The night after the end of the Austin City Limits Music Festival might seem like a less than ideal time for a marquee name to arrive in town. But Joe Jackson’s Monday concert at the Paramount was in some respects a perfect ACL antidote.
The fest excels at presenting fresh faces outdoors amid a sea of cacophony, but there’s nothing quite like hearing a classic artist give a sterling performance in a stately theater. Whether drawing on well-known tunes from his hitmaking heyday or digging into cuts from the new album “Fast Forward,” Jackson and his three-piece band consistently delivered, balancing exquisite professionalism with sharp, in-the-moment musicianship.
Opening the show by himself on piano, Jackson transitioned from a few early-career favorites to a version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” that was recast “as if, instead of being a guitar player from Canada, she had been a piano player from New Orleans,” as he explained. The band then joined him, one member at a time, as the next three songs unfolded. Longtime bassist Graham Maby helped bridge the “Fast Forward” title track into the 1979 breakthrough single “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” before drummer Doug Yowell and guitarist Teddy Kumpel came aboard to kick things up a notch for the ’80s favorites “Real Men” and “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want).”
After a dig at the local weekly for suggesting his new song “Junkie Diva” is about Amy Winehouse — “which was news to me,” he chided — Jackson dug further into the new album, a fascinating 16-song collection divided into four-song segments recorded in New York, New Orleans, Amsterdam and Berlin. He played six songs from it in the two-hour show, providing a good sense of its depth and breadth but still allowing plenty of room for material drawn from many phases of his nearly 40-year career.
Two of the best were from 1982’s “Night and Day,” Jackson’s highest-charting album. To close the main set, he changed up the tempo and feel a bit on “Steppin’ Out,” bringing new life to a song he described as “a romantic ballad” at heart. And a three-song encore closed with “A Slow Song,” each band member exiting one-by-one, just as they arrived, until Jackson was alone at the piano, perfectly playing the consummate showman.
Some three decades ago, an old friend actually started a band with some friends after they witnessed Jackson not appearing to enjoy himself at a concert in Austin, figuring they could at least have more fun than he did. It’s hard to imagine that now. When Jackson and his mates took in the applause at the end of the night, he insisted that “we don’t take it for granted” — and the performance he delivered was a testament to that.
1. It’s Different for Girls
2. Be My Number Two
3. Home Town
4. Big Yellow Taxi
5. Fast Forward
6. Is She Really Going Out With Him?
7. Real Men
8. You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)
9. Junkie Diva
10. Kings of the City
11. A Little Smile
13. Fairy Dust
14. Love at First Light
15. Sunday Papers
16. Neon Rain
17. Ode to Joy
18. Steppin’ Out
19. It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing
20. On Your Radio
21. Slow Song