Joe Jackson 2024I remember when I first heard the music of Joe Jackson. "No Wave," an A&M Records compilation album, contained two of his songs: "Got the Time" and "Sunday Papers." I enjoyed the music enough that I bought Jackson's debut album the day it appeared in my local record store. I enjoyed every track on the album, so I bought tickets to see him in concert at the now-defunct Punch & Judy Theater in Grosse Pointe, MI. That July 1979 show was one of my first concerts; I still recall it fondly. I was a fan for life, appreciating the many different genres he explored over the years. I loved the post-punk new wave sound of his early albums, his jazz-influenced pop songs from a few years later, his covers of Louis Jordan and other swing musicians, his new wave and classical albums, and his rock & roll.
It took me 45 years to see Joe Jackson a second time when he performed Sunday night at Evanston's Cahn Auditorium.
Few artists have reinvented themselves as often and as successfully as Joe Jackson. He did so again on his most recent album, "What a Racket." On this album, Jackson plays tribute to Max Champion, a London music hall performer and songwriter from the early twentieth century. The gag is that Max Champion is a figment of Jackson's imagination and all songs credited to Max are the work of Jackson.
Mr. Jackson opened his Cahn Auditorium performance alone on stage, accompanying himself on electric keyboards, performing eight songs from his long recording career. He followed with an inspired cover of the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" and two songs from England's Music Hall days of a century ago: "Hello, Hello, Who's Your Lady Friend?" and "My Old Dutch."

Joe Jackson singing Max Champion 2024He then left the stage, announcing that this was not an intermission but was part of the show. The curtain behind him rose, revealing a backdrop painting of early twentieth-century London. A nine-piece band entered one by one, setting up their instruments. Each musician was dressed in period costumes of the 1910s. After a few minutes, Jackson returned wearing a top hat, high collar, and tails. Backed by the small orchestra, he performed every song from his "What a Racket" album. Some songs were raucous ("The Sporting Life"), some were bawdy ("The Bishop and the Actress"), and some were sentimental ("Dear Old Mum - A London-Irish Lament"). All were wonderfully executed. With a wink, Jackson revealed what little was known about the fictitious composer Max Champion. The set was great fun for both the band and the audience.
This show differed significantly from the 1979 concert, which featured a four-piece electric rock band playing power pop and new wave music. Each event was special in its own way.
I hope to see Joe Jackson again and not to wait 45 years to do so!