Live punk and new wave tapes are beginning to have the cultural currency of Goons recordings, Beatles studio banter and British footballing successes, in that they’re unrepeatable.
With Paul Weller on a creative high and relations between the members about as warm as between Syrian factions, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see The Jam play live again, and we’ll certainly never experience the firebrand thrill of watching them rip through The Modern World, In The City and classic soul covers at the 100 Club or the Music Machine (now Koko) while sweat pours from the ceiling and Bruce Foxton tells the front row scrotes to stop spitting.
All of which makes the six-disc box-set Fire And Skill: The Jam Live, tracing their rise and implosion through one show in each of their six years on Polydor, a stethoscope on the speeding heartbeat of new wave history.
Besides the savage post-punk lust that Weller and co. plough into Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, revenge-on-society rampage Billy Hunt and youth culture anthems of socio-political ire like In The Street Today and Time For Truth, the early sets bristle with snarling between-song witticisms that garrotte you with a skinny tie and drop you right in the room. “Earlier on I was kicked out of the ladies’ toilets by Tom Robinson,” Weller riffs at Reading University while Foxton, suffering a major technical issue at the Music Machine, bewails, “Why does something always go wrong at these big shows?” Priceless.
The venues grew alongside the catalogue. By ’81 they were plastering A Town Called Malice and That’s Entertainment with northern soul brass and amphetamine tempos at the Hammersmith Palais, and come ’82 they were well out of spitting range at Wembley Arena, starting sets with Start!.
By now their soul revue slant had come to maturity with Beat Surrender and their shows were a slick mixture of polished punk sneer, Who mod strut and Supremes pop swing. Yet the likes of Down In The Tube Station At Midnight and Going Underground still had the sketchy filth of the 100 Club under their fingernails, despite their extended clap-along segments. You could take the boys out of the grotty punk dive…