April 1, 2015 Howard Jones returns to The Paramount Huntington, NY 3-19-15
The UK’s Howard Jones is one of the most important figures in the history of Synth Pop/New Wave to come out of the golden age of the genre. Breaking onto the scene in the early ’80s, Jones followed the trail blazed by other pioneering artists such Depeche Mode and Duran Duran. In 1983, he released two successful singles which both cracked the top 40 in the US, while reaching number three and two in his home country. Following was the well-received debut album in 1984 entitled Human’s Lib. Striking the iron while it was hot, in 1985 with Dream Into Action, the album would feature two of the most well-known singles of any artist of the time with heavy airplay on MTV. Steadily releasing new material over the past few decades since, Jones claimed his independence of record labels back in 1994 and become one of the first artists to dive into the internet world of bringing his music to fans. Now celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Dream into Action, in 2015, Jones is back on the road touring after spending the summer of 2014 as a part of Retro Futura Tour in North America. The new year also brings fans Jones’ first studio album since 2009’s Ordinary People in the form of a combo CD/DVD package entitled Engage. While the DVD features an interactive performance by Jones, he explained to CrypticRock in a 2014 interview “Engage as written to really get people going in terms of what they would experience live at the show. The visuals were conceived at the same time as the music.” Now available via his website, Jones went on to say this about Engage, “Really, the only way to experience it fully is to go to the show.” Staying true to those very words, Jones brought his act to The Paramount in Huntington, NY Thursday March 19th, marking his third trip to the venue since it opened in 2011.
New York native, singer Melody Rose, was first to the stage. Having had the chance to tour Europe, Rose is an artist with a bright future as she works on her debut album with producer Ryan Lerman. The singer-songwriter’s thirty minute set was dominated by piano driven numbers showcasing her extraordinary voice as she played tracks such as her single “Dressed to Kill” and “I Only Have Love For You.” Rose harkened back to the best female acts of the ’60s and ’70s as she gave off the vibe of an edgy Carole King, the sharp wit of Rickie Lee Jones, and the power and confidence of a seasoned Diana Ross. No easy task, Rose was able, as an opener, to provide a delightful set for the crowd. Her debut EP is available through her website melodyrose.net.
Following a brief set change, fans patiently awaited Jones’ set. With many faces in the audience of those who have come to see Jones each time he graces stages on Long Island, curiosity ran wild of what he had in store this time around. Wearing white pants, a white sport coat, a white t-shirt, almost white, gray hair adorned by a wireless microphone, several synthesizers and laptops on the stage, Jones appeared to have come directly from another planet. With a perfect visual to go along with the music, he and his stage partner Robbie Bronnimann were ready to begin as fans welcomed them back to The Paramount with applauds.
Reaching back to his debut, Jones led off the show with “Pearl in the Shell.” It was an excellent choice for a show opener as the track contains all of the elements that make Synth Pop, particularly Jones’ brand appealing to so many. Opening with a keytar solo in which the instrument sounded like a wah-wah pedal drenched electric guitar, the crowd was immediately drawn in. A pounding drumbeat then kicked in, eventually giving way to a bouncy, upbeat melody on synthesizer. Jones bounced around the stage, going back and forth from the front of the stage to his array of electronic instruments, all the while singing with boundless energy. “Like to Get to Know You Well,” from the smash album Dream Into Action, was next, and again Jones took turns behind the synthesizers, as well as out on stage. Coming to the front of the stage for the chorus, Jones encouraged the crowd to sing along with much success. He also came front and center for an intricate solo on keytar which once more he was able to exude electric guitar resonances from his instrument.
