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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisEven without mounds of critical acclaim the first time around, Howard Jones is finally scoring some recognition as not only one of the most innovative forces in new wave, but also one of his generation's most forward-thinking artists who's never content to rest on past achievements. At 60-years-old, the synth-pop star may have just released his most ambitious album ever in the form of "Engage," a CD/DVD set split between electronica, contemporary classical and pop music, alongside multi-media visuals that meld dance with philosophical elements (also accompanied by a phone app).
He didn't perform the entire conceptual show during a fairly filled visit to suburban Chicagoland's beautifully restored Arcada Theatre, though Jones did debut two new tracks: "Joy" and "The Human Touch," which found his fusion of electronics and catchy song craft picking up right where breakthrough projects such as 1984's "Human's Lib" and 1985's "Dream Into Action" left off. In fact, much of the night was spent revisiting those two albums, an understandable choice considering they were probably his most popular in America, even if it meant leaving behind a few lesser hits.
Whether it was "Pearl In The Shell," "Like To Get To Know You Well," "Life In One Day" or "What Is Love?," the headliner, his drummer and a keyboard/laptop accompanist freshened up the beats and overall production, ensuring these 1980s favorites could still translate to today. "Everlasting Love" and the slightly surprising inclusion of "The Prisoner" (both off 1989's "Cross That Line") were even more pronounced with their updates and were also accompanied by Kraftwerk-like visuals (in keeping with the evening's theme of all around engagement).
However, the 90-minute night did miss the secondary singles "You Know I Love You... Don't You?" and "Lift Me Up," nor did Jones even acknowledge either of the albums they came from (or anything that came after his Elektra Records tenure aside from the current collection). While it couldn't be considered a completely comprehensive set list, at least a solo piano encore of "Don't Always Look At The Rain" and "Hide And Seek" (orchestrated in the second half) dug a little deeper for dedicated fans.
The grand finale "Things Can Only Get Better" once again returned to his commercial peak, and after performing the original version, Jones reprised the tune as a techno throwdown. Bill him at Electric Daisy Carnival or Spring Awakening under the pseudonym DJ HoJo, and the glow stick-waving 16-year-olds could easily get caught up in some fist pumping as if he were Skrillex, suggesting there's modern merit in a sometimes overlooked history that's steadily finding a second life.
Upcoming concert highlights at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL include Robby Krieger of The Doors on Sunday, March 15 (early show); The Wailers & Rusted Root on Sunday, March 15 (late show); Loretta Lynn on Friday, March 27; Jefferson Starship on Sunday, March 29; Randy Bachman on Thursday, April 2; The Smithereens on Friday, April 3 and The Charlie Daniels Band on Friday, April 10. For additional details and a full schedule, visit www.oshows.com.
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