Joe Jackson - vocals, piano, harmonica; Gary Sanford - guitar, vocals; Graham Maby - bass, vocals; David Houghton - drums, vocals
In the late 1970s, three British songwriters challenged the punk-scene and helped usher in the new wave sound: Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and Joe Jackson. Like Costello and Parker, Jackson's lyrics were intelligent and brimming with creative wit and like his counterparts, he had a killer band that was critical in developing his sound. The lineup was simple: piano, guitar, bass, and drums, but the results were striking. On his debut album, Look Sharp, Jackson harnessed the raw energy of punk, but made it more compelling by applying his pungent melody lines and eternally yearning vocals. On his second album, I'm The Man, Jackson's fascination with jazzier textures began to blossom, which he would further pursue with great success in the years to come.
This high profile concert, recorded during the early days of the I'm The Man tour at New York City's Palladium, was an important gig in Jackson's early career. Televised on WNEW TV, simulcast on several east coast radio stations, and recorded for two installments of the King Biscuit Flower Hour, Jackson and his band deliver an explosive performance. Capturing Jackson just days prior to the release of I'm The Man, this performance is packed with the strongest material from his first two albums when these songs were most exciting and fresh. Although his lyrics often deal with anger, misery, and confusion, this music is bouncy, melodic, intelligent, and fun.
Jackson kicks it off with "Look Sharp," the driving title track from his debut album, followed by the new tune, "Friday," with it's "life sucks but we don't care!" attitude. Gary Sanford's melodic guitar lines and Graham Maby's counter bass lines highlight the humorous "(Do The) Instant Mash" and another new one, "Get That Girl," before Jackson launches into his classic diatribe against the British tabloids, "Sunday Papers." The retro sounding "Baby Stick Around" and the NYC debut of "Amateur Hour" precede the song Jackson is most remembered for, "Is She Really Going Out With Him." Only Joe Jackson could turn a song so self-deprecating and sarcastic into something so peppy and upbeat, which had this song riding around the Billboard Top 40 at the time. The remainder of the recording showcases the new album, with the confectionary "Kinda Kute," "Don't Want To Be Like That" and the infectious title track with its reference to the "shark-mania" that was still prevalent following the film Jaws. Jackson brings the set to a close with the manic energy of "Got The Time," and then returns for an encore, paying homage to Fats Domino with a wild cover of "Ain't That A Shame."
During this era, when major label record companies still encouraged artists to release albums regularly (rather than years apart, while milking them to death), Jackson's first two albums appeared well within the time span of a year and as such, can be perceived as a pair. On both albums, Jackson was still working out his aggression and attempting to stay inside a genre he'd soon abandon. Much like Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and bands like the Police, he was proving that punk and new wave music was not as limited a form as the critics often made it out to be. Jackson was fusing many elements together and although he had plenty of punk attitude, his musical brilliance was undeniable. Throughout this set, the musicianship is superb. David Houghton's drumming is explosive, Graham Maby's bass playing has a chunky pick heavy sound, and Sanford and Jackson make each chord and note count, with no superfluous grandstanding. This is an incredibly solid band, who despite their low profile, helped Jackson to create a powerful sound.