Howard Jones was having a slight problem with the equipment. It was the first show on the second leg of 1985’s Dream Into Action tour, and right on the heels of a successful Live Aid performance. Jones hit the stage at Miami’s James L. Knight Center and the crowd enthusiastically sang along through the first few songs when things took a turn.
The power died, leaving Jones and approximately 5000 fans in total darkness. The venue was able to get a backup generator running before complete chaos ensued, but the limited power meant there wasn’t much more than emergency lighting and a few spotlights on the stage. Rather than storming off of the stage that night, Howard Jones did something I will never forget: he led the crowd in a Beatles sing-a-long until electricity was fully restored.
I was a 17-year-old music fanatic with a fascination for all things new wave, and had just started venturing out to concerts the year before. I had already racked up a nice collection of tickets stubs from bands like Duran Duran, Wham!, and Paul Young, but watching Jones entertain that audience under wildly complicated circumstances was the first time I had seen more than just a live version of a glossy MTV video.
Turning music into a multimedia experience
More than 30 years later, Jones is out on the road again in support of his latest album, Engage. The new music lacks the hooks of his chart-topping hits of the 80’s, but instead features a more complex and challenging, sound. The album was conceived as a part of a bigger project meant to fuse visuals and music into a broader multimedia experience. The challenge for the live tour was to combine those complicated sounds with Jones’ greatest hits from the 80’s.
The show at The Paramount in Huntington, NY, proved that Jones continues to work at creating the best show possible under any circumstances. Engage was meant to immerse the audience into a full sensory experience using large video screens and other interactive elements, but those things weren’t practical for a touring stage, so Jones made due with a smaller screen and a sparse set up. A large keyboard rig took center stage with his signature keytar sitting on a stand behind it. A drummer and additional keyboard player perched on elevated platforms on either side, their instruments glowing an array of neon colors.
The first three songs in the set served almost as the first paragraph of an essay about Jones’ career. The set opened with “Pearl in the Shell”, from his first album, 1983’s Human’s Lib. “The Prisoner”, from 1989’s Cross That Line, was next up followed by a new track, “Eagle Will Fly Again” from the Eddie the Eagle soundtrack.
Jones finally gets his full set
Jones had spent most of his summer playing shorter sets as a part of a tour alongside Barenaked Ladies and OMD, but with The Paramount show, he was able to play a full show which gave him the breathing room to bring some lesser known singles and tracks from Engage to the stage.
The two news songs Jones brought to the stage were the somewhat treacly, “Joy,” and the far more dynamic, “The Human Touch”. Both songs fit into the set list nicely and felt like the obvious evolution of Jones’ early sound. The longer set also gave space to the beautiful and haunting, “Hide and Seek,” from Human’s Lib. Other songs that had been missing from the festival shows that found a place in the solo show included “Look Mama” and “You Know I Love You, Don’t You?”
Of course, Jones’ biggest singles were those best received by an audience consisting of die hard fans and more casual listeners. “No One is to Blame” and “What is Love” became group sing-alongs, while “The New Song” and “Live in One Day” had people on their feet doing their best new wave dances. The set closed with the hugely popular, “Things Can Only Get Better”, which included an EDM breakdown at the end.
Long gone are the dancers, overly teased hair, and over-the-top light shows of the 1980’s, but just like that evening back in 1985, Howard Jones continues to prove that he doesn’t need spectacle to entertain an audience.
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