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Pop Music Reviews : Jackson Has 'em Screaming Again

June 28, 1986|CHRIS WILLMAN

Joe Jackson has sometimes seemed to be on a crusade to curb the indiscriminate screaming of obnoxious sots at rock concerts, to the point where his snide rejoinders from the stage have become legendary. This strikes some observers as pompous, but you need only sit near some of the baying banshees that plague his ballads to be converted to his cause.

Thursday, in the first of two shows at the Universal Amphitheatre, he couldn't get through one of his more delicate songs--with his trademark riffs of emphatic single notes on a grand piano--without wincing at the noise level.

Most ironically, during "Forty Years," an exquisite requiem for post-WWII optimism, the song's portrait of the modern-day Ugly American was punctuated by proud and loud whoops from the many motor mouths in attendance, as if some folks couldn't wait to prove the stereotype true.

But Jackson didn't give his adoring adversaries quite as much rope this time as last. The more elegant material was confined to the middle third of the formally divided show; for the bulk of the set, he returned to playing rock 'n' roll of the kind that hasn't been heard from him in years.

The impeccably paced 2 1/2-hour show glided easily between new-wave oldies, post-new-wave piano ballads, and selections from his fine new album "Big World"--which marks something of a return to his early work in both style and attitude--with additional forays into reggae, jazz swing and even progressive rock (a funny, spacey recitation of "Chinatown").

Jackson did get on well with the less boisterous elements of the crowd, with a string of personal asides. His quick wit and righteous anger--and, not least of all, considerable musical chops--really are something to shout about--figuratively speaking, of course. Right, fans? . . .

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