Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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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