Written June 28, 2012
Howard Jones: A Little Too Moody at the Moody
I’ve always liked Howard Jones. He’s not the love of my life or anything (Simon le Bon’s the lucky recipient of that honor), but songs like “What is Love” and “No One is to Blame” helped provide a lovely backdrop to my 80s-era childhood, and I’ve always thought Jones’ insightful lyrics and catchy synthpop melodies were some of the best to come out of that time. Besides, his youthful look and signature spiky blonde hair made him adorable, and for a starry-eyed tween in the 80s, adorable went a long way.
So when the chance came around to see him live at the Moody Theater for Austin City Limits Live, I jumped at it. Ticket prices were reasonable and the venue’s a perfectly intimate setting, so it seemed like a no-brainer. With a couple of girlfriends in tow I arrived last night, ready to rock.
Well, okay, not so much rock as sway. It IS Howard Jones, after all.
The usual sense of anticipation set over me as the Welsh singer entered accompanied by only two band members – one taking his seat behind an electronic drum set, the other manning a musical control panel. As Jones and his signature hair (now gray but still spiky) took their place behind the center stage synthesizers, I felt a few goosebumps and leaned in a bit.
But, here’s the thing. This wasn’t your typical 80s retro show, where the headliner covers all the major hits with a few duds and (and maybe some covers) sprinkled in, then exits stage. Instead, Jones performed every song – every song – from the two albums that made him a star in the 80s and as it turns out, a large percentage of the audience (myself included) had no memory of most of them. Add to this the fact that both albums (1984’s Human’s Lib and the 1985 follow-up Dream Into Action) were decidedly moody and introspective to begin with, and you’ve got yourself a pretty low energy show overall. There were a few exclamation points when the trio rolled around to crowd-pleasers like “Things Can Only Get Better” and “Like to Get to Know You Well,” but for the most part this was a show of commas and semicolons. Not a lot of oomph.
To be fair, I don’t think the show was really designed for oomph. With minimal equipment on stage, static players and a backdrop display of streaming graphics that I swear were stolen from my 1996 Windows screen saver, this show was never meant to keep people on their feet. Jones’ running commentary between songs was often reflective and sweet, and after a fairly long break between sets, the second half’s more upbeat songs of Human’s Lib did offer a badly needed boost in energy. And with the encore performance of the super catchy “New Song,” it all ended on a definite high note.
Still, I felt a small tinge of sadness as my girlfriends and I left the theater. Jones still sounds just as good as he ever did, and if you listen to his critically acclaimed 2009 album Ordinary Heroes you’ll find that his songwriting skills haven’t suffered over time, either. The decision to play two older albums in entirety, excluding his newer material completely, left me feeling a little lackluster about the experience. It felt a little like a missed opportunity.
But, hey. Last night was a chance to see an 80s icon perform some of his biggest hits, and I’m still super glad I went. I remain a proud Howard Jones fan, and if he comes to town again I’ll gladly give it another go. Besides, as Jones himself would tell you – from here, things can only get better.