One of Jones’ biggest hits, “Everlasting Love.” kept the momentum going. A bright, effervescent piece of pure Pop perfection, the song whipped the warmed up crowd into a frenzy. Opening with an acoustic piano run, the tune then layed down a thunderous drumbeat with light synth accouterments. After he sang the line, “I need an everlasting love”, he put his hand over his microphone and pointed to the crowd who responded, “I need a friend and a love divine” to which he replied with an emphatic “Yes!” Each verse/chorus was followed by a run on piano as the heavy electronic sound Jones is famous for gave way to simple, yet elegant tickling of the ivories. “Fast forwarding to modern day, Engage’s “Joy” showed that thirty plus years later, Jones still knows how to put out songs that are based on a simple, catchy rhythm with infectious hooks. A heavy electronic beat pulsated throughout the track while elongated notes on the synthesizer hummed along in time. Jones’ soaring, ever escalating vocals were the star of the show on this cut as the intensity and conviction was ever increasing before succumbing to a quiet outro drenched in electric keys.
Another smash hit, “No One is to Blame” came next with a tick tock drum beat and light acoustic piano as the foundation for the ballad. A huge hit due to its universal appeal, hearing it, one would not know it was coming from a Synth Pop icon, thus providing his dynamic songwriting ability. The crowd sang along not just for the chorus for this cut, but for the entire song, with Jones allowing them to go solo for about half of the lines. The packed venue sounded like a chanting soccer crowd in Jones’ home country of England. Again, as much fun as the crowd was having, Jones was also grinning ear to ear throughout.
Moving along, with its punchy melody, “Life in One Day” got the crowd moving with its Reggae and bass-heavy beat. A hammering drum, chimes, and horns led the charge as Jones moved hastily along the front of the stage high-fiving the crowd. The middle section in which Jones speaks, makes animal noises, and lays down doo-wop influenced hooting, finished with a falsetto chorus, once again having everyone heavily involved in the performance as they engaged in a call and response as well as clapped hands in unison with Jones. To this day, the track proves to be a great counter-punch to the assertion by many that electronic music lacks originality and creativity as Jones incorporated several musical styles into a cohesive amalgam of great complexity. Set closer “What is Love” found the fans once again taking the driver’s seat as Jones implored them to take over singing duties throughout, after they had already done so on the opening verse without being asked to. A classic synth bassline and snappy drums propelled Jones and the crowd along as an evocative, Funk-based solo on Moog, as the singer then recorded the crowd belting out the lyrics through to the end on his phone.
Jones returned to the stage for a four song encore. First was another early song “Don’t Always Look at the Rain.” Playing only acoustic piano, Jones belted out a stunning vocal performance reminiscent of the best cool Jazz of the late ’50s and early ’60s, as he crooned over laid back ,yet menacing, music, hitting high note after high note throughout. If one closed their eyes, they would swear they were in a dark, smoke-filled basement fifty plus years ago in New York or Chicago surrounded by thin women in black turtlenecks, pickpockets, and unsigned poets. “Hide and Seek” was next, and again, Jones sang along to just acoustic piano. Here, rather than channeling his inner Hepcat, Jones delivered the penultimate ’80s ballad. Rousing, thunderous piano was coupled with a forlorn lyric about the dawn of man, his eventual ruin, and fall from God’s grace. Jones then closed the show with two versions of his biggest single, “Things Can Only Get Better.” The original version was played first, and it then ran into the Cedric Gervais remix. The original was helped along once again by the crowd where even casual fans could be spotted singing along the famous refrain of “Whoa whoa whoa o whoa.” The remix edition features the original version drowning in modern Dance synth, drums, and featured sharp breaks for the chorus. This pure dance number gave the crowd a second wind as the floor of The Paramount looked like Studio 54 circa 1978 with folks dancing to the beat feverishly.
Thirty plus years in front of crowds has clearly given Howard Jones an excellent understanding of what a crowd wants, and what it takes to give them their money’s worth. Throughout the night, he managed to perfectly blend Science Fiction tinted aesthetics and sounds with soulful, heartfelt vocals, and boundless exuberance. As much as the crowd clearly enjoyed the show, Jones appeared to be having more fun than anyone. From the first note to the last, Jones was fully engaged with the audience, and made it evident that their having a good time was his first priority, even though it appeared he got more than his fill himself.