Howard Jones was a musician that I listened to from time to time in the 80s – and who can really forget “What is Love” being played over and over on FM radio – so when I heard he was coming to the Anaheim Grove, I decided to get tickets.
Not knowing exactly what to expect, I walked into the Grove expecting a full house, only to find that it was no “happy accident” that I ended up with fantastic seats even though I’d only made my purchase two days prior to the show. Unfortunately this venue was far from sold out – tier three seats were in abundance, and even the GA standing section in the back had plenty of room. I wondered why this venue was chosen for his show when down the block stands the Anaheim House of Blues – a venue that might have been far better in size. The 50-somethings took their seats with their martinis and popcorn just in time for the opening act, the Adam Exler Band.
Adam Exler’s band took to the stage as the opener. While they had a small crowd of friends and supporters in the audience, their set dragged. It is never an enviable place as the opener, but surely the audience was as uncomfortable as I, listening to Adam and his backup singer (Jennifer “but not THE Jennifer” Lopez) croon “Deep Inside”. Filled with songs of remarkably sophomoric lyrics, the setlist was short, but did nothing to warm up the crowd – most of whom were back at the lobby bar.
As roadies prepared the stage for Howard Jones, we were told of an app – Howard Jones Engaged – that would go along with the show. Dutifully, we snapped up our iPhones and downloaded. Apparently the app would work with the songs through bluetooth, which I thought was really cool. I looked forward to seeing how it would work.
Howard, dressed in joyous white with a keytar strapped around him, took the stage at about 9pm, and it was immediately clear that this audience was not going to supply him energy. Aside from a few standing towards the back of my section as well as up at the front row, most stayed seated, politely clapping. I overheard comments from people saying that they were thankful it was not a GA show because they were too old and needed seats. (never mind my earlier comment about the House of Blues…) Howard was not to be daunted by the quiet and calm crowd, as he walked back and forth across the stage throughout the show encouraging fans to sing along (many did). His set was not overly flashy – this is a show that depends on the quality of the music more than the flash of screens (although there were two large screens on either side of the stage that played videos to accompany his songs) or lights, or even ridiculous dancing. (I’m looking at you, Simon LeBon.) The fact is, Howard is the real deal. Yes, he can program a synthesizer – and in fact he had MacBooks set up at both of the keyboard/synthesizer set ups as well as at the fully-electronic drum set – but he can also play piano quite beautifully, and sing even better than he did in his twenties, as he proved later in his set. Naturally, all of the hits we all know and love were played, including Pearl in the Shell, Like to Get to Know You Well, Everlasting Love, Things Can Only Get Better, What is Love, Hide and Seek, Life in One Day, and No One Is To Blame. There were also two songs played from his recent project release, Engage: the title track “Engage” and “The Human Touch”, both of which were far more EDM than this audience of 80’s music lovers could likely appreciate, but definitely worth checking out. Howard describes this new album as a multimedia project, and it comes with DVD’s as opposed to just a CD, which intrigues me enough to where I am going to have to get one for review. One thing is certain – Howard Jones can still play, and he can still sing. His show might not be overly loud, physical, flashy or even groupie-worthy, but he is incredibly talented and is a genius with the electronic medium.
I took a couple short videos to share. The video quality is poor and you can chalk it up to me learning how to use my new phone. Next time it’ll be better!!
Unfortunately, the advice we were given to download the Howard Jones Engaged app proved to not be useful, as the app didn’t seem to work during this particular show. I was disappointed by that because I really liked the idea of using an app between band and audience. The thought of getting the audience to participate using their phones and Bluetooth seems like a plan that many other bands could utilize to add another dimension to their show. My one regret is not being able to see this work.
Jones finished his set by taking to the electronic piano, gracing the audience with a beautiful rendition of the song he played once upon a time at Live Aid in 1985: Hide and Seek, which he admitted was his most favorite song. The show ended with most of the audience on their feet for an extended version of What is Love. What’s more, Howard did an amazingly smart twist on the song by showing this aging crowd that what they loved about his music in the 1980’s could be made relevant and current in 2015 – he added an EDM refrain that worked particularly well. The audience bobbed and danced to the beat and as the crowd tiredly filed out to their Mercedes’, BMW’s and SUV’s in the parking lot – I overheard more than one concert goer mention that they really liked “that electronic stuff at the end”.
Perhaps there’s still hope.