You can always tell when something materialized from the 1980s.
Oak kitchen cabinets
Plastic Hoop earrings
And, rock music awash with synthesizers.
Something Howard Jones makes no apologies for. Because why? He dominated the charts then and continues to excel now as Jones brought his keyboard centric music to Revolution Hall on Sunday in Portland, OR for his Transform Tour 2019 showcasing all those tunes that made him a household name and generous selections off his latest album.
In many respects, Howard Jones picked up where he left off in January 2018 during his last visit to Portland for the quaint Solo – The Songs and the Stories tour featuring just him, a chair and a keyboard. Jones nonchalantly walked on stage sans his band, sat in front of probably the same keyboard, and introduced his first song “Hide and Seek” by reminiscing his experience performing that song at Live Aid in 1985 when he followed Phil Collins’ performance, the former Genesis front man told him a few of the keys on the shared keyboard on stage were sticking. This turned an already nervous Jones into more of a wreck. Well, he performed then and now quite flawlessly and once finished (now) his back-up band of Robin Boult on guitars and Robbie Bronnimann on keyboards emerged and he got right into his live element with the retro-sounding title track off the new album Transform (out May 10).
Jones, 64, played a 17 song set lasting 90 minutes in front of about 500 people, a far cry from his 80s arena filling heyday but the faithful remain and seemed to know the picks off Transform which Jones drew from quite heavily including the catchy beats of “Hero In Your Eyes” and “Beating Mr. Neg,” “Take Us Higher,” the hypnotic “Tin Man,” one of Jones favorite off Transform, and “The One to Love You” which brought to stage BT, a pioneer of electronica music and keyboardist for opening band All Hail the Silence, who collaborated with Jones on that song along with two others for the new album.
BT helped out on synth as Jones sang with All Hail the Silence singer Christian Burns, who contributed background vocals. Overall, Jones set aside his debut album One To One instead pulling seven songs off the 10 track Transform and the rest mostly from Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action. The only other recent work was “The Human Touch” off 2015’s Engage a Pet Shop Boys sounding dance number that worked quite well live.
Naturally, Jones played all those pop classics including a stripped down performance of “Everlasting Love” the big single off 1989’s Cross That Line which he juiced up with a fun piano solo, a “new” song he titled “Life in One Day 2.0,” a campfire version featuring some lyric changes from the original off 1985’s Dream Into Action which he followed with the more upbeat, but a folksy adaptation of the album version. He rocked out on his synthesizer for the hit “What is Love?” and closed the main set with audience favorite “New Song” before encoring with the great “Things Can Only Get Better.”
As Jones sang, he left much of the primary keyboard melodies to Bronnimann though Jones occasionally stepped behind his throne of electronics to take the beat, or brought out the keytar to take lead. Jones slowed the pace a few times to chat and take a more simple approach with just him and the keys (recalling the Solo tour) with Boult at his side on the acoustic guitar as he did for “No One is to Blame.” He recalled how one record executive told him that eventual #1 song probably works best as a B side. These pauses, if you will, allowed Jones to personalize a bit with the audience offering some insight and history, an effectual approach on the Solo tour, however his music most certainly works best with the full accompaniment of the synthesizers and his band as originally intended along with the impressive lighting effects.
Jones’ voice has changed some – no longer holding that youthful high pitch he readily dished out 30 years ago – it takes a little getting used to especially when he strains trying to compete with the timeless electronic melodies that sometimes overpowered, but nonetheless, his vocals held up well all evening, sustaining the essence of Howard Jones. (For comparison think Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon.)
Transform doesn’t divert course from Jones’ past as he blends a sometime dreamy landscape with mostly the keyboard heavy pop songs so prominent on his breakout records Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action. If this were sometime in the 1980s, “One to Love You” which hearkens back to his heyday, would probably dominate the charts as would “Hero In Your Eyes” while “Transform” (also a BT collaboration) could have been included on any one of his hit records from that decade. Times have changed, of course, but Howard Jones has managed to adapt holding on to his synthesizer core just as any other musician who excels on the guitar moves forward with the fretboard.
I generally don’t mention opening acts but…
Men Without Hats Concert Review
Wow, how great was it to hear Men Without Hats who have returned from obscurity and sound as fresh as ever? Just singer Ivan Doroschuk remains from the original cast as they rocked a pretty solid 10 song set and to hear “Safety Dance” live after all these years was a joy. Rhythm of Youth was one of the first records I ever received as a kid but I have no memory of whether I bought it or someone gave it to me but I still have it. Back then, I generally only dropped the needle on the one song I liked from a particular band but somehow managed to discover “Antartica” off their debut album, which they played, and I Iearned they had another single come from Rhythm of Youth. Guess I better take a whole listen one of these days.
All Hail the Silence Concert Review
So BT is a pretty big deal, real name Brian Transeau, who has worked with various groups over the years and has scored video games and movie soundtracks. With Burns, All Hail the Silence evokes some Depeche Mode and though the two incorporate pre-recorded mixes into their show, they produce big sounds and great rhythms. Certainly a band worth checking out.
Howard Jones Transform Tour Setlist in Portland:
- Hide and Seek
- Take Us Higher
- No One is to Blame
- Beating Mr. Neg
- Everlasting Love
- Hero in Your Eyes
- The Human Touch
- Life in One Day 2.0
- Life in One Day
- Like to Get to Know You Well
- Tin Man Song
- The One to Love You
- What is Love?
- New Song
- Things Can Only Get Better