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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Joe Jackson







Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, March 2nd 2008

Joe Jackson first came to my attention in 1979 following the release of his first album, Look Sharp, a collection of punchy, spiky and often misogynistic songs driven by Jackson’s piano, and his distinctive voice – somewhere between Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. It was released by A&M, who at the time were also promoting the Police, whose first album had largely been ignored when it came out in the previous year but was now motoring due to the success of the re-released single ‘Roxanne’. And? Well at the time I was working in a record shop that had a deal with A&M so these records were played to death during peak play list hours. Somehow I managed to escape with some degree of affection for Jackson, which is more than can be said for you-know-who. Jackson followed up his initial success with albums in quick succession, his songs becoming gradually more lyrical and thoughtful, and musically increasingly jazz orientated. But at some point in the mid 80s he fell out of my consideration zone, not that that stopped him from releasing more albums, relocating to New York and then back to the UK (Portsmouth of all places) and picking up a Grammy for 1999’s Symphony No 1, which was a big hit in the Billboard Classical Music charts. But thirty years on from signing for A&M he’s almost turned full circle, and is back with a new album, Rain, and a tour with two of his original band, Graham Maby on bass, and Dave Houghton on drums.
Tonight he’s also wearing a very smart suit, made from cloth, he tells us, the colour of a Martini, “my very favourite drink”. I suspect he’s actually drinking some sort of throat-cure from the cup that stands on his piano, as his voice is quite throaty, far from perfect. It could of course be the fags – Mr Jackson is a committed smoker, and an ambassador and apologist for the cause. He left New York, apparently as a result of the smoking ban there, and has recently moved to Berlin where he can both smoke in peace and enjoy the beer, another of his enthusiasms (as befits someone born in Burton-on-Trent). And I commend you to read his essay “Smoke Lies, and the Nanny State” which you download from his website – it’s a reasoned, well-informed and entertaining polemic, whatever you think about smoking. And it’s obvious that in the sold out and all-seated Shepherd’s Bush Empire he has fans who admire his music, and others who are there to celebrate his love of the weed. Hence the obnoxious, malodorous and frankly ugly pair behind us who were only silent when they left (as thankfully they frequently did) for a quick spit and a draw outside on the pavement.
For all that it’s an entertaining enough evening - as a three-piece the band are pretty good, Maby’s bass particularly impressive, Houghton’s largely electric drum kit less so, as it puts me constantly in mind of the BBC’s East Enders theme tune. The mix of songs rests appropriately heavily on Rain – some are pretty good, like ‘So Low’, played solo, and ‘A place in the rain’ which ends the main set. In between the new stuff we get songs from the past thirty years – an overly jazzy ‘Steppin’ out’ (during which the band frankly seemed to get lost) starts the set, and is followed (in no particular order) by ‘It’s different for girls’, ‘Dirty Martini’ (a celebration of both the drink and New Orleans, the best place to drink one, according to Mr Jackson), the pretty awful ‘Chinatown’ and during the encores ‘Is she really going out with him’, sung largely by the audience.
We also get a couple of gratuitous covers, Abba’s ‘Knowing me knowing you’ and Bowie’s ‘Scary monsters’, the less said about which the better. And the evening ends with the very nice ‘Slow song’, from Jackson’s only top-ten album, 1982’s Night and Day.
It’s an altogether satisfactory Sunday night (apart from the uglies behind us), and I’ve been surprised since the gig to go back and rediscover how many really good songs Jackson has written – I can only suggest you do the same yourself, or go and see him on this extensive tour (he’s even playing St Kilda!). But sadly there are no photographs to share as the security guards prowled the aisles pouncing on anyone who so much as glanced at a mobile ‘phone. Discretion, said the Photographer, was the better part of valour on this occasion. - Nick Morgan

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