Howard Jones was one of a swathe of British musicians who, in the 1980s, redefined electronica and synth-based music. Along with the likes of Yazoo, New Order, The Human League, Depeche Mode and Gary Numan, he took this form of music to unexplored territory. Tonight was a rare opportunity to see a master of the genre at work in the live setting.
With no support act, tonight featured Jones’ first two albums, 1984’s Human’s Lib and 1985’s Dream Into Action performed live in their entirety. Very ably assisted by Robbie Bronnimann on live samples, sequencing and effects and Jonathan Atkinson on electronic drums, tonight was an absolute treat for the many fans of ‘a certain age’ for which Jones’ music holds very strong and fond memories, as evidenced by the love and passion from the crowd that was on display.
Jones, in both musical style and attitude towards life, was and still is a man very much ahead of his time. Pro-environment, Buddhist, vegetarian and the owner of a hairstyle that would put most of Generation Y to shame. Apart from his musical innovation with electronica, the humanism and compassion that stood out in his idiosyncratic and unique way with songcraft is what makes the man truly unique.
Dream Into Action contained a beautiful sense of warmth and connection between artist and audience, one you rarely see these days at live concerts. The album, which was Jones’ second release, features some still striking tracks like “Hunger For The Flesh”, “Speciality”, “Look For The Key” and some of his big hits like “Things Can Only Get Better”, “Life In One Day” and “Look Mamma”.
The way that he has taken the music, which was originally produced on analogue equipment, and reinterpreted and rejigged it on a live front using cutting edge technology from the current day was highly compelling. This adaptation gave it a modern relevancy and currency sorely lacking in most acts from this era trying to stage a modern comeback.
An epic three hour show, complete with intermission, that would have seen babysitters across Melbourne working overtime. It was incredibly enlightening and enjoyable to see how Jones, via his music, has had a hand in influencing and creating such electronica subgenres like trip hop, jungle and dubstep – all of which were reflected in musical flecks and moments of the man’s performance.
One of the biggest responses came with the sublime “No One Is To Blame”, which had the crowd singing in perfect key and harmony. Jones was particularly impressed, asking the band if they heard the crowd with a massive smile on his face. One of his signature tracks, “Like To Get To Know You Well”, prompted a similar response.
After a short break, it was time for Jones’ debut long play record, Human’s Lib. A more experimental album, in which the electronic pioneer was very much finding his style and form, it benefitted greatly from its live presentation. With sensational songs like “Conditioning”, “Pearl In The Shell”, “Hide And Seek” and his first big hit that brought him to the attention of the world, the wonderful “What Is Love”.
The second half of the night was very much a showcase for Jone’s brilliance as both a songwriter and performer. Lyrically, his empathy and humanity for his fellow man, and the positivity with which it is expressed while also managing to avoid sounding preach and didactic, is one of the man’s greatest gifts as an artist.
This was a truly wonderful night, particularly for the hardcore fans. It was also a potent reminder that great music and songwriting will never go out of fashion, no matter where music in general takes us throughout our lives.