What: Joe Jackson
Where: Royal Theatre
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Joe Jackson walked quietly onto the Royal Theatre stage Saturday night, smiling ever-so-slyly at the audience before taking a seat behind his electric piano.
For an unassuming performer who falls slightly outside the mainstream, despite having all the singing and songwriting talent in the world, it was an understated and fitting entrance.
Jackson made no mention during his Royal Theatre appearance that this was his first local performance in several decades, nor did he need to; his headlining performance at the TD Victoria International Jazz Festival was an event unto itself, regardless of when he last played the market. Jackson, 61, a revered British singer-songwriter now based in New York, has a legend that looms large.
During the late 1970s and early ’80s, he was part of a ragged new-wave brood. He treads in more austere company these days, but the bark and bite are still there. Despite his suit jacket and closely cropped white hair, Jackson played with vigour, rarely taking his eyes off the piano during his brief solo set that opened the show. It was in this segment that the Grammy Award winner often bent his vocal delivery well outside the range of his electric piano, adding another layer of texture.
Material from all facets of his career — a swinging It’s Different for Girls and a lively Be My Number Two — was played with punch. Jackson really sent the energy level up a few levels during one of the night’s cover songs, however, a boogie-woogie version of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi.
“Musical what if?” is how Jackson described his version of the song. “As in, what if, instead of being a guitar player from somewhere in Canada, she was a piano player from New Orleans?”
His concert was highlighted by many flights of fancy, only one of which didn’t pan out entirely. Jackson was joined at the close of his opening piano set by powerhouse bassist Graham Maby, who supplied the famous bass line forIs She Really Going Out With Him? It was a nice moment, but could have used the heft of guitarist Teddy Kumpel and drummer Doug Yowell, more-than-capable musicians who shone repeatedly during the full-band set.
It was a minor misstep. Jackson and his three bandmates were in unison on every note going forward, from an excellent Real Men to a similarly potent You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want), the latter song one of two on this night from his 1984 album, Body and Soul.
His two-hour performance was tailor-made for those who appreciate fine craftsmanship, pacing and originality. Though it is the type of high-volume, “non-jazz” show some Jazzfest supporters have problems with, this was a performance of such quality there should be no complaints. It was as top-shelf as it gets.
Even though he played an extensive amount of material from his 2015 album, Fast Forward, which few fans appeared to know, the music remained enjoyable. At points, such as during Steely Dan’s Night By Night — on which bassist Maby had his moment in the sun — and Sunday Papers, one of several Jackson hits from 1979’s Look Sharp!, the energy was electric.
A dramatically slow-paced, light-accented Steppin’ Out closed his set and prompted the first of several standing ovations, the result of which brought Jackson and his band back for a fiery, triumphant, spit-in-your-face On Your Radio. The gem from 1979’s I’m the Man was arguably the song of the night.
An audience of more than 1,110, whose vociferousness only grew as the concert went on, kept Jackson and Co. on the stage beyond what appeared to be their alloted time. That’s how you know something special went down. And few are more deserving of such applause than Jackson and his band.