BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Nearly two generations after appearing at Live Aid and becoming one of the largest stars in the MTV galaxy, British new wave pioneer Howard Jones delivered a jubilant performance highlighting his four decade career in music Friday night at The Regency Ballroom in San Francisco.
Jones, 64, had ten top 40 hit singles in the UK between 1983 and 1986, with six of those reaching the top ten. His 1984 album Human’s Lib reached number one on the UK Album Chart. He also played Live Aid in London 34 years ago next week, slotted between sets from Sting with Phil Collins and Bryan Ferry with David Gilmour. More recently, a younger generation has heard his music in television series ranging from Breaking Bad to Stranger Things 3.
Back on the road, touring in support of Transform, his 13th studio album just released in May, the one-time new wave darling remains instantly recognizable to anyone who followed him during his glory days. Stylishly dressed in a futuristic pleated grey suit, the personable Jones hair might be shorter and less spikey, but he still has the sides of the back of his head shaved and he worked the setting perfectly, moving between his black electronic Roland keyboard and synthesizer effortlessly when not bouncing from end to end of the stage.
Elegantly taking the stage to open with “Hide and Seek” from Human’s Lib, before being joined by guitarist Robin Boult and his backing band, Jones wasn’t shy about introducing the audience to his latest work, playing six of the ten songs from his first new studio album in nearly a decade during his 95 minute set. While the quality of Transform, featuring “Hero in Your Eyes” and “Tin Man Song” is undeniable to his fans starved for new material, it was his 80’s classics that elicited the greatest response.
Jones didn’t remotely disappoint, adding an eloquent take of “No One is to Blame” where you could hear a pin drop to a bouncy version of “Everlasting Love” that saw him interacting with images of himself on the video monitor from thirty years ago during the first half of the show. But it was the back end of the set that brought back the nostalgia of both simpler and more innocent times. An updated version of “Life in One Day” preceded the original, as the crowd joined in singing along. The ebullient “Like to Get to Know You Well” (“Don’t wanna talk about the weather/Don’t wanna talk about the news/Just wanna get to the real you inside/Like to get to know you well/Like to get to know you well/Like to get to know you well/So we can be one/We can be one together‘) would quickly follow.
Finishing strong, Jones was joined by a pair of female backing singers to harmonize on “What Is Love?” as images of different terms for love from around the world flashed on the monitor behind the stage. Videos of a slightly younger Jones, 1980’s model, would replace them during “New Song” before the band briefly left prior to returning for an encore that saw the show end on yet another high note thanks to the always uplifting “Things Can Only Get Better.”
The evening was given an unexpected further boost by opening act Men Without Hats. The Canadian synth pop group, originally from Montreal, is best known for their hit “Safety Dance,” from 1983’s Rhythm of Youth but they’re far from one-hit wonders. After disbanding in 1993 the band reformed in 2010 with original vocalist Ivan Doroschuk taking on three of his touring musicians as full band members. They haven’t released a new album since Love in the Age of War seven years ago, but new cuts like “This War” and “Head Above Water” along with “Antarctica” from their debut album and a cover of Abba’s “SOS” gave the crowd plenty to cheer about.
The Howard Jones Transform tour continues with shows next week in Phoenix, San Diego and Las Vegas.