Joe Jackson was well into his show at the Uptown Theater on Friday when he paused to recall a day long ago when he was booked to perform in the Kansas City area at an outdoor venue – Sandstone, most likely. Those plans were nixed when severe weather rolled through and he was resigned to wait out the storm at his hotel before departing the next morning.
That cancelation added to the scarcity of his live shows around here. According to an archive of his concerts, before Friday’s show, Jackson had performed only twice in 38 years in this area: at Liberty Hall in December 2000 and at One Block West in October 1979. Thus, anticipation for the Uptown show was high among the crowd of about 900, which included many long-time fans who hadn’t ever seen him live before. Thus, the theater was filled with a palpable enthusiasm for the nearly two-hour duration of the show.
Jackson will turn 63 in August, but he’s in no mood to slow down or join a herd of heritage acts recycling their greatest hits. Rather, he is still actively writing, composing and recording. In 2015, he released “Fast Forward,” his second full-length in five years and the album that would constitute almost a third of Friday’s set list. However, he also gave his fans a healthy dose of his heyday past.
He opened the show alone, seated at a keyboard and electric piano, to deliver a buttery ballad version of “It’s Different For Girls,” a highlight from “I’m The Man,” an album released in 1979 that certified him as a stalwart in the erupting post-wave/new wave universe. “I’m the Man” was the follow-up to “Look Sharp,” and both albums were barrages of frenetic, high-voltage hard-pop songs that explored love, lust, relationships and gender conflicts and barked about politics and other issues.
After “Girls,” he delivered “Hometown,” a track from his “Big Town” album, then “Be My Number Two,” as cynical a breakup/rebound song that was ever written (and one that bares Jackson’s influence on Ben Folds) but a favorite off the “Body and Soul” album.
He followed that with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” cast in a jazzy-blues New Orleans/Dr. John vibe, then hammered home the title track to “Fast Forward,” preceding it with a homily about time travel and going far enough ahead in the future to get a perspective on the present. On that track, Jackson was accompanied by a drum loop and, about halfway in, his bass player. Eventually, his guitarist and drummer also took the stage and joined in as he segued into “Is She Really Going Out With Him,” which prompted raucous and lockstep shouts of “Where?” at the appropriate times. All night, his band embroidered his songs with upscale leads and displays of keen proficiency.
From there, the set list jumped about his catalog, including favorites like “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want),” several “Fast Forward” tunes and a brand-new song Jackson hasn’t even recorded yet called “Fabulously Absolute” that rode a frenetic guitar/keyboard riff and issued a whiff of Zappa-like prog-pop. It also included a resonating cover of Bob Marley’s “Johnny Was,” a mother’s tragic lament for her son, who was felled in the street by a stray bullet: “Johnny was a good man … Never did a thing wrong.”
He embellished “Sunday Papers” with some fills on the melodica and then, after two more “Forward” songs, ended the set with a version of “Steppin’ Out” that was stripped of its rollicking tempo and rendered as something close to a tony smooth jazz ballad.
Jackson and his top-flight trio returned for a three-song encore that included a cover of Television’s “See No Evil,” which is also a “Forward” track, and then another oldie for the diehards: a version of “One More Time” that rings as feverishly and urgently as it did in 1979, the year it was born.
He closed with “Slow Song” from “Night and Day,” an ode to the calming powers of a ballad or hymn -- a slow song: “Am I the only one / To want a strong and silent sound / To pick me up and undress me / Lay me down and caress me.” It was an apt and noble way to close an evening that was showcased music’s many curative powers, from high-speed new wave pop anthems to tender piano ballads, both new and old.
It's Different for Girls; Hometown; Be My Number Two; Big Yellow Taxi; Fast Forward; Is She Really Going Out With Him?; Real Men; You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want); A Little Smile; Kings of the City; Poor Thing; Another World; Johnny Was; Fabulously Absolute; Sunday Papers; Keep on Dreaming; Ode to Joy; Steppin' Out. Encore: See No Evil; One More Time; A Slow Song.