“You gotta keep believing in what you wanna do; don’t give up…” Howard Jones on stage at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub in Sacramento on Wednesday night, playing to a sold out crowd in an intimate space holding about 450 fans. He was reflecting back on when he was working in a factory as a very young man, and writing “New Song”. His debut single – released in 1983 – is all about optimism… and that is in my estimation what the man is still about today, some three decades later. Throughout his performance, he was beaming with joy and fun between each song, chatting with fans and tossing out anecdotes and familiar lyrics that can still be instructive today (“try and enjoy the here and now… the future will take care of itself somehow!”). But it’s not just the classic tunes that had people moving. Having released his 11th studio album this year – Engage – he is as creative and relevant as ever, with fresh new songs. My own feeling is that in all this time since the 80s have come and gone, he best represents not just the style of music but the feelings of that era, and it is awesome that he continues to spread his work and message in live shows like this one. Things can only get better, indeed.
Who: Howard Jones
Venue: Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub
Where: Sacramento, California
Promoter: Harlow’s Presents
When: May 13, 2015
Seating: General Admission (explanation; also photo pass first three songs)
Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub is an awesome concert venue, especially in Sacramento where the music scene is not proportionate to the fact that the city is the capital of the biggest state in the U.S. But it’s a great size wherein you get a good view no matter where you are, and the sound was dialed in exceptionally for Howard Jones – a very rare show where I could forego the earplugs and fully enjoy the raw sonics of the show (except for the short period in-between the end of HoJo’s set and his encore, from the high pitched screams of fans in the audience wanting more).
93.7 Jack FM were also in the house to support the event.
- Tony Windle (synths, keytar)
- Christine Cahill-Reams (vocals)
- Scott Reams (synths)
I was actually familiar with local band self.same in the supporting slot, as they shared a stage with Information Society and Book of Love at Thunder Valley back in January. So they are becoming the go to group in the area to support the very best of New Wave artists from the 80s.
Tony Windle (@Keytar_Tony) of self.same was especially excited about performing with Howard Jones, as he said that seeing HoJo perform at UC Davis in 1985 changed his life.
Howard Jones’ collaborator (who he shared the stage with performing) Robbie Bronnimann is actually producing self.same’s EP.
As with the show earlier this year, self.same were impressive with their music and performance, and, as can be seen in the photos below, vocalist Christine is much, much more pregnant this time around!
Below is the setlist from the self.same portion of the show:
- Beauty (instrumental chill track)
- Situation (Yaz cover)
- Fragments (latest EDM single, avail on Beatport)
- Take Our Love (yet to be released single from forthcoming EP)
Below are some photos of self.same performing on stage:
- Howard Jones (vocals, keyboards/synthesizers)
- Robbie Bronnimann (additional keys and sequencing)
The exciting news with Howard Jones for 2015 is the release of the new album, Engage, which is sensational. Decidedly Howard Jones, but super contemporary. It also employs a variety of musical styles and sounds, and is one of those rare works these days that is enjoyable to listen to front to back in one sitting. He still has the masterful touch when it comes to creating compelling, infectious tunes that do as much in terms of the instrumentals as they do with his fantastic vocals and lyrics.
One change with this smaller dedicated show is that just one other player shared the stage with HoJo, Robbie Bronnimann, who is phenomenal in his own right, throwing down beats and samples and additional keyboards.
HoJo came onto the stage as joyful as ever, and exclaimed with deep earnestness: “Utter great pleasure to be here tonight!”
He seemed to alternate every other song leaving his larger station at the rear of the stage on keyboards to come closer to the audience with his keytaur in hand.
It was actually a great crowd – very engaged and into it.
After an intro and “Pearl in the Shell”, HoJo asked, “do you know how this one goes?” and broke into “Like to Get to Know You Well” and the audience was more than happy to sing along, finishing the chorus (to which HoJo at one point threw out a very English “cheers!“).
He gave a little intro to each song; some context. For “Everlasting Love”, “imagine that we’re in a bar in the old wild west…”
“No One Is to Blame”? “A song about wanting things you can’t have, necessarily, but not beating yourself up too much about it.”
