Joe Jackson

Summer In The City: Live in New York

by Ben Varkentine


God, I love this man’s music.

After over a decade of varying success in the pop world, Joe Jackson found himself tired of throwing himself against the wall to see if he would stick. He decided to retire Joe Jackson the pop star and return to Joe Jackson the composer, and his recent albums come from a more mature, creatively ambitious place within him. But in the summer of 1999, he decided to play a brief series of gigs in New York as a trio, with himself playing piano and singing, Graham Maby on bass and vocals and Gary Burke on drums (each has played with him for years). This was an occasion for looking back on the pop not only of Jackson’s earlier career, but that which influenced him as well.

cover art

Joe Jackson

Summer in the City: Live in New York

(Sony Classical)

The sequencing is somewhat unfortunate, though obviously limited to some degree by the running order of the shows, because the first three songs are not the strongest. “Summer In The City” exposes the limitations of Jackson’s vocals, “Obvious Song” does not stray far enough from the previously recorded version to be interesting, and Jackson occasionally seems to have trouble keeping tempo on “Another World”‘s rhythmic keyboard figure.

Jackson long-ago declared his need to keep things interesting for himself in a live setting if he was to have any hope of interesting an audience. He does so by frequently rearranging his old songs, and the most rewarding moments here for fans will be those like the new arrangement of “Fools In Love,” linked here with “For Your Love,” and featuring Maby’s rumbling bass.

“Mood Indigo,” composed by Duke Ellington, might have been better off as an instrumental. The piano playing is exquisite, but Jackson’s sometimes adenoidal vocals are an acquired taste. Though they are usually perfectly suited to his own material, they fall a bit flat here. His reverent emotions for the piece are quite apparent, however and the imperfections do take on something of a haunted quality after repeated listens.

If Sony Classical doesn’t send the song “Down To London,” slid together with “The In Crowd,” to some classic rock stations, they don’t know a potential commercial airplay hit when I hear one. Burke cracks and pops, Maby swings, Jackson tinkles and the songs are damned near irresistible.

“Home Town,” which I have always found to be one of Jackson’s weaker efforts, gets the most-improved award. Paradoxically anemic in it’s original more full-blooded arrangement, here the false brightness of that version gives way to a more seasoned man thinking over his past-and the realization that his hometown is further away than ever.

“One More Time” is a disbelieving look at the end of an affair. But with a little imagination, it doesn’t seem such a stretch to hear it in this context as Jackson’s pop muse’s rebuke of his proclaimed farewell:

Tell me one more time your tears are only sad confusion
Tell me it’s just been so long and that is all
Tell me one more time that love was only my illusion
You never answered to my call

...except of course that Jackson did answer to “her” call for over 10 years. And if he now has a new mistress, it’s nice of him to drop in on the ex-wife from time to time to visit their kids and take care in their upbringing.

In the case of most music I am prepared to take a stance of “I like what I like, you like what you like, and that’s fine and everything’s beautiful.” But if you don’t like Joe Jackson, there’s something wrong with you.

Topics: joe jackson
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