Released in 1985 – back when Howard Jones’ catchy synth-pop and perfectly coiffed bangs were an MTV fixture – “Things Can Only Get Better” contained these lyrics:
“Treating today as though it was the last, the final show. Get to 60 and feel no regret. It may take a little time.”
It seems that time has arrived. The musician behind such hits as “Life in One Day” and “What Is Love” is in fact 60 years old. His hair has less altitude, and he plays more-intimate venues than he did in the Reagan years.
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But in some ways, not much has changed. Jones, who is set to perform at Harlow’s on May 13, still surrounds himself with the latest music technology, which now means laptop computers rigged with high-end software instead of a trusty Roland Jupiter 8 synthesizer. And he’s still spending a good chunk of time on the road.
“I’ve always taken that line (from ‘Things Can Only Get Better’) very seriously,” Jones said in a recent phone call. “I’m really living what I said, and I don’t have any regrets. I told myself I’m going to make this next portion of my life really rock. I’m doing more shows than I have in a long time.”
Jones’ current show isn’t a simple throwback, like the soundtrack to “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” come to life. Jones is touring behind “Engage,” an album with a distinct multimedia spin that’s paired with a downloadable app. The music takes his fondness for electronic stylings to even deeper spaces, with blippy-sounding beats and synthesizer stabs, all paired with Jones’ melodious vocals.
Jones has always gravitated toward the latest musical gadgets, starting at 1970s Isle of Wight Festival, when he saw Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer lift the crowd with a Moog synthesizer. Jones would later assemble his own arsenal of electronic instruments, which sounded dazzling in the studio and on record, but could be testy and temperamental when taken on the road.
“Those instruments weren’t suited to being carted around the world in the backs of trucks,” Jones said. “That was the price you paid for being on the edge. But I’m not really a nostalgia type of person. I think about what can create the most exciting and amazing sound, and I go with that. The synthesizer is a way to orchestrate my music, and that’s always been the case.”
The live extravaganza behind “Engage” includes a full-blown visual program to accompany the contemporary dance music, with much of the action triggered by a laptop. An app that can be downloaded for Apple products and Android allows Jones to broadcast messages and videos from the stage to smartphones.
Jones’ set in Sacramento will be a stripped-down version of the usual “Engage” performance. Harlow’s is too small to accommodate all the equipment and personnel required for “Engage’s” full multimedia glory, but the first half of the set will contain selections from Jones’ new works, and the accompanying app will be in effect as well.
Still, the show will feature memory-lane moments, but with some touches via the digital age. The second part of Jones’ set includes his greatest hits, including the forlorn “What Is Love?” and the positive-minded “Life in One Day” and “New Song.” Jones doesn’t treat them as mere flashbacks and gives some of them a remix treatment with added touches of musical technology.
“I’m always trying to move them forward, but it’s important to keep the key elements,” Jones said about his most familiar songs. “For instance, on ‘Things Can Only Get Better,’ I play that in a way that’s sort of like the record and then it segues into a big-house mix. For me, the songs now sound way better than when I first started.”
Sounds like things really did get better.
“I’m doing what I really love to do, and there’s no holding back,” Jones said.
Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.
What: The synth-pop star of the 1980s performs an intimate show in Sacramento.
When: 8 p.m. May 13
Where: Harlow’s (2708 J St., Sacramento)
Cost: $27.50, $31 day of show
Information: (916) 441-4693, www.harlows.com