For the last few years, the mercurial Joe Jackson (b. 1955) has seemingly forsaken the smart pop/rock songcraft that put him on the map with his hits "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" and "Steppin' Out" in favor of ambitious, artistic-with-a-capital-A works like 1997's operatic song cycle Heaven and Hell and 1999's Symphony No. 1. These albums were not exactly huge successes in the marketplace, so when he reconvened the original Joe Jackson Band of his first two albums (Look Sharp! and I'm the Man) for 2003's Volume 4 and tour, the more cynical among us might've entertained the thought that the lads might be doing it just for the lucre. Well, forget that -- the live document Afterlife finds the JJB rocking out with more focused fervor than most bands twenty years its junior.
The contents of Afterlife are drawn from four '03 California concerts, including SF's Fillmore. While "Is She ..." and "I'm the Man" are conspicuously absent, there're plenty of Jackson classics to warm the heart of any die-hard fan. This set kicks off with the one-two punch of a solo rendition of the classy "Steppin' Out" followed by the urgent wallop of "One More Time," the latter still retaining its melancholy nuances. And before you (or the band) have a chance to draw breath, they blitz into the bob-and-weave of "Take It Like a Man," where Jackson's luminously lyrical piano is in stark, cool contrast to the blistering tempo.
Jackson's singing is a fine mix of middle-aged reflective tenderness and youthful brashness and immediacy, and the JJB encapsulates the best of both worlds: the lean ferocity of a garage band with the panache of seasoned pros, and dig the Sonic Youth-like burst of noise guitar on "Got the Time"! Far from being a bunch of old farts trying to recapture the magic of their glory days, Afterlife demonstrates the Joe Jackson Band is just as good now, if not better, than it was back-when.
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