Eternal Life

"If only you'd come back to me/ If you'd lay at my side/ I wouldn't need no mojo pin/ To keep me satisfied." — Jeff Buckley, "Mojo Pin."

Like the poppy — the plant whose elixir is so mesmerizing and addictive and whose gorgeous flower lasts only a few days before blowing away in the wind — Jeff Buckley was an ephemeral beauty. He was a man who possessed rare artistic gifts that caused many who came into his orbit to become helplessly ensnared, and whose existence was over tragically soon.

Even a critic's innate jadedness was instantly blown away when seeing the NYC singer/songwriter and his backing band in a small Toronto blues bar a few months before his 1994 debut album, Grace, appeared. The singer with the golden throat (and the golden genes: His father, Tim, was a legendary '60s jazz-folk artist whose musical adventurousness and powerful pipes were clearly passed on to his son) launched into an extended, ululating vocal improvisation that finally became "Mojo Pin" (RealAudio excerpt). The song had appeared on his solo Live at Sin-E EP and was rearranged into the dynamic full-band rocker that leads off Grace. This must have been what it was like seeing Hendrix when he started out: Here was someone who really could break on through and take rock music to places it hadn't been.

Well, alas, that wasn't to happen. Grace was so strong, and the reaction to it so intense (the singer became a virtual god in France, charming fans, as heard here in a snippet preceding a heartbreaking rendition of "Last Goodbye," as he mimics the vocal style of Edith Piaf) that Buckley seemed artistically stifled by the expectations he'd created. His problematic second album was being reworked when he drowned in 1997 at age 30. What we're left with are fragments of the man: the intermittently brilliant studio set Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk from 1998, and now this live collection, which captures Buckley in his natural habitat — before an audience — in Germany, France, Australia and the U.S.

Fans will no doubt have mixed emotions as they traverse these magical landscapes along with the singer. The pungent psychedelia of "Dream Brother" (RealAudio excerpt), with its eerie admonition not to be "like the one who left behind his name"; the impassioned, poetic covers of "Lilac Wine" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"; and, most startlingly, the near death-metal frenzy of a reworked "Eternal Life" (RealAudio excerpt), from Grace, which goes out of its way to realize Buckley's oft-stated desire not to be merely be a "sensitive" troubadour for the ladies.

All that greatness. All that promise. All gone. But, as Mystery White Boy reminds us, it was damn sweet while it lasted.