What is love? Howard Jones in concert
The happiest people on the planet -- well, outside of Chile -- were in Largo last night, watching in glee as a silver-haired man led singalongs of '80s songs. Yes, Howard Jones was back in town, and for a brief period of time, all was right with the universe.
The second happiest people? Probably the beer and wine vendors at the Largo Cultural Center who quite possibly did record business "lubricating" the aching joints of the crowd so that they could dance to hit after hit. Here's what else stood out at Thursday night's show.
THE OUTFIT: Slinking onto the stage wearing impossibly clever golden pants, metallic blue jacket, a zombie skull T-shirt and aviator glasses, Jones and his bandmates launched into contagiously bouncy Pearl in the Shell, a tune from his Human's Lib album that I wish I'd appreciated a little more back in 1984. Anyone expecting a night of quiet, acoustic tunes now knew this three-piece act was going to be quite the opposite.
THE TWO HOWARDS: Halfway through his set, I realized there are two Howard Jones. One is the dutiful dad, a 55-year-old product of Welsch parents who pens solemn hits like Soon You'll Go for a departing daughter. And then there's the other guy, the crazy uncle who tinkers loudly at the keyboard at family dinners, impressing the kids with his scary synthesizer creations (like the Devo-esque Conditioning) and scaring the elders. Thursday, it was Crazy Uncle Howard the whole time, and the kids were never more thrilled.
THE BIG HITS: The first blockbuster hit came about halfway through the set with No One is to Blame, though we got the Phil Collins version instead of the stripped down version. That's fine. Half the females in the audience (which numbered vaguely in the hundreds in this very small, but really surprisingly fun venue) jumped to their feet and rushed the stage so they could sing along. I can pretty much bet my paycheck that every soul in the house knew the lyrics to perhaps one of the '80s most perfect ballads. Everlasting Love, surprising just performed solo by Howard, had a saloon feeling to it. I kept expecting a gun fight to break out. Or for Michael J. Fox and Back to the Future 3 to start playing in the background.
THE BIG STORY: Who knew there was a funny story behind Howard's hit Like to Get to Know You Well? Turns out when the song was released in the mid '80s, it was interpreted into several languages to help it become more of a global hit. Japanese promoters, however, refused to release it, insisting to Howard that it was ruin his career. Turns out that "Like to get to you know well" was translated into "Like to force myself on you." Yeah, not the message he was trying to send. Trust me, it's a funnier story with Howard doing the various accents.
THE BIG FINISH: By the time Howard got to Things Can Only Get Better, the closing number in the first set, the venue smelled like the bottom of a merlot bottle. Fans were swaying precariously from their seats, waving cellphones like glo-sticks. It was impossible not to just be in love with the moment. Howard returned to play What Is Love and, of course, the life-affirming hit New Song.
When it was all over, nobody really wanted to leave. Rather, a sizable chunk of the crowd stuck around and hobnobbed until Howard showed up outside to sign autographs and pose for pictures. (Sadly, my photo of me and Howard is beyond blurry.) Howard told me the media in Miami, where he'd played the night before, promoted his show (incorrectly) as an acoustic one featuring songs off his new album. "Heh-heh, they were in for a surprise," he told me, before complimenting me for the interview we shared the week before. (Click here to listen.)
Suffice to say, I left with an everlasting grin on my face. And by the way, if I'm every trapped in a mine a half mile underground, just book Howard Jones to play either my rescue or my demise. Either way, I'd die a happy man.
[Photo courtesy of John Mark Thrasher]