The cult of Jeff Buckley is quite truly something else. Maybe not on the same level as Kurt Cobain, but substantial nonetheless. And as embarrassing as it might seem, I never really got into Jeff until after his death, although I had been a fan of his father Tim for some time. Put it down to a lack of interest in modern music, it wasn’t until I saw a couple of videos on TV that my curiosity was raised, not to mention all the media attention in print and on radio, that I was finally compelled to buy a copy of Grace. Soon after, I was hooked – tracking down just about every official recording available – and when the posthumous live album Mystery White Boy was released I didn’t hesitate in rushing out to the nearest record store.
Issued in conjunction with a live DVD recorded in Chicago, Mystery White Boy is probably about as good as it will ever get to hearing Jeff perform in your own living room. Almost half the tracks stem from his 1996 tour in Melbourne, Australia (another originates from Sydney in 1995), with a few more from Paris and Lyon. First the sound quality, it must be said, is excellent. These are no rough soundboard tapes or audience recordings. So kudos to the selectors on that one. Secondly, Buckley is in fine form, as is the band itself. Guitarist Michael Tighe, bassist Mick Grongahl and drummer Matt Johnson are solid throughout, managing to fan the flames of their lead singer, who often, though not always, burns with a soft sexual intensity that would have made his old man proud.
Originally the closing track on Grace, here “Dream Brother”, one of Jeff’s most arresting songs, opens the album, on which his almost stream of consciousness falsetto is on full display. “The Man that Got Away”, “Lilac Wine” and “What Will You Say” reveal the singer’s innate gift for reinterpretation, while his impersonation of Edith Piaf on the introduction to “Last Goodbye” offers a brief insight into Buckley’s comical side. He balladeers his way through the previously unreleased original “I Woke Up In A Strange Place”, turns the amps up to 11 on “Eternal Life”, before causing a vocal hurricane on “Grace” and “Mojo Pin” (both co-written with ex-Zappa guitarist Gary Lucas).
The obscure “Kanga-Roo”, written by Big Star’s Alex Chilton, is given an emotional reading, and shows just how deep Buckley was capable of digging when it came to inspiration. Medley “Hallelujah/I Know It’s Over” (recorded in Seattle, 1995) has more of those acrobatic tonsils Buckley was and remains famous for. It’s perhaps one of the most overplayed songs in Jeff’s repertoire, although one which has no doubt provided Leonard Cohen with a handsome retirement fund ever since.
The Australian version featured a bonus disc containing “That’s All I Ask”, “So Real” and a rather engaging performance of “Lover, You Should Have Come Over”, all of which are probably available on YouTube.
There are various other live albums, EPs etc, but Mystery White Boy is likely about as definitive as it gets, or at least until we see a box set of his complete shows (difficult as that possibility is to imagine). Certainly Jeff Buckley has become something of a pop-rock deity among his rapidly aging fans. Whether future generations will adopt and revere him just as fervently remains to be seen. What is true, is that Buckley was a genuine talent, and for that alone deserves to be remembered.