By Joshua Maloni
Of all the headline acts Artpark & Company booked for its 2016 summer concert series - almost two-dozen in total - who would've thought an opener would offer one of the season's highlight performances?
Howard Jones was a wizard on stage, conjuring up synth-pop beats and seemingly using some sort of hocus-pocus to sound, look and move around like he did when American audiences first heard his music in the 1980s.
If Jones' performance was a surprise, it wasn't any bigger than the one music fans and ticketholders had when arriving June 14 to hear the British singer and keyboardist crank out a plethora of hits - many, he said prior to the show, concertgoers might've forget or didn't know he created.
And yet, because Jones was the first performer up on stage, and his backdrop was sunny and clear, Artpark patrons were only offered a condensed version of his normal stage show. He was obligated to offer fewer songs and light production.
When Jones returns to this area Thursday, for a headline performance inside the Fallsview Casino Resort's high-end Avalon Theater, he will have his full repertoire of songs - "Things Can Only Get Better," "What Is Love," "Everlasting Love," "Life in One Day" and "Like To Get To Know You Well," amongst others - all set to a high-tech framework on cutting-edge electronics, sounds and videos.
Jones chatted with this writer about the show, his recent U.S. tour and a new greatest hits collection.
Howard Jones performed at Artpark in 2016.
Q: The last time we saw you in this area it was last summer, and you were touring with OMD and Barenaked Ladies. That was going to be your longest U.S. tour to date. How did it go?
Howard Jones: It was really great, actually. I mean it was tough for me, because I was opening up the show, so I had to go on like when the doors were opening! (Laughs) And sometimes even my fans hadn't been able to get in. (Laughs) So, it was challenging. But, the reason I took it on was that it was a chance to really play to a really different audience, you know?
And the Barenaked Ladies were so great, and they invited me to do a song with them in their set. So I sang "No One is to Blame" with them, which was really great every night - and went down really well.
It was a great tour. I really love the guys from OMD. And I got to know Barenaked Ladies really well, and they're just such a great band and such a great group of people with a great team around them. It was a really great tour for me.
And I noticed that, when we were touring this year, I was headlining (the Retro Futura tour), but a lot of people who had seen me at the Barenaked Ladies (concert) would come along again to see the full set, which was really great. It really worked in terms of introducing myself to a new audience.
Q: You said at that time that your songs would be performed in optimal form, with regard to the technology, but you were outstanding onstage at Artpark as a singer and performer. What is the secret to your success and longevity?
Howard Jones: I think - I love what I do, and I always wanted to do this, because I love music and I love playing music; I love writing songs. I still have the passion. I think that's what keeps you going. I think that, if it's what you love to do, and it's what you do best, those two things are a good combination.
What I've tried to do is always try to keep evolving. You know, like taking on new challenges. With me, it's usually technology. To bring an amazing sound to the live. Because you can do that now with the equipment that is available to us. We can really make things sound really, really good.
We've evolved again, because now it's a five-piece band. My guitarist Robin (Boult) is back in the band. And Emily Dolan Davies is playing electronic percussion. And so we've taken it another notch up, and that's really good fun.
I think the key to it is keep challenging yourself to do new things and, at the same time, don't forget where you came from. And don't forget the songs that people love to hear.
Q: One thing we didn't get to see outside was your light and video show. This time around, you're the sole headliner, it's a full set, and it's inside. What can we expect?
Howard Jones: Well, you know, as I was saying, the main thing is the new expanded band. And, of course, you get to see the show with the lights and the video. So, it's a proper production. And, you know, I'm constantly changing the set around. I mean, obviously we'll play the big songs that everyone wants to hear, but we like to mess with them and evolve them all around.
And then I play some brand-new stuff, as well, like "Eagle Will Fly Again" and "Human Touch" from "Engage" (2015). And then maybe some more obscure things. I mean, there's time to do it. Although I always run out of time to play as much as I'd like to. ... But on this kind of tour it's good to play things like "Hide and Seek," which I could never play on the Barenaked Ladies tour. There wasn't enough time. It's a bit slow for a snappy set.
And we're bringing things back, like "Equality" from the first album. And "Conditioning." And we might even do "Automaton" and "Hunger for the Flesh," or "Dream into Action." I'm not quite sure yet. We'll see how it goes on the day.
Q: A lot of these songs are available on your new release, titled "Best." What can you tell me about "Best"? I see it's three albums in that collection.
Howard Jones: Yeah, yeah, well, I was really keen to have a new best-of out there that combines the two eras of my work with Warner Bros. for five albums I did with them, and then my Dtox (Records) label, which is everything since the beginning of the' 90s. So, it's a time for it all to be in one place.
I chose the tracks myself, so it kind of was what I liked best, really. (Laughs) And also point people in the direction of some of the albums that maybe they've missed from me, like the "People" album (1998); "Revolution Of The Heart" (2005); "Ordinary Heroes" (2009). I hope people will be inspired to go and discover those records, which I'm really proud of, as well.
And on the third disc, I thought it would be good to have a few sort of more acoustic things that show what I do when I go out and do my solo tours. And a few more obscure tracks.
I'm very pleased with it, really. And people seem to be enjoying it. It's nice to have all the best stuff in one place.
Q: You've mentioned a few times playing your hit songs. When you play those songs now, I know you talk about evolving as an artist, and having the sound evolve, but how does it feel from an emotional standpoint tackling those songs now versus when you first recorded them and put them out?
Howard Jones: Well, you know, obviously it feels different now. I mean, the important thing for me it that I still can totally feel committed to the lyrics. The lyrics are most important to me. And, in a way, some of those songs - or maybe all of them, really - seem more relevant now then they did then. You know, things like "Things Can Only Get Better" - which is a song that is about when things go horribly wrong, and you think, "How am I going to get out of this?" I think we're living in times where people need that kind of encouragement. I certainly do in my life. You know, how are we going to turn this around?
And then, you know, "New Song" - "Don't crack up, bend your brain" and don't be afraid to express who you are and be who you are. And it's almost like they're even more relevant than when I wrote them. And they become more important to me as sort of statements of the things I'd like to say, which I feel very fortunate about. Because it may not have been the case. I might've written some songs that I now felt embarrassed about singing. But I'm very happy to say that's not the case.
So, really, as long as I can sing it like I mean it, then that's fine.
Howard Jones performs at 8:30 p.m. Thursday inside Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Click HERE for tickets or more information. The artist is online at http://www.howardjones.com.
Howard Jones at Fallsview