Joe Jackson at The UC Theatre, by Jon Bauer
Joe Jackson (photo: Jon Bauer)

With his keyboards positioned modestly off to the side of stage and set under a soft spotlight, Joe Jackson walked quietly from darkness and took a seat. It was a subtle entrance but a grand start when the elegant British pianist-singer-songwriter struck a single key and belted a notable first line, “What the hell is wrong with you tonight?”

And so began Jackson’s flawlessly crafted show at the UC Theatre in Berkeley on June 22, 2016. The touching version of “It’s Different For Girls” from his 1979 album I’m the Man started off the evening that showcased his decades-long career, diverse interests, clever lyrics and catalog of material. It was all woven into one seamless performance.

It was perfection.

Jackson, 61, played a solo set of six songs before his band of masterful musicians took the stage for 16 more songs. “I am the opening act for this evening,” he told the crowd. He played emotional ballads that brought tears; nostalgic hits that brought memories; and upbeat songs that made the audience get up and dance.

“Read all about it, Sunday Papers.” Fans sang along with the unforgettable single from Jackson’s 1979 debut album Look Sharp! He played classic favorites; covered Abba’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You”; paid tribute to David Bowie with “Life On Mars”; and highlighted songs from his most recent album called Fast Forward.

It was Jackson’s second local show. He performed the night before at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. The Bay Area appearances are early stops on the tour that will end July 15, 2016 at the Apollo Theater in New York.

Jackson touted 2015’s Fast Forward, which he composed and produced. The album features songs recorded in four cities — New York, New Orleans, Berlin and Amsterdam. He originally wanted the material to be released as four EPs. “As it turned out, no one liked this idea,” Jackson said, before singing the title track. “It was all put together in one album.”

As the song drew to a close, long-time bassist Graham Maby made another unassuming but striking entrance onstage, playing the recognizable bassline of the classic “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” One by one, the rest of the band joined with Doug Yowell on drums and Teddy Kumpel on guitar. Their talents would be featured in small solos throughout the evening.

“Real Men,” from the 1982 album Night and Day, was the first song the band played together that night, their big sound coming out in full force. It swelled further still during “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)” to the point that no one seemed to miss the distinctive horns.

Jackson brought new favorites to the crowd with more songs from the latest album, including “Keep On Dreaming” and “Ode to Joy.” He began wrapping the show with a slow rendition of “Steppin’ Out,” and thanked the audience for coming.

“Thanks for being nice to us,” he said.

No Joe, thank you.

Photos by Jon Bauer