Howard Jones delivered a superb performance at 9:30 Club on July 19, 2022. (Photo by Mickey McCarter)
“I’m going to write the most positive song I’ve ever written in my entire life!” Howard Jones declared to himself when crafting the pandemic-era album, Dialogue, which has released this year. He was inspired to write as “things were getting better,” and the result was worthy!
Now, the British new wave singer-songwriter is known for his share of positive messages, so this was a tall order in deed. The new song, however, “Celebrate It Together,” one of three new tunes performed by Howard in his recent appearance at 9:30 Club, was embraced with enthusiasm by the very full house.
In fact, the entire night was something of a lovefest with the talented Mr. Jones in top shape, commanding a full array of synthesizers, accompanied by his long-time friend Midge Ure as opener.
At 9:30 Club on July 19, the night began easily enough with Howard performing songs from his well-regarded Human’s Lib, his 1984 debut record! Howard and his band got jazzy for “Pearl in the Shell,” and he hit his elongated “shadooooows” well in the familiar refrain. Things got very new wave indeed with his super-synthy “Equality,” during which he slung his keytar while his bandmates manned large synth stations in the back of the stage.
Let’s talk about those bandmates for a moment because four of the many reasons this show as so damn good was because Howard arrived with a band of four men who know their stuff, who know Howards stuff, and play like there’s no tomorrow. To Howard’s left stood Robin Boult, his favorite guitarist. Stationed behind Robin was Robbie Bronnimann, a genius-level synthesist who truly helped Howard get his synth back many years ago. Across from Robbie was young Dan Burton, an impressive synthesizer player himself. And in front of Dan was the legendary Nick Beggs, best known in the USA as the bassist for Kajagoogoo.
Nick’s presence inspired the most surprising moment of the night when Howard teased Nick as one of the songwriters of Kajagoogoo hit song “Too Shy” halfway through the set, and then the band played the remarkably catchy number! The 9:30 Club already was highly excited, and this surprise cover blew the lid off the room.
And I was convinced the night couldn’t get any better than the *previous* song. Howard rolled out the reggae-flavored “Life in One Day,” an MTV staple from his 1985 album Dream Into Action. The chorus line “Time will wear away the stone” is followed by a series of woos that go something like “woooo-oh-woah-oh.” When prompted by the song, the 9:30 Club heartily united in its delivery of that woo-whoa, and Howard was gobsmacked.
“It really is the best in the whole tour,” he chuckled from a recurring seated position with a Roland at the front of the stage.
Watch the official music video for “Life in One Day” by Howard Jones on YouTube:
Loose, happy, and carefree, the audience was very pleased to see Howard, and Howard was pleased to see us. The set continued in its peak with a transcendent performance of “No One Is to Blame,” his 1986 piano ballad. With the same group mind, although a bit more muted, the club sang along to the song of loss and longing.
Howard soon got jaunty again with “New Song” and its outlook that you “throw off your mental chains” to “see both sides.” Toward the end of the set, Howard continued to be upbeat with his crowd-pleasing “Everlasting Love,” known as the song with the mummies that dance in it video. (No mummies were spotted at 9:30 Club on Tuesday.)
And again this band! The guys slid into each groove very smoothly, and the crowd was hooked by the band’s distinct musicality and wonderful ears for melodies. Bassist Nick grinned widely as he alternated between a bass guitar and a tall Chapman Stick, which allowed him to get a little free and funky. Guitarist Robin stuck the landing with every note and his confidence was infectious. (Nick and Robin sometimes join Howard as the Howard Jones Acoustic Trio, which itself is surely an act to see.) “Mad scientist” Robbie gleefully attacked his keyboard, his sequencer, his laptop. Relaxed and easygoing, Dan gracefully divided his attention between two keyboards. These guys were firing on all thrusters.
Howard himself fanned the synth blaze with his Roland in the front and a mammoth, brightly lit setup in the back of the stage. At every opportunity he could, he swung into action with a keytar, delighting us initially in the aforementioned “Equality” and returning to that welcome well throughout the concert. The encore closed the show with a song that could serve as Howard’s signature and mission statement: “Things Can Only Get Better.”
Watch Howard Jones in a solo performance of “Things Can Only Get Better” from 2020 via YouTube:
Midge Ure, former frontman of New Romantic standard bearers Ultravox, also impressed very much in his opening set of 10 songs. Midge had only returned to the tour a day or two prior after suffering from COVID-19 for about a week. Although he was still clearly taxed a bit in recovery, he summoned his commanding musical skills and his full congeniality to charm and astound the audience.
Beginning with “Dear God,” a popular single from a 1988 solo album, Midge sizzled on guitar while accompanied by Howard Jones’ Dan Burton on synthesizers. Midge proved he was fit for duty with a blistering electric guitar solo on “I Remember (Death in the Afternoon)” from Ultravox’s astonishing Rage in Eden. As versatile as ever, Midge moved brightly to a synthesizer for “Reap the Wild Wind” from Ultravox’s 1982 Quartet.
Unflagging, Midge won hearts with a wondrous cover of “Fade to Grey,” the UK Top 10 song he produced and co-wrote for Visage. I’ve seen Midge perform this song solo many times, but there is nothing quite like seeing him perform it with synth. Plus, I suspect many of the clubbers that night had *not* personally seen him perform it live. The audience’s collective gasp of surprise led to a suspended period where no one seemed to breathe for the entire length of the song lest they broke some sort of magic spell.
Watch Midge Ure perform “Fade to Grey,” originally recorded by Visage, for Virgin Radio UK on YouTube:
Midge recounted how his cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” a homage to “The Master,” appears as his most streamed song by *millions* on Spotify. He took mock umbrage at that fact that “Bowie never recorded anything by me,” with a wink that every artist would like to see one of their own songs at the top of that list.
The Ultravox anthems flowed! Midge tackled “Vienna” in full and powerful voice. He closed the set with two of his favorite Ultravox songs to play live: Quartet’s “Hymn” and “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” from 1984’s Lament. Midge ended with “Dancing” and an invitation to actually dance as if folks hadn’t already been moving along for his entire set!
Midge’s recovery from COVID apparently left him too tired to join Howard Jones on stage for a song during the show, which was too bad. But no one can say Midge held back during his own set. He really delivered!
Here are some photos of Midge Ure performing at 9:30 Club on July 19, 2022. All photos copyright Parklife DC.
Here are some photos of Howard Jones performing at 9:30 Club on July 19, 2022. All pictures copyright Parklife DC.