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Music Review: Gemma Hayes, Joe Jackson at the Boulder Theater, Boulder, October 21, 2008

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What’s a nice Irish lass doing in a place like this?

That’s what many in the crowd of 1,000 at the Boulder Theater might have wondered on October 21, 2008, when Gemma Hayes stepped to the microphone and said, “Hi. I’m Joe Jackson.”

No offense to Jackson, the lanky, snow-white-haired, piano-playing, rock-steady, genre-bending chameleon from England, but Gentle Gem looks or acts nothing like the guy who was part of the New Wave movement in the late 1970s. The headliner of the night’s sold-out show is even old enough to be Hayes’ father, which he could be … if only he were considerably better looking.

Gemma Hayes, Boulder If Hayes’ introduction didn’t get the attention of the early arrivals, her dreamy 30-minute set certainly did. To answer the original question, Hayes was finishing up a series of dates in the United States opening up for Jackson to promote her third album, The Hollow of Morning, which was released September 30, 2008, via Second Motion Records.

The record was co-produced by longtime collaborator David Odlum, a onetime Dublin busker and former member of The Frames who brought some gravitas to the proceedings with his blazing electric guitar runs. Not that the audience needed to be pumped up for Jackson’s arrival.

They seemed content to sit through the soothing sounds of Hayes, whose smile alone could light up an entire theater. Resembling a petite version of Uma Thurman, Hayes is a wisp of a woman, and her songs seem even lighter. Not lightweight or lighthearted, mind you. Her profound words carry significant weight, yet with her feathery touch, they seemed ready to vanish into thin air, which would have been appropriate in this college town situated 5,400 feet above sea level.

Though she dressed down for the performance, wearing jeans and a beige tank top, with her blonde locks wrapped in a ponytail, the striking beauty was there for all to behold. And that ethereal voice wasn’t bad either.

Gemma Hayes Hayes began her six-song set with two selections from her 2005 release, The Roads Don't Love You, “Happy Sad” and “Easy On The Eye.” Wink, wink.

After switching acoustic guitars for the lovely “In Over My Head” from The Hollow of Morning, Hayes told the crowd to hold on while she searched for a guitar pick in the back pocket of her jeans. “I swear I’m a professional,” she said apologetically.

On the album, “In Over My Head” begins with the sounds of a gentle breeze blowing, birds chirping, and church bells ringing. It then transforms into a mid-tempo rocker blending her layered vocals with soaring guitars from My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields. It was one of the highlights of her show and the album.

“Back Of My Hand,” from her 2002 debut, the Mercury Music Prize-nominated Night on My Side, followed and the warm applause seemed to touch Hayes. “Thank you for being so kind,” she said. “It’s always intimidating to play in a roomful of people who don’t know who you are.”

Seemingly more confident, Hayes delved into her deep, dark past to exorcise her demons. In introducing “Oliver,” she admitted what a bad girl she was growing up, “beating up all the boys in school.”

gemma_tee She went into detail about an incident as a 7-year-old when she kept kicking a poor child, tossing his books and papers into a puddle to teach him a lesson. The next time they met, the boy “brought me a Michael Jackson tape and a Snickers bar,” leaving her completely perplexed about the opposite sex.

Someone among the left-leaning crowd wanted to know if the boy turned out to be this country’s Republican presidential nominee. “I know it wasn’t John McCain,” Hayes said, pausing for effect. “I wished it was, though.” That even won over the drinkers in the back who were just warming up for Jackson (more on that later).

The closing number “Out of Our Hands,” is the closest thing to a full-fledged rock anthem from The Hollow of Morning, and with more melodic guitar hooks and catchy lyrics, has the makings of a hit here and abroad. A sample: “Meet me at the back of the crowd / This could be our time to slip away / you say the bigger you dream / the smaller your street looks in the rain.”

With her U.S. tour completed, it’s a long way to Tipperary (sorry, couldn’t resist) for Hayes, who is one of eight children and, thankfully, gave up a part-time job in a launderette for a career in music.

With any luck, America, she’ll be back.

David Odlum Morning Glory: More album details
• With only 10 tracks (including one instrumental), it’s barely longer than her opening set, but worth repeated listenings to appreciate the hypnotic, atmospheric properties. It’s delicate, but not in a New-Agey way, with accomplished musicians (including versatile Odlum, right, on everything, and Bell X1 drummer Paul Noonan on six numbers), lush strings and churning guitars throughout.
• Hayes’ voice is barely above a whisper on the opening track, “This Is What You Do.” But the fragility draws in the listener who hears her “trying to find a little order in the chaos” while “barely hanging on.” She deals in some wordplay soon after, deciding to seek “a little chaos in the order.”
• “January 14th” is a 1-minute, 34-second love letter with a sense of longing: “I was thinking of you all of the time … almost all of the time … write soon.”
• The meditative qualities of “Home” make one yearn for a safe haven, then it builds to an emotional climax before fading back to the calming opening notes.

Mo’ Joe: The Jackson Trio Show
Jackson, with Trio members Graham Maby on bass and Dave Houghton on drums (both from his original lineup), played a snappy, 18-song, 90-minute set, remaining behind the piano. There were classic crowd favorites (Steppin’ Out,” “On Your Radio,” “Chinatown,” “One More Time,” “It’s Different for Girls,” and, during the encore, “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” and “A Slow Song”) and several selections from his most recent album, 2008’s Rain (“Too Tough,” “Citizen Sane,” “A Place In The Rain”), along with the usual couple of unusual choices (does anyone really know “Still Alive” from Volume 4?).

Gemma Hayes / Joe Jackson One particular treat was what Jackson called his “cover du jour.” While downright refusing to honor requests from the well-lubricated crowd, he pulled off his promise to “take a cool song and make it even cooler” by performing ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You.”

The idolatry displayed by the mature (in age only) masses was clearly evident, not that it mattered to Jackson, who often seems either embarrassed, befuddled, or irritated by the hero worship.

After the first “I love you,” pronouncement, Jackson merely gave a sarcastic thumbs-up. But later in the set, while preparing to launch into Rain’s “Solo (So Low)” by his lonesome, Jackson first admonished his followers, saying, “If I can interrupt your conversation for a minute.”

Then, while Jackson was admitting his voice was a bit “croaky,” another tipsy woman shouted, “You’re awesome! We love you.”

His reply? “Thank you, now can you just be quiet.”

Jackson taking action again. Seems like old times.

Extras, credit

• Go to the artist's label to download Gemma Hayes’ single “Out Of Our Hands.”
•To learn more about Gemma Hayes, go to her MySpace page.
• Gemma Hayes concert photo at the Boulder Theater taken by Candace Horgan. For more concert photos, go to Horgan’s Web site.

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  • carmen

    I agree it did seem like old times. Had a good time at this one. Although I was not one of the inebriated ones it was sure fun watching them. Gemma was great and has a voice to match. As for Joe Jackson, he continues to amaze. I really liked his version of ABBA’s Knowing Me Knowing You. Sorry, I am an ABBA fan also.