Detroit, Michigan (March 11, 2018) – Fans laughed, clapped, howled and sang along with a pair of great performances at Detroit’s fabled Saint Andrew’s Hall tonight. Eighties synth-pop legend Howard Jones (HoJo) played hits spanning his 35 years in the business, supported by a fantastic opening set from the vivacious Rachael Sage. In what sometimes felt like a family gathering in his living room, we were regaled with tales of rock royalty (sharing a helicopter ride with the band Queen) to real royalty (a request to play for Princess Diana) as HoJo shared intimate stories between songs throughout the night. Much like his beautifully written lyrics, these stories were captivating and personal, sharing behind-the-scenes details and peeks into Howard’s life with the warmth and honesty of an old friend.
First, Rachael Sage got the crowd in the mood for story time with plenty of witty banter during her seven-song set to open the show. Perched at her keyboard, with Kelly Halloran backing her up on fiddle, Rachael opened the night with her newest song “Myopia”, making a provocative political statement. She recently said of the title track for her upcoming May 4th release, “during these especially challenging times, I found myself wanting to visualize the world in a different, creative light.” She followed this with “Spark”, snapping her fingers between chords to provide her own rhythm section. Stepping away from the keys, Rachael picked up an acoustic guitar for the next number, “Try Try Try”, an upbeat tune about love at first sight and persistence.
A bit of reflection on her dance career spanning from the prestigious School of American Ballet to TV’s Dance Moms, segued nicely into the bluesy “I’ve Been Waiting” from her 2016 album aptly titled Choreographic. Singing the next song nearly a capella, with just a few plaintive strains from Kelly’s fiddle, Rachael clapped out the beat for “Haunted By Objects” along with some tap-like percussion provided by her shiny black boots. Besides being a successful singer-songwriter, Rachael often holds youth workshops to spread dance, music, and creativity to the next generation and encouraging an end to bullying. Her empowering single “I Don’t Believe It” was next on the setlist. She belted out its strong message of “every time that you tell me I’m not good enough I don’t believe it” to give us all the strength to face our naysayers and believe in ourselves. Switching the mood a bit, no one in attendance expected they’d hear a melody featuring the kazoo, but that’s exactly what Rachael gave us next, ending the show with “Hey Nah”, a fun song that got the crowd singing along to its catchy chorus.
Rachael’s music is both playful and inspiring, perfectly matching her vibrant personality and 100-watt smile. With over a dozen releases to her name, you’ll be sure to find an album or two that will make their way to the top of your playlist!
After a brief break, the house lights dimmed and Howard Jones strode out onto the nearly empty stage to wild applause. His classic 80’s blonde streaked mohawk replaced by a somewhat greyer “disturbed” hairstyle, (his words), Howard looked comfortable in front of the crowd of folks who were probably his fans during high school in 1985, many also featuring similarly greying ‘dos.
Jones sat down at the single Roland electric piano, picked out a few notes and then addressed the audience asking who drove long distances to attend, as well as offering an apology to the significant others who were dragged along unwillingly. Howard promised to make it worth it for them before breaking into “You Know I Love You, Don’t You?”, followed by “Specialty” to warm the crowd up. His casual chatter set the mood for the night, with Howard interspersing stripped down versions of his songs with personal stories from his 30+ years as a performing musician. While most known for his heavy use of synthesizers, there was nothing more than a single piano and his voice tonight. Next, Jones played “The Prisoner”, with the line “every place I go I feel your lenses trained on me” particularly noted by Splice Photographer Kelly Harmer. Howard shared that the piano was his first love and his classical training was evident throughout the night. “Hide and Seek”, the song that Howard performed for Live Aid, followed a tale of backstage jitters at the historic event in 1985, as well as a chance meeting and compliment from David Bowie that left Jones feeling his life was complete even if he never performed again.
A more recent number, “We’re In This Together” from the upcoming Animal Crackers movie soundtrack brought us to the present before Howard took us back in time again with a story about his 1983 appearance on the BBC’s Top of the Pops. This lead into “New Song”, the breakout hit from his debut album Human’s Lib, or more importantly, he stressed, “…this song was in Breaking Bad, his favorite TV show. The crowd seemed to love his amusing, self-effacing humor, laughing along like old friends as he paused mid-song after the line “I don’t wanna be hip & cool” to say he couldn’t really sing that in all honesty, trailing off with “not that it’s my prime ambition, but if it were to be the case…”
Next, Howard shared that as this was the last night of the tour he was going to do something a little different. Throughout the tour he has asked the audience to vote which cover song he should perform, selecting from three choices. Tonight, he gave Detroit a medley of all three, sharing poignant stories about George Michael and Brian Wilson, along with a humorous recollection of meeting Linda McCartney — and her husband, he added as an afterthought. The medley of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”, “Blackbird” by the Beatles and Michael’s “Careless Whisper” brought cheers from an audience awash in waves of nostalgia. Sharing a memory of being invited to perform for Princess Diana at Kensington Palace, took us into the next song “Everlasting Love”, with Howard ad-libbing “don’t wait too long, don’t set the bar too high, work with what you’ve got” after the chorus of “this is love worth waiting for…” A nice message that everlasting love may be worth waiting for, but sometimes we put so many expectations on it that we miss out on life in the meantime. On the theme of love, the next song, “Even If I Don’t Say” from 2009’s Ordinary Heroes, was dedicated to his wife, Jan, while Howard pointed out that being married for 40+ years made them a rock n’ roll anomaly. Between songs, Howard asked the audience to howl, mocking a wolf howl as an introduction to his 1985 classic hit “Life In One Day”. The set wrapped up with “What Is Love?”, another huge hit from the 80’s that had helped propel Howard to the top of the charts.
After a very brief step off stage, Howard returned telling us he realized he “forgot a few”, treating us to a two-song encore starting with “No One Is To Blame”. Offering up 1985’s “Things Can Only Get Better” next, he noted the line “and do you feel scared? I do” has a new sense of relevance in our current political climate. Mid-song, Howard also called out the brave students of Parkland, Florida for their efforts to resolve the nation’s gun violence crisis, which elicited a raucous round of applause from the crowd.
Blending the nostalgia of the past with the newer, raw but polished arrangements on just piano clearly showed that Howard Jones is much more than just a synthesized one-man-band as he was often labeled in the 80’s. A strong voice, combined with flawless, fluid finger-work on the keys, gave everyone at Saint Andrew’s a night to remember.
Aside from running her own record label, MPress Records, Rachael Sage has released 12 full-length albums and has toured the global with the likes of Ani DiFranco, Lucius, Beth Hart, Sarah McLaughlin, Judy Collins and more. Her music has appeared on MTV, HBO, the Fame soundtrack and the television show Dance Moms. Sage was born in NYC and is a former ballet dancer. Her 13th album Myopia represents a sonic shift for Sage, with more emphasis on her guitar playing over her usual piano palette. Myopia is due out in May 2018.