill, his melodies were always striking and his newly evolved harmonies were always satisfying.