Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
  Expert Witness
Books:
  Going Into the City
  Consumer Guide: 90s
  Grown Up All Wrong
  Consumer Guide: 80s
  Consumer Guide: 70s
  Any Old Way You Choose It
  Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
Writings:
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  NAJP Blog
  Playboy
  Blender
  Rolling Stone
  Billboard
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
  Recyclables
  Newsprint
  Lists
  Miscellany
Bibliography
NPR
Web Site:
  Home
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell:
  Carola's Website
  Archive
Venues:
  Noisey
CG Search:
Google Search:
Twitter:

JOE JACKSON: LIVE IN TOKYO (1988)

*

With Joe Jackson.
Directed by Kanamie Kanachi.
(A&M Video, color, 110 min.)

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

On record, Joe Jackson has always seemed a likable fellow, quite bright, willing to tackle big issues lyrically but not too pretentious about it. Sure he proved how little well-meaning had to do with rock and roll, but it was hard for us not to respect the tense eclecticism of his musical craft. This utterly workaday concert tape, shot one quiet October evening in Tokyo a few years back, changed our minds. A hundred ten minutes is a serious acid bath for an adenoidal middlebrow who eschews pretension and still isn't as deep as he thinks he is.

We didn't mind looking at Jackson's ugly-and-proud mug, though its intrinsic interest wasn't enhanced by the randomly melodramatic lighting and smoke closeups. What we minded was not being able to ignore him, which must be how we tolerated his records. It didn't help that a preponderance of the material was from his negligible Big World album, but it soon became clear that Jackson can tackle the issues in staples like "Sunday Papers," "Cancer," and "Breaking Us in Two" only because they're standing still. And while his band executed salsa, Middle Eastern, jazz, and jump blues colors with the appropriate competence, before an hour was up we were longing for the real thing--any real thing.

What destroyed our remaining sympathy was the impersonation of a slack-jawed, Hawaiian-shirted Yank tourist that spiced up "The Jet Set." It was hard to tell what his fans thought of it, though they responded with the same polite enthusiasm that greeted the rest of his cliches. Actually, it was hard to tell how happy they were to get three encores. Arghh.

Video Review, May 1988