Review: Joe Jackson – Live 1980/86

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Label: A&M

Released: 1988

In the liner notes of this album, Joe Jackson writes perhaps the best case for this album’s greatness:

“I’ve always had two stubborn rules about playing live. Firstly, no matter how small the audience, how bad the acoustics, how smelly the dressing room, etc, every show is important. It’s possible to play to about a dozen people throwing garbage and still be called back for an encore. Secondly, play what you want to play….My theory was that if I could still get excited about what I was doing, the audience could get excited about it too, even if it wasn’t quite what they’d expected. After all, they could always go home and play the records.”

Those words, it seems to me, should be the mission statement of all live performances and any live album worth the vinyl it’s pressed on should convey that.

On Live 1980/86, Joe Jackson lives up to those goals entirely. Ranging from edgy new wave to reggae-infused rock to jazz and all things in between, Jackson is never short of the best a performer can offer. Whether he’s angry, upbeat, sarcastic or melancholy, he shares that entirely with the audience. These shows are important and as a result, so is the album.

Jackson’s performances span styles and bands (all of them top-notch, by the way), but nothing shows his desire to change things up and play what he wants to play, how he wants to play it, better than the three (count them, three) versions of “Is She Really Going Out With Him.” The most mundane version here clocks in at over six minutes (almost twice as long as the studio version). The a capella version gives me chills. This is his best-known tune, the one everyone wants to hear whether they’re a diehard fan or not, but he does it his way and succeeds in a way you have to hear to believe.

Often, live shows don’t live up to their potential. Bands play the same set over and over. They fail to mix anything up to make the performance unique. Joe Jackson doesn’t have these problems and the fact that it’s clear on an album makes that album one of the greatest live recordings of all time and absolutely essential listening for everyone.

Satriani: 10/10
Zappa: 10/10
Dylan: 10/10
Aretha: 10/10
Overall: 10/10

If you’re curious about my rating categories, read the description.

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

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