Joe blows

JOE JACKSON at Massey Hall, December 18. Tickets: $41.25-$51.25. Attendance: 1,700. Rating: NN Rating: NNjoe jackson is a great musician.

JOE JACKSON at Massey Hall, December 18. Tickets: $41.25-$51.25. Attendance: 1,700. Rating: NN Rating: NN

joe jackson is a great musician and especially a great songwriter, one who invariably prompts a kind of “Wow, I forgot about that one” reaction when he rummages through his back catalogue. Watching him play, surrounded as he always is with a terrifically versatile band, you just know you’re in the presence of someone uniquely gifted. So why was his Massey Hall show in support of his new Night And Day II disc so spectacularly dull?

Hard to know exactly, since all the pieces seemed to be in place. Longtime bassist Graham Maby and percussionist Sue Hadjopoulos were at his side awesome multi-instrumentalist/singer Allison Cornell and cellist Catherine Bent were on their game, and everybody, Jackson included, was adding flavourful percussion at some point.

Actually, Jackson’s gig was so percussive, it was practically latin. Or it would have been had Jackson not reminded us ad nauseam that, in fact, the spirit of his material, and indeed, his entire friggin’ being, is located in weird, wonderful Manhattan. Special to Joe: with the advent of aircraft, some of us have been able to experience NYC first-hand.

By the start of the second half of the show, following a spirit-deflating intermission, there was no doubt that while the whole concert exercise added up on paper, Jackson couldn’t grapple a groove.

The audience was there for him. A relative high point ­– triggered by a cover of Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years and snappily shadowed by Is She Really Going Out With Him ­– brought unsolicited howls from the crowd. Jackson: “Look over there.” Crowd: “WHERE?” That sort of thing.

Still no lift-off. No wonder the Beatles cover didn’t stand a chance. An hour and 20 minutes into the second set, it was palpably frustrating to watch a tremendous band playing quality material but unable to cause more than a minor ripple in the expensive seats.

If Jackson was aware of the snooze factor, he didn’t show it. In fact, he seemed genuinely thrilled to be able to trot out his songs with exacting precision regardless of their impact ­– or lack thereof. That’s what made the whole night so maddening. Like the saying goes, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.JOE JACKSON at Massey Hall, December 18. Tickets: $41.25-$51.25. Attendance: 1,700.

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