Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Joe Jackson 8: Live 1980/86

Despite not being the most lucrative artist on their label, A&M was still willing to bankroll any ideas Joe had. Will Power was an original, strictly symphonic work, with the exception of the exquisite “Nocturne” piano instrumental. Much of the next year was dedicated to writing and recording the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s latest flop. Tucker was also predominantly instrumental, based around forties swing, alternating between mood music and upbeat fanfares like “Toast Of The Town”.
But in the middle came the surprising release of a double live album. What makes Live 1980/86 so entertaining is given in the title—a side each from four different tours covering six years on the road. Each of the bands is different in some way, but all are tight as can be.
The first side is dedicated to the final show by the original Joe Jackson band, beginning with a tentative “One To One” before introducing the band and revving it up. An amazing performance of “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” (one of three here) spirals up into an extended vamp on the opening chords that manages to morph into a blistering “Don’t Wanna Be Like That”.
Sides two and three, recorded little over a year apart, are acknowledged in the excellent liner notes as being similar, but even the more contemporary pop sounds he’d developed manage to transform songs like “On Your Radio” and “Fools In Love”. The version of “A Slow Song”, which closes side three, is absolutely overflowing with emotion—again, described in the liner notes—the sax solo nicely replacing the calmer organ of the album version. (The crowd reaction provides a nice contrast to the included photo of the audience at a 1982 gig opening up for the Who, taken from the viewpoint of the singer, looking out over a stadium floor full of raised middle fingers.)
Side four—the only one not to feature the stalwart Graham Maby on bass—was the most recent tour captured at the time, and it’s the best side. Several songs are reworked here: “Be My Number Two” merges very nicely into “Breaking Us In Two” with a subdued nylon-string solo; “It’s Different For Girls” is transformed into an acoustic strum; “You Can’t Get What You Want” loses the horns without the energy; “Jumpin’ Jive” gets a rockin’ workout that must have been memorized by Brian Setzer; and “Steppin’ Out” becomes an atmospheric meditation as filtered through side two of Big World.
With almost two hours of music, Live 1980/86 is riveting and hardly tedious. Yes, there are actually three different versions of “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” on this album, and while the so-called “acoustic” and “a cappella” renditions are enjoyable in their own ways, the best is still the tense burner from 1980. As it should, Joe’s prowess on the piano is slowly revealed through the four sides.

Joe Jackson Live 1980/86 (1988)—4

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