My wife and I drove from LA to San Diego with ample trepidation, having read the scorching reviews that have not improved in the month that this show has had to gestate. I don't know what Todd is going for, but Joe Jackson's touching, energetic, and professional set could not have prepared the casual observer for the calamity that was to follow.
I am one of the converted. I have proudly turned on friends and my wife to the genius and beauty of Todd's talent as a songwriter and a maverick performer. But his own performance does more to destroy Todd's legacy than any negative review could.
After watching Todd flippantly butcher virtually every piece of recording gold he has produced into a steaming pile of raw hamburger meat--turning what should have been a glorious opportunity to reconnect with casual fans and prove he is still relevant into an unfunny and uncomfortable court jester act--judging by the intermittent traffic for the exits, bathrooms, or bar during every song that wasn't Hello It's Me, did not fool anyone.
I'll start with the good: Todd had a good night at the piano. He made it through every song without having to stop or correct himself (although he did make a comment about forgetting the chords near the end of Hello It's Me). Todd, Ethel, and Joe at the end were brilliant together. But the road to redemption was muddy and riddled with potholes.
There's something irritating about shelling out real money to witness a disingenuously transparent performance. It seemed that rather than just playing his songs, Todd was taking every opportunity to digress from their original beauty to amuse himself. It was like being on a joyride with your drunk uncle in his jalopy death car. Todd found it impossible to just play a faithful version of ONE of his hits: Hello was marred by an energy-sucking tempo shift right about the time the song should transcend into pure bliss. I Saw the Light was the With a Twist version saddled with random, unintended tempo shifts. Bang on the Uke was actually good--at least better than the version on One Long Year. It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference could have made a difference had Todd not mailed it in with a 12-cent stamp. Lysistrada was ham-fisted, with Todd's voice still wontonly strangling his lyrics rather than letting them flow from him.
And the setlist: How can a trail-blazing genius who early in his career made a point that he did not want to make a string of Something/Anything? follow-ups because it was artistically limiting be content with playing the same freaking 10 songs in solo performance year in and year out? And poorly at that? Starting out a concert with 3 songs (Love of the Common, Cliche and Black n White) from the same album made me wonder: Is there a 20-year anniversary re-release of Faithful that Todd is promoting? And a distorted acoustic version of Black n White? My wife said if she heard him performing that at an open mic (cuz that's just where her free-form association took her), she would have to leave the room out of pure annoyance. Afterlife: Oh melody, wherefore art thou? Song of the Viking, while played brilliantly, still has the annoying and painfully unfunny (no audience reaction after every ironic misogynistic quip) break near the end before returning to the actual song.
There's no doubt: Todd is preaching to the choir on this tour. And because of performances like last night's, the congregation is getting smaller and smaller. And less forgiving.
It could have been a beautiful evening. Ethel was dynamic and precise. Joe was amusing and had the respect for his own song catalog and the audience in delivering faithful--but not mechanical--versions of his tunes. And Todd came out like he was fronting a band that only he could hear in his ear monitor. No enunciation. Guitar playing that seemed to disregard the fact that there were not other instruments to cover up the series of flubs. Where was the pride? When you find yourself thinking that a tribute band would play the music with more respect and precision, it's a sad day indeed.
Forget about casting the first stone. That was in Melbourne. Don't take the money of your fans if your heart's not in it. Just the tone of Todd's "apology" after that first disastrous show--blaming the monitors, being distracted by the big picture of the "whole show," getting offended at being called out by his brusque attitude and failed attempts at "humor"--was a bad omen. To simply apologize and promise to do better--and actually doing it--would have been sufficient.
Here are some things that could have made this night magic: More piano!
Hope I'm Around A Long Time, A Long Way to Go We Gotta Get You a Woman Marlene Torch SongDump Hide Your Love Away! Why, Todd, Why? Eventhough you were fully engaged for that number, it certainly pales in comparison with Joe's spectacular Life on Mars. Besides, you've pulled that one out of your ass for over 10 years. Don't Hurt Yourself Resolution, Take the Hand, It's Not That Easy: hey, hello it's me was once a Nazz tune, remember? These are all worthy songs that, to my knowledge have not been pulled out of the attic for 20+ years!
Sorry to be harsh, but Todd can handle it. A man with an ego big enough to justify this un-Godly string of performances certainly has attitude to burn.