Joe Jackson may be best known for his 1979 breakout hit, “Is She Really Going Out With Him,” but on Friday at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, the Grammy-Award-winning British rocker showed that his musical talents extend far beyond the half-dozen songs that earned him serious radio play three decades ago.
Jackson and his three-piece band were in town as part of his Fast Forward Tour, but rather than fast forwarding, he kicked off a spirited 90-minute set with “It’s Different for Girls,” from his 1979 album, “I’m the Man.”
If the album selection was a subtle way of Jackson letting the crowd know that he was in fact, still the man, his electrifying mastery of the keyboard and his rich, smooth voice, sounding stronger than ever, left no doubt.
Though he was accompanied by Graham Maby, his longtime bass player, as well as the talented Teddy Kumpel on guitar and Doug Yowell on drums, Jackson opened the night alone on stage, opting to perform his first five songs solo and it gave a unique twist to the evening.
Eventually, Maby joined him, backing him with bass and vocals on the aforementioned “Is She Really Going Out With Him,” and though Jackson has earned a reputation of perhaps shying away from his past pop success, he embraced his chart-topper and delivered it with the energy and passion of a man half his age.
The biggest surprise of the evening was when Jackson broke out his new music (which he peppered liberally throughout the set). Often with an aging artist, fans will endure a few tracks of new music as the price to be paid to hear the classic hits. Not on this night. From the title track of his 2015 album, “Fast Forward,” through several other new songs including the haunting, “King of the City,” Jackson proved he is a singer/songwriter who, like a fine wine, has only gotten better with age.
Never was that more evident than when the band fired up his 1984 hit, “You Can’t Get What You Want (Til You Know What You Want).” With a fast tempo and his magic on the keyboard, Jackson breathed new life into a song more than 30 years old and left the fans knowing exactly what they wanted – more.
The consummate songwriter, Jackson’s lyrics on his new work are as deep, soulful and thought-provoking as any of his career. The crowd, an eclectic-looking bunch that ranged in age across the five decades Jackson has been performing, soaked it all in with a genuine appreciation for a man for whom the term musical genius wouldn’t be a stretch.
Jackson threw in a few covers for good measure. His tribute to Joni Mitchell, a twist on her 1970 classic, “Big Yellow Taxi,” was impressive, as was his take on Steely Dan’s “Night by Night.”
At 61 years old, Jackson seemed at peace on stage. Dressed in an open-collared shirt and blazer, he bantered with the crowd, shared some fun backstories for the songs and, most importantly, delivered a world-class evening of wonderful music.
Joe Jackson: Fast Forward Tour
Friday night at University at Buffalo Center for the Arts.