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Pop Music Reviews : Animation, Animosity From Joe Jackson

August 30, 1989|STEVE HOCHMAN

That Joe Jackson sure seems to be one arrogant chap, not to mention a surly cynic, contemptuous cuss and all-around critical dude.

Oh yeah--he's something of a snob as well.

But those are likely the very qualities that have allowed the New York-based Englishman to carve out an ambitious and distinctive body of uncompromising pop over the past decade, much of which was on display Monday at the Wiltern Theatre.

The nearly 2 1/2-hour set covered both the wiry singer's eclectic career and--in two six-song suites presenting his entire latest album "Blaze of Glory"--his lifetime. Jackson employed the talents of a versatile 10-piece band to range from quasi-classical (his "Home Town" melody was set against an adaptation for horns and violin of Pachelbel's Canon in D) to biting rock ("I'm the Man") to jazzy jumpin' jive (a swinging encore medley). The horns in particular were used to provide sometimes Ellingtonian coloration to the songs much the same way Steely Dan used to employ brass, adding new dimensions to old favorites.

And within the set, especially the "Blaze of Glory" suites, Jackson ranged thematically from the New Frontier optimism of "Tomorrow's World" to the resigned frustration of "Evil Empire."

Impressive indeed. While Jackson's no visionary (his music and especially his lyrics fall short of the kind of insightful abstractions that would qualify as poetic), the show left little doubt about his talents and ability to achieve his lofty artistic goals.

But getting in the way of any real connection at each step was that dang attitude . Like Frank Zappa, another surly perfectionist, Jackson specializes in the put-down. On Monday, in one song after the other, Jackson aimed his snarly sneer at those he perceives as boobs: the ugly Americans of "Jet Set," the over-the-hill rocker--performed by Jackson in a gravity defying pompadour wig, silver lame coat and bulging prosthetic belly--of "Nineteen Forever."

Along the way he threw a brief snit at a sound mixer and sparred occasionally--and not always good-naturedly--with the audience. OK, the guy who asked for the songs to be sped up deserved the "Why don't you go see the Ramones" comeback, and the nerd who got on stage and danced like a loon probably deserved more than the gentle kick in the derriere Jackson gave him.

And even when he complimented the crowd for its enthusiasm, he felt the need to note that past L.A. audiences hadn't been so good. The only people about whom he had anything unreservedly nice to say were the members of his band.

If he has no sympathy or patience for anyone else, why should we have any for him? Admiration? Without question. Appreciation for his accomplishments? Indubitably. But not much honest, deep feeling.

So when at the end of "Blaze of Glory" he sang, "All I want to do is give you the human touch," you had to wonder where it was.

Jackson's three-night Wiltern stand ends tonight, followed by an Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre concert on Friday.

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