This is definitely NOT the Howard Jones lead singer of Killswitch Engage, but rather the Howard Jones of the hairspray eighties with a slightly tamer hairstyle and a much matured audience.
I will be the first to admit, regardless of the consequences, that I love Howard Jones and his music. When I first saw Howard perform at the old Austin Coliseum in the eighties, I took a date who was very much unimpressed. So much so, I am afraid it helped hasten the "I really like you but just want to be friends" buzzkill that occurred during the encore. You would think something like that would have put a damper on my enthusiasm for Howard's music, but since that happened to me at various other concerts with various other dates (The Romantics, R.E.M, Smashing Pumpkins, N.I.N./David Bowie, and the Cranberries, to mention a few) I long ago stopped letting my failed romances impact my musical tastes. I also stopped taking dates to concerts.
I loved Howard's show in the eighties, was much impressed with his lyrics and his keyboard prowess. I never saw my date from that night again (I heard she moved to Florida) but I vowed to see Howard perform once more when I was somewhat less encumbered. Last night, on very very short notice, I finally got that opportunity.
What a great opportunity it turned out to be. Glancing at Pollstar yesterday to see if they had any updated listings for March, I noticed that Howard Jone's name had mysteriously appeared on the Cactus Cafe's schedule for the night. Catching Howard doing an acoustic performance at the Cactus was something I had actually been hoping for, especially after missing Thomas Dolby's solo set at Elysium late last year. I was stunned to find out he had almost slipped under my usually pretty fine tuned radar. I called Griff down at the Cactus and found out Howard was starting in an hour and would perform two sets with no opener. Griff promised to hold a spot for me and to lay the groundwork with Howard's manager for me to shoot the show.
Robin "The Itch" Boult at the Cactus Cafe photo by staff photographer jeff barringer
Grabbing my camera kit, I raced down to the U.T. campus, and after humping it a half mile on foot from my parking space made it to the venue just in time to catch Howard closing his first song. After Griff introduced me to Howard's manager, I slipped into the back of the venue, set down my bag, and started snapping away.
Musicians, like wine, can go either way with age. Sometimes they continue to grow and mature and ripen into fine elixirs for the palate. Others turn to vinegar, bitter on the tongue and the ears. Howard would be best described as a fine wine with a delicate bouquet that continues to better with age, rather than a worn out pop star trying to re-live his past. His music and his lyrics always seemed far beyond the capabilities of many of his peers in the eighties. Fame and fortune aside, at the time few people actually gave him the credit his music deserved, seemingly resigning him only to the 15 minutes of pop star status from that decade.
Rather than flailing away with a keytar and a full band, this was a soft acoustic set with Howard on piano and Robin "The Itch" Boult on guitar. This was a night of piano jazz in an intimate setting with 100 or so friends. Howard interspersed his songs with stories and anecdotes from his long career in the industry, and the hows and whys of some of his lyrics. I agree with his views on the live performance being the way forward rather than the somewhat sterile confines of the recorded song. His music is a perfect example of that.
Howard played songs from his newer piano jazz recordings as well as a select number of his pop hits re-arranged for the acoustic setting. I found no fault with his performance. His voice showed none of the 20+ years of age that it should have, remaining clear as a bell and album perfect throughout the performance. His work on the keyboard is still deft and delicate, and almost perfectly matched by the light guitar fingerings of Robin. For anyone who is a fan of Howard's music, this is undoubtedly the best way to see it performed, and worth twice what they charged. For those unfamiliar with his pop work of the past, it's a great opportunity to hear some wonderful jazz piano by a master.
Thanks to Griff at the Cactus for the hookup, and to Howard and Robin for allowing me to shoot such a great show.