|photo by Wendy Albor|
A version of my review originally ran at soundcheck.ocregister.com
When Howard Jones first found success here in the ‘80s, he definitely stood apart from the pack. Other early British synth pop practitioners tended to make coolly detached music (see: Human League, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode), but Jones leaned toward a warmer, more positive outlook that later resonated with his Buddhist beliefs.
The bushy-haired musician initially toured with a mime artist named Jed and pioneered the use of certain drum machines and sequencers by a solo act. Notching eight Billboard top 40 singles throughout the decade, he has continued to tour and release new adult contemporary studio albums (2009’s peacefully charming Ordinary Heroes featured an omnipresent string section).
Jones’ continued influence was reflected in mid-2000s samples/remixes by top electronica DJs Ferry Corsten (“Into the Dark”) and Eric Prydz (“And Do You Feel Scared”). The first seven albums have been remastered and grouped into handsome limited edition mini box sets available at howardjones.com and Amazon.
Following a recent run of shows in Britain spotlighting 1984 debut Human’s Lib and 1985’s U.S. platinum certified Dream Into Action - the London stops were filmed for two DVDs - Jones brought the concert to L.A. last October. It finally arrived in O.C. on Sunday night for the close of Jones' tour.
An eclectic crowd ranging from teenagers to senior citizens packed the Coach House. Four very excited middle aged women seated near me knew the words to every song. They went bonkers whenever Jones made several forays onto the long center dinner table (a venue staffer constantly rushed out to make sure it didn’t collapse). Meanwhile, several men looked bored because they were probably dragged to the concert by their wives or girlfriends.
Ex-KROQ and current SiriusXM “1st Wave” deejay Richard Blade was on hand to introduce Jones and provide interesting anecdotes. The San Juan Capistrano show consisted of an 80-minute first set, 25-minute intermission and an hour-long second set.
Backed by electronic percussionist Jonathan Atkinson and producer/keyboardist Robbie Bronnimann, Jones rotated between his Roland piano/keyboards, but wasn’t tethered to them. So he constantly mixed it up with the audience.
Instead of performing the two classic albums front to back as many artists do and concluding with other hits, Jones shuffled the deck so that the Dream selections would take people through “a journey through a wide array of emotions.” Some tunes were being done for the first time since the ‘80s or making their live debuts.
Each set finished with the respective LP singles, but nothing else. Among the dazzling visuals on a backdrop screen were new and old clips featuring Jed.
Clad in a jacket and sparkly pants, the talkative and svelte singer opened with the mechanical “Automaton.” A sprightly, clanking “Is There a Difference” and infectious “Look Mama” (dedicated to Jones’ 82-year-old mother who used to run the HoJo fan club) were early standouts.
Dramatic ballad “Elegy” was described by Jones as a “dialogue between a poet and someone obsessed by death.” The album’s ominous title track (a stylistic cousin to DM’s “People Are People”) and stripped down “No One is to Blame” were met with a rousing response.
Minus soulful backing vocals on the buoyant “Life in One Day” (Jones said its relevance in the present day can be seen in people’s texting and filming all the time) and the extended, giddy “Things Can Only Get Better,” some computerized enhancement was utilized.
After the break and costume change, Jones returned to do the herky jerky, totally New Wave “Conditioning.” Set Two’s high points included lovely synth washes in the ballad “Don’t Always Look at the Rain,” an energetic, danceable “Pearl in the Shell” and racing, Kraftwerk-styled “Hunt the Self” (capped by Bronnimann pounding the stage floor with some rhythm poles).
For the haunting “Hide and Seek,” Jones reminisced about playing it solo at Live Aid London (held July 13, 1985) on a piano belonging to Queen’s Freddie Mercury, then later meeting the Prince Charles and Lady Diana as well as Paul and Linda McCartney.
Come encore time, Jones strapped on a white keytar and began “New Song” alone before the band joined in. All told, the veteran performer remained in fine form.
Howard Jones, The Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, July 15, 2012
First set (Dream Into Action): Automaton/Why Look for the Key/Is There a Difference/Assault and Battery/Look Mama/Elegy/Specialty/Dream Into Action/Hunger for the Flesh/No One is to Blame/Bounce Right Back/Life in One Day/Like to Get to Know You Well/Things Can Only Get Better
Second set (Human’s Lib): China Dance/Conditioning/Pearl in the Shell/Natural/Hunt the Self/Don’t Always Look at the Rain/Equality/Hide and Seek/Human’s Lib/What is Love
Encore: New Song