In their 7 years together from 1975 to 1982, The Jam became known primarily for their incendiary live performances, as well as the fact that Paul Weller was a sublime writer of the three-minute pop-rock single, his everyman lyrics a natural successor to Ray Davies of The Kinks. The Jam were known for their incredible live performances, full of energy and fit to burst with great singalong anthems. The front cover shows a strutting Paul Weller toting his Rickenbacker. A shot inside the CD booklet shows a whirling Foxton behind a furiously strumming Paul Weller. The booklet is fleshed out with opinions on The Jam live from eleven different people. Like their contemporaries The Clash, photographs of them live really sum up their energetic and chaotic live sound. Ramshackle and polished by turns, the lve energy of The Jam is summed up by a famous picture of a flailing Weller and Foxton throwing themselves enthusiastically from drummer Rick Buckler’s drum kit. Of course, with the band having split twenty-three years ago it is difficult to imagine similar scenes now, but a CD like ‘Live Jam’ comes pretty bloody close.
‘Live Jam’ was released by label Polydor in 1993, just over a decade since the band broke up. It is a follow-up of sorts to the first live Jam album ‘Dig The New Breed’ which was released in November 1982. ‘Dig The New Breed’ is mostly focussed on more famous singles, such as ‘Going Underground’, but I personally feel ‘Live Jam’ has a much better tracklist. There are 24 live tracks here, from early songs like ‘Away From The Numbers’ to their penultimate No.1, ‘Town Called Malice’. The CD also includes several non-album singles like ‘When You’re Young’. In short, the CD provides a good retrospective as well as a live CD. There is a ton of fan-favourites present, including ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’, ‘Man In The Corner Shop’, ‘Smithers-Jones’ and the aforementioned ‘Town Called Malice’. It is difficult to assess a 24 track CD sometimes – a lot of people don’t have the patience to sit and listen to the whole thing, but the sheer energy of the performances drives ‘Live Jam’ along brilliantly. It really does show that the band were at their peak live. In fact, in many places the live versions of some songs are preferable to that of the studio versions.
The album opens with ‘The Modern World’. This was a really good choice, its stop-start riff drawing in the listeners attention. Despite a lot of negative reviews on the studio album of the same name, the song stands up well as a single cut. It is followed up with the jagged ‘Billy Hunt’ from ‘All Mod Cons’. From tracks 3 to track 8 there are five songs from what is probably The Jam’s best album, 1979’s ‘Setting Sons’, split up with ‘Mr. Clean’. These five songs are the real standouts of the album, full of vigour and energy, ‘Tick As Thieves’ blasting though with its unforgettable refrain of “ We’re no longer as thick as thieves, we’re not as thick as we used to be!”, followed by the sombre but spiky ‘Burning Sky’. ‘Smithers-Jones’ has long been considered bassist Bruce Foxton’s lasting songwriting contribution to the band, and free of the studio version, its thicker sound makes the song heavier in its live form. There is also not an orchestra in sight….. ‘Smithers-Jones is then followed by what I at least consider to be the best Jam song, but what is definitely the most ambitious Paul Weller composition. ‘Little Boy Soldiers’ is unforgettable on it’s home studio album, but live it becomes an awesome meeting place of tumultuous power chords over rumbling bass and military drums. Actually, I’m going to take a minute out to say how much ‘Live Jam’ emphasises the contribution of drummer Rick Buckler and bassist Bruce Foxton to the band. With only one guitar fleshing the songs out with sharp power chords and spiky lead parts, Foxton’s bass is often required to carry the melody line of the song, with many of his parts moving up and down the neck. The bass cuts through even more viciously live, especially on the later recordings where he has switched to the smoother Fender Precision model, which provides the perfect complement to Weller’s angular, jangling Rickenbacker guitar. And of course, the unflappable Buckler has solid and energetic drum parts underpinning all the songs – especially check out his tumbling semi-solo in ‘Little Boy Soldiers’. ‘
The Eton Rifles’ follows, more of the same punk energy harnessed for a really throttled version of the song with a great call-and-response chorus from Weller and Foxton. As a side note, my friend hadn’t heard this song before but was singing along by the second chorus! Good old infectious pop choruses. I also want to take a second out to comment that the four of the five (original) songs included from ‘Setting Sons’ are part of the ‘concept’ quintet that I mentioned in my review of that album – only ‘Wasteland’ is omitted. This may point to the band still liking the idea of that album as a concept record, though that it is purely speculative way of thinking. The other inclusion from ‘Setting Sons’ is final track ‘Heat Wave’. I’m glad this was included, along with ‘Move On Up’, because it shows that playing old motown covers was an integral part of early Jam shows, and one reason that they were distanced from the ‘punk’ brigade. The first half is rounded out with fantastic versions of ‘Away From The Numbers’ and ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’, followed by ‘Strange Town’ and non-album single ‘When You’re Young’, which attracts great applause from the crowd, who sing along enthusiastically.
However, ‘Live Jam’ gets somewhat up and down after this, as ‘‘A’ Bomb In Wardour Street’ is quite a dull song. ‘Pretty Green’ is better and the crowd really get into it, but then the CD dips again with ‘Boy About Town’ and ‘Man In The Corner Shop’. ‘David Watts’ is one of the best on the second half, the band really roaring along, but ‘Funeral Pyre’ is then disappointing. The darkness of the song doesn’t really transcend well into a live situation, making the song seem sludgy. The inconsistent nature of the CD at this point can be frustrating, as entire songs go by without you noticing, and you feel that the slower songs hold the band back as they have nowhere to channel their energy. This is proved again as soul cover ‘Move On Up’ bops to the fore midway through the second half complete with horns, before the album sinks into three tracks of not very much. But still, e album ends strongly with the throbbing motown bassline of ‘Town Called Malice’, one of the few Jam songs that Paul Weller still plays live. ‘Town Called Malice’ is fantastic live, Foxton’s basslines really driving the songs along. In fact, it is only beaten to the ‘best song on the album’ tag by ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ – which is awesome, even without its tube train sound effects. The CD then bops out with ‘Heat Wave’.
‘Live Jam’ is a really great testament to what made The Jam great – good twin vocals and melody, slashing guitar, driving bass, thundering drums, and the use of horns and keyboards live. Sure, there are parts where the band sounds slightly unsure and there are messy parts but that is hat comes of playing live. The record really encapsulates the live Jam sound, and the live Jam energy. And to be fair, that’s probably the point of the exercise.