Event Reviews
Joe Jackson

Joe Jackson

Lincoln Theatre, Washington, DC • June 10, 2024

Joe Jackson has been following his own muse since the beginning of his career. He burst upon the scene in 1979 with a pair of punk pop classics, Look Sharp and I’m The Man. He then zigged to produce the ska/reggae-influenced Beat Crazy (1980), then zagged to score the hit “Stepping Out” from the jazz inflected Night and Day (1982). Since then, he’s gone on to explore jump blues, big band jazz, and classical composition while occasionally circling back to rock and roll.

His latest album, Mr. Joe Jackson Presents Max Champion in What a Racket (2023) is a deep dive into English Music Hall. The conceit of the album is that Jackson is playing the long lost compositions of Max Champion, a forgotten singer and band leader who presumedly died in World War I. Of course, Max Champion is a fictional character that Jackson created to allow him to indulge in composing songs in the old Music Hall style.

Jackson brought his Two Rounds of Racket tour to the Lincoln Theatre in Washington D.C. on Monday, June 10. The show was structured with Joe being his own opening act. He began the show with a solo set of tunes spanning his career. The set presented his songs in reverse chronological order. He opened with “Dave” from his Fool (2019) album. He followed that up with his first solo performance of “Awkward Age.”

Joe’s solo performance was an intimate affair. The stripped-down renditions of his songs worked really well. Jackson made self-effacing comments on his performance, saying things like he’d do his best to pull off “Stepping Out.” As you can imagine, the crowd went crazy for the hits from the early days with “It’s Different For Girls” prompting an impromptu sing along. After, “On Your Radio,” the reverse chronology reached the end (or beginning) of Jackson’s discography. He continued by going back to the ’60s with a wonderful vision of Ray Davies’ classic “Waterloo Sunset.” He followed that with two songs from the Music Hall era. His introductions to these songs served to set up the second half with the music of Max Champion.

When Joe ended his solo set, he told the audience, “You may think this is an intermission, but it’s really part of the show.” Jackson then left the stage while the members of his Music Hall orchestra slowly filed on stage and set up their instruments. The players, dressed in period costumes, tipped their hats to each other and waved to the audience while they went about their business (many people took this time to visit the bar or loo anyway).

Joe came back on stage dressed in top hat and tails for the Max Champion set. They opened with “Why, Why, Why?” The song’s chorus was made for a sing-along. I can picture a pub full of locals waiving pint glasses, singing along, “Why, why, why, if we’ve got to die can’t we share a pint or two?” “What a Racket” followed, with a hyperactive comedic romp that reminded me of the American vaudevillian, Spike Jonze. The trombonist had fun smearing notes to punctuate the verses. The whole band seemed to be having a blast.

Joe announced several songs by explaining the context of songs based on Music Hall staples. The bawdy ballad, “The Bishop and the Actress,” for example, was filled with as many double entendres as Max Champion could possibly fit in. For “Think of the Show (the Thespian’s Lament)” and “Dear Old Mum,” Jackson worked with just the string section. “Think of the Show” draws on the impossibly complex wordplay of Gilbert and Sullivan. Jackson introduced it as a “patter song” and admitted that he had to read the lyrics. “Dear Old Mum” is an example of the overly sentimental songs popular at the time. The song slowly twists into comedy, with siblings dying off with each chorus and Mum getting shadier and shadier. In the end Mum is revealed to be a street walker. But… “she’s the only Mum I’ll ever know.”

The comedy numbers continued with “The Shades of Night” (about a window peeper) and ended the set with “The Sporting Life.” “The Sporting Life” is an anthem for the unatheletic among us. “The sporting life is not for me. I’d rather be a donkey or a monkey up a tree… don’t make me kick another ball.”

For his encore, Jackson rendered “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” in the Music Hall style. The distinctive bass line was played on tuba and the strings provided counterpoint. The audience went mad with a chance to sing along and shout “where” at the appropriate points. A microphone malfunction caused a five-minute delay, during which the band quietly vamped and the audience yelled out requests for their favorite Joe Jackson songs, before finishing the show off with “Worse Things Happen at Sea.”

The show ran about two hours, but it didn’t seem nearly long enough. You know you’ve seen a good show when you just don’t want it to end. I’m not sure who had more fun Monday night, the Max Champion Band or the Washington audience. The point is, Joe Jackson put on a fantastic show with a phenomenal band playing songs of a fictional Max Champion. ◼

Featured photos courtesy of JP Cutler Media.

Joe Jackson


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