Usually when a performer proclaims that a particular audience or city is his favorite, it is a comment that should be taken with a grain of salt. With that in mind, during his Saturday night show at The Pabst, Joe Jackson said that Milwaukee was his favorite city in the United States, but his sincerity was easily apparent.
In front of a respectful and appreciative audience, Jackson balanced out his performance by drifting back and forth between his well-established catalog and selections from his latest effort, "The Duke."
Jackson, not unlike David Byrne (who appeared at the same venue just a couple weeks ago), has a very diverse interest in music that has led him to some very unique projects. His recent release is his reinterpretation of a number of Duke Ellington songs. As Jackson explained, when he was younger and first heard Ellington's music, he wrongly thought of it as "scratchy old crap." Once his listening skills matured, he realized how revolutionary it was.
It can be a gamble to focus so much of a concert on a new album that has such a bold concept, but The Pabst audience was completely on board. The performance was greatly aided by "The Bigger Band," Jackson's six-member accompanying band. Violinist Regina Carter and keyboardist/vocalist Allison Cornell attracted the most attention out of this phenomenal band. Cornell's beautiful voice matched Jackson's perfectly, but she really stood out when she was the only vocalist and sang in both Farsi and Portuguese.
The biggest reaction Jackson received was toward the end of his initial set, when he transitioned out of Ellington's "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and in-played his original songs "Target," which then blended into "Steppin' Out." The latter is one of those songs almost everyone has heard at some point, but didn't know the name of. By the conclusion of "Steppin' Out," Jackson and company departed to a standing ovation.
After only a few seconds, one of the members of The Bigger Band returned to the stage, this time with a tuba (it should be noted that this was the only type of horn used in the concert) and began to play the opening notes of Jackson's biggest hit, "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" Jackson then returned to the stage, but instead of playing the piano, he had an accordion for this song. Not every musician can pull off playing their greatest commercial success on a tuba and accordion, but it was an inspired curve ball by Jackson.
The final song of the night was "A Slow Song" from his Cole Porter-inspired 1982 album "Night And Day." It is the last track of that album and worked just as perfectly as a closer on Saturday night. In a curtain call fashion, each member of The Bigger Band dropped out and left the stage to applause during the song. By the song's conclusion, Jackson was the only one still on stage.
Once again, his fans gave him a standing ovation, one that Jackson truly seemed to bask in. Using his hand to help shield his eyes from the light, Jackson peered into to the audience to catch a glimpse of those in attendance. When the applause proved to be relentless, Jackson made repeated gestures of appreciation while his face reflected the joy he felt.
It was a rare night when the two-way street between musicians and fans was clearly on display. What is certain is that Jackson will continue to enjoy playing in Milwaukee, while his fans here will support whatever his next project ends up being.