Rock’s “Where Are They Now?” file expanded to warehouse proportions after “New Wave Day” at the second US Festival in 1983. After playing to over 100,000 of people, bands such as Missing Persons, A Flock Of Seagulls, and Men At Work were unceremoniously bused to a holding facility outside Cleveland, never to be heard from again. Although Joe Jackson initially escaped this fate by not performing there, he was soon to join them anyway.
With his first two albums, Look Sharp and I’m The Man, Joe Jackson was garnering favorable comparisons to Elvis Costello. His breakthrough paean to Cole Porter and New York City, titled Night And Day was almost perfect, and remains one of my favorite eighties albums. Maybe it was the pressure of living up to being a child prodigy that spawned it, but after Night And Day Joe Jackson completely blew it.
The salsa-inflected Body And Soul came next, followed by the three-sided LP Big World. Neither were total catastrophes, but they did not find many fans either. The two times I have seen Joe Jackson were on the tours behind these albums, and both were unmitigated disasters. I walked out of both shows (as did most of the crowd) after listening to him castigate us over and over again for not showing the proper respect for his music. For many, this was the end of Joe Jackson as far as we were concerned.
Unsurprisingly, Jackson’s record sales plummeted, he was dropped by his label, and he played to empty houses. After two decades of toiling in the wilderness, Joe figured out that maybe if he came back as a friendly retro-act he might be able to upgrade to a two-bedroom flat. The ploy worked, kicked off by the god-awful Night And Day II in 2000. Nobody cared about the album, but the man had written some great songs way back when, and some were interested in hearing them performed live.
He has released five live albums since 2000 – and Live Music is the latest. 30 years in front of an audience have finally mellowed Jackson – I guess he figured out that most people don’t enjoy paying money to be berated. He is Mr. Warmth during these performances, which is a welcome development.
Of the 12 songs contained on the disc, five are from Night And Day – while three are covers. Jackson’s choice of covers are interesting, he goes from The Beatles’ “Girl,” to “Scary Monsters,” by David Bowie, followed by fellow New Wave Brit Ian Dury’s “Inbetweenies.” The Night And Day material is (unsurprisingly) the most effective. Thankfully Jackson does not substantially alter “Another World,” “Chinatown,” “Cancer,” “Steppin’ Out,” or “Slow Song.” Like it or not, these are the songs his fans came to see.
Joe Jackson is now a very engaging performer, with some brilliant songs to share, and it sounds as if it were a very enjoyable night for all. If you ever wondered what he sounded like in a live setting – minus the invective, Live Music is worth checking out.