Most shows, doing photography, even up front, I feel mostly invisible (in my head, anyway). So it’s always a bit startling when an artist directly addresses me or interacts with me, to realize what is happening. As preface to “The Prisoner”, HoJo motioned to me and said, “This is a song about someone who takes photographs of people. And about the theory that each picture captures someone’s soul.” Thankfully, he followed that sentiment by saying he didn’t subscribe to it himself.
There were a few more interactions throughout the night. He feeds off of the positive energy of the crowd and then feeds it right back to them, building the concert song after song. He’s just so positive and fun, and it’s gratifying when an artist is “in real life” even more than what you conjured up in your mind. He is the embodiment of the messages and vibes of his work.
“Life in One Day”: “This song comes with a government health warning…”
That positive outlook on life again… Howard Jones is like a beacon of pulsating, multi-color light of optimism in a sea of drab gray negativity in the world of 2015… much like the lead up to the 80s when Howard Jones drove the New Wave movement forward. “Try and enjoy the here and now… the future will take care of itself somehow…”
He successfully orchestrated a “woo-along” with the crowd at one point; the “howl-along”, not so much… apart from the laughter.
The setlist included two new songs off of Engage, “Human Touch” (more in the fast/dance realm) and “Joy” (which is more HoJo classic and soulful).
He mentioned his special “ENGAGE” shows, which involve a free app download, and suggested we seek them out when they can afford to put them on (there is a lot of projection/production). But you can get the CD and DVD for a recorded experience too.
He did eventually delve back to his origins in music, talking about “What is Love?” and “New Song”, joking sarcastically about how it rocketed up the UK chart to #109 with a bullet, but really took 12 weeks to get there, “back when people cared about charts“. “What is Love?” got to #2 on the UK charts, but was never able to completely push Paul McCartney off the top spot (though HoJo rated #1 in “the north part” of the UK while the former Beatle held reign over “the south part“).
HoJo talked about how he was working at a factory when wrote the “New Song”, and his realization that it “wasn’t really what [he] should be doing.”
INSPIRATION: “You gotta keep believing in what you wanna do; don’t give up.”
Performing “New Song” live, and closing out the set, it was another big sing-along hit with the crowd.
- Pearl in the Shell
- Like to Get to Know You Well
- Everlasting Love
- No One Is To Blame
- The Prisoner
- Life in One Day
- Human Touch
- What Is Love?
- New Song
- Things Can Only Get Better (+Remix)
He closed everything out with “Things Can Only Get Better”, fittingly enough. That optimism again. And that is what he wants to gift to people, and leave them with… optimism.
As mentioned in my past reviews, Howard Jones is really an interesting figure (and legend really) in New Wave music, as he somehow came to fill a singular role in all of music. If you think of the 80s, there are hundreds of artists that came to the scene in that special decade, and in that many were classified as “New Wave”.
With that, somehow Howard Jones and his classic songs truly played a huge role in literally defining what New Wave actually was.
Really, everything about him just screams New Wave… his vocal style, delivery, unapologetic synth-heavy songs, the themes found in his music, even the fact that he’s English… he is like the embodiment of New Wave.
But aside from all that, it needs to come down to the songs, and he has some of the most iconic 80s songs that were written and recorded.
He also came on the scene and got mainstream attention in 1983, which was early enough to really be a part of shaping it all.
If music is the soundtrack to our lives, anyone remotely into New Wave who was over 13 and under 30 at any time from 1983-1987 would have a Howard Jones song on their personal set list for life.
He wrote songs with words that had thought and meaning in them, not just words that rhyme. A thinker of the time, reflecting an era that in retrospect looks more and more preferable every day (at least for nostalgic souls like myself).
For me, he is the single musical artist that kind of represents all that was great about music in the early to mid-80s, in the same way John Hughes does with film.
His voice sounds exactly the same, and completely studio quality. He also seems to be loving every second on stage, celebrating this music with us… these hits that have been long ingrained into our minds like the grooves on the vinyl that they were originally recorded on.
Howard Jones has also somehow aged really well, having just turned his internal odometer past the 60 mark. I’m guessing his music reflects his lifestyle, and gives him significant longevity.
In any event, I love the man and his music more each time I have an opportunity to see him, and will certainly turn out for any shows that fall into my concert radar. Highest recommendation – one of those rare “electronic” artists who make everything somehow even better live.
Below are some photos of Howard Jones performing on stage (click any image for higher resolution versions of each photo in a virtual lightbox):