Joe Jackson at the Orpheum

Joe Jackson
Photo by Sung. Full set here.

Joe Jackson performed the aesthetic masterpiece of architecture with seating to match, one with gilded archways, ornate lounges and a total freakin’ mezzanine, The Orpheum Theater, Tuesday night. I was there and Sung was there, too, and he took pictures. For those who could not attend, I am not proud to tell you that you missed a gigantic opportunity to raise your standards. JJ opened with “Steppin’ Out” just to get it out of the way. That’s what kind of show I’m about to review.

After driving a bit into scary downtown near the Fashion District, I dropped $10 to park, went halfway up Broadway and entered a voluminous space. Euclid would just shit himself to behold the interior of the Orpheum, so rigorous in its geometry that you feel like making love to someone just hunting for the right row.

I was seated in one of those little balcony snob zones where rich ladies peer at “Cosi fan tutti” through bejeweled binoculars. Had it all to myself for the opening act, a duo named after the lead singer, first name: MUTLU. Not an Elder God of Chaos Mutlu but a bearded, friendly and bone-sincere Philadelphian white male who brought along his friend, Chris. Two acoustic guitars, two vox, and R&B folk songs for about forty minutes. I couldn’t leave. He sings like a soulful angel. Mutlu’s sound and style have a Saturn return that keeps bringing up the Blues Traveler and late Grateful Dead and Traffic. Or maybe this. Dig if you will, this. MUTLU is the magical earthy tell-it-like-it-is Pennsylvanian whose working class dramas are existential codeine, who we shell-shocked rock and roll veterans nominate as our personal savior when the world runs us down. No cynicism about him, nothing pretentious, just brotherly love radiating though a layer mask of Thin Lizzy’s “Romeo and the Lonely Girl”. Do I turn his rolling papers in my hand or his words in my mind?

Round of applause, thanks everyone, and leaves. During the wait, I exchange inanities with Sung on many topics including losanjealous, the general lack of eighties band coverage on the site, and more!

Let me tell you now what kind of a show it turned into. When JJ came out, the fan’s deafening cheer startled this fifty-three year old rock dignitary, an aging Malcolm McDowell in profile, into taking a gigantic wayward step backward. If he feels worthy of the outpouring, he’s not letting us know. If he feels we’re worthy of his outpouring, well, you could argue that one, too. For an opener, as mentioned, he trashes and simultaneously reinvents “Steppin’ Out” at twice its original speed as if to firmly demonstrate his unconventional powers first-hand. I wasn’t sure I liked it. He went from here to playing a short set from his new album of this January, Rain, a collector’s item by now loaded with wry Brit humor and a loneliness magnified from his protracted stay in Berlin.

To wit, Joe Jackson looks like Malcolm McLaren as well as Malcolm McDowell. But because we don’t want him cancelling any tours in a fit of pique, something this so-called ugliest man in rock and roll can and would do in a New York minute, we’ll just say it’s not the age, it’s the mileage.

The new material has a mature and cerebral element, a restlessness that JJ tried to share with the shouting lummoxes. He was very well behaved with all the whoops and ridiculousness. But the poor gentleman, who mentioned up front and beforehand that he wanted to fill the opulent Orpheum with the streetwise tenderness of “Solo (So Low)”, was denied by some idiot who wanted to treat him like a jukebox. JJ has come to terms with this sort of thing, but he still doesn’t quite get it and doesn’t like it. Well… “Dirty Martini” came with a history lesson on the origin of the cocktail, a show highlight in performance. At this point, a lay critic recognizes that age and miles has not ossified the man’s impeccable piano chops. He is a screaming, no messing around, perfectly performing Mozart who can play anything under the sun perfectly at any speed and with his own brand of elegant, hard alcohol élan at an afterthought. Probably, at this point, the only one of the class of ’77 who still can. Elvis Costello can carry a tune. But not like that.

Feel like you missed something special? You did. What am I supposed to do now, go through the whole set? Tell you about “Scary Monsters” out of nowhere, burying “Caravan” in the middle of “Chinatown”? Tell you about what it was like to see the members of his three man band walk off the stage as he wrapped up “Slow Song”?

Here’s the blueprint:

1. Steppin’ Out
2. Invisible Man
3. Not Here, Not Now
4. Rush Across The Road
5. Dirty Martini
6. Stranger Than Fiction
7. On Your Radio
8. Solo (So Low)
9. The Uptown Train
10. Chinatown/Caravan (Duke Ellington cover)
11. Scary Monsters (David Bowie cover)
12. It’s Different For Girls
13. Good Bad Boy
14. You Can’t Get What You Want
15. One More Time
16. A Place In The Rain

17. Is She Really Going Out With Him?
18. A Slow Song