Friday, May 05, 2006

20 years of Howard Jones

It all seems like such a long time ago. I was about 16 and my friend gave me a tape of New Order. I listened to "Blue Monday" and thought it was cool. Then I flipped it to the other side and heard the words: "Well you're not, you're not who you think you are - jumbled mass of pre-conceived ideas... Welcome to Conditioning."
Something about those words struck a chord with me, and as I continued to listen to "Humans Lib" I knew there was something unique about Howard Jones.
The music was exceptionally well-crafted new wave pop with interesting layered synthesized sounds, and even more interesting lyrics.


Twenty years later, and Howard's songs still mean as much to me. He has added more great songs to my list of favourites with every album release, making a Twentieth Anniversary Concert the concentration of many of the musical highlights of my life.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not a complete fanatic, I like a very broad range of music. But Howard has stayed at the very top of my list of favourite artists because his music is not shallow, he doesn't try to stay in the same niche and he doesn't give up.
An acoustic concert with Howard Jones is every bit as enjoyable as electric set or a full band.

Which is what makes the 20th Anniversary Concert 2-Disc DVD exceptional. Four sets covering 20 years of some of the best pop music ever written shows us the very best of what Howard Jones has given to the world.
It starts with just him and Andy Ross playing together. But no, not keyboard and percussion, nor keyboard and guitar - but keyboard and some kind of mandolin, which Ross uses as both a string instrument and percussion. Not to be outdone, Howard's next guest, Nick Beggs, brings on his Chapman Stick - a ten string electric bass guitar whose strings are tapped rather than plucked - played almost like a piano with both hands. The skill is incredible - and the synergy is invigorating. And we're only two songs into the gig.
The momentum increases as, after the acoustic set we are treated to a pure nostalgia ride with Howard playing his original synthesizer setup from the mid-eighties era, joined by his signature mime-artist Jed - the 'chain guy'. And with the 5.1 surround mix those synths never sounded better!
With any normal live concert DVD this would be a full meal deal. But this concert is the equivilent of a multi-course Italian wedding feast. Insert the second DVD and the ride continues to get better, with Howard's modern electric set fully utilizing the latest in modern music technology, and his new right-hand man, Robbie Bronniman on the live mixing desk. But we're not listening to house dance music, we're listening to great new Howard Jones pop compositions and reworkings of old favourites which, frankly, rock the house. By the point, the audience is pumped and involved, whether you were there on the night, or witnessing it on this DVD in what genuinely feels like first hand.
Enter the full band for the finale - and what a finale it is. Howard seems to be more in his element than ever behind a grand piano with the full support of guitar, bass, keyboard, drums and backing. Which may well surprise those who narrowly pidgeon-hole him as a synth-pop spiky-haired throwback of the 80's. Howard Jones comes out of his synthesizer contrained cocoon, meta-morphosizing into what Rubert Hine, producer of his first two albums, explains (in the extra features interview) he wants the world to know: "he's an utterly brilliant singer/songwriter."
Until now it's all been about Howard Jones. But this is a special occasion, and so Nena ("99 Red Balloons") joins in to sing her anthem in native German and Midge Ure (Ultravox, Band Aid) performs "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes" and the classic 80's anthem "Vienna".
Howard's band then tops off the evening with some more classics and you're left engergized and astounded.
Fantastic. Buy it.
The best value music DVD out there.

3 comments:

Hungry Lucy said...

What you said, and then some! :)
Bloody brilliant DVD.

Anonymous said...

I so agree with what you wrote I too just got my DVD and finished watching it..... All I can say is WOW!!! I know why I have been a fan for all these years!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I so agree with what you wrote I too just got my DVD and finished watching it..... All I can say is WOW!!! I know why I have been a fan for all these years!!!!!
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