Music Review: Don't you know, it's different for boys

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Joe Jackson

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

may be Burton-on-Trent's most famous son, but he's come a long way from Staffordshire. Nowadays he's a native New Yorker, and it shows in his accent, which fuses the States with flat English vowels to produce an Australian twang. Jackson also has a loose American ease, having left behind the antsy bloke who, as late as 1994, told the press that our cynical refusal to call him a composer, not a pop singer got him down.

That bitterness has vanished - in fact, he ended the evening in a very jolly mood. Solitary, and in festive undertaker's suit and blood-red shirt, he folded his 6ft 4in frame into origami behind a keyboard and made "It's Different for Girls" splendidly tortured; "Won't You Be My Number Two" was callous but bruised. Eventually, we got his famous deconstruction of "Danny Boy" ("it follows the simplest tenets of songwriting - so why didn't I write the fucking thing?"). And then the velvet drapes parted, revealing screened depictions of devils and angels, a violin howled a dissonant, scary opening bar and we were plunged into the album Heaven and Hell. This takes the form of a romp through the seven deadly sins and, it must be said, works best live, where it took on the feel of a series of souped-up immorality plays.

Supported by the hardworking violinist Valerie Vagoda and keyboardist Elise Morris, Jackson first delivered a Brechtian fugue on gluttony. "Angel" (lust) pitted a funky Morris as sleezy whore against Vagoda's choral Madonna; while "Tuzla" (avarice) was a dubby trip to the black-market front-line, complete with bomb detonations, military drums and Jackson spewing venom through a field-radio vocoder. "Sloth", heavy with lugubrious accordion, crossed Tom Waits with Alf Garnett; "Anger" was too loud; while "Song of Daedalus" (pride) began with symphonic beauty and became ugly. The evening's standout was "The Bridge" (envy), a delicate kd lang-like ballad, proved more uplifting than it had a right to be. Jackson recently called these songs "an existential challenge": well, what isn't? But as an adventure in new classical, on the whole, they rocked.

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