Tuesday, January 31, 2012
JESUS JONES / JIMBOB - London Islington Academy - 28 January 2012
“Welcome to the museum of modern music”, Mike Edwards announces, before Jesus Jones kick into another of their multitude of lesser known international bright young nineties pop hits, in this strange venue – a converted shop inside a shopping centre, opposite a clothes shop. Haberdashery, needles, spoons, and knives. Ground floor, shopper's paradise.
But first, the support act : JimBob, the acoustic version of Carter USM, has returned from a solo musical hibernation with new material and a bag of great songs that haven't been heard for a long time. Armed with just an acoustic guitar and a suit, JimBob plays songs new and old. There's no qualitative gap between the big songs of 1990-1995 and the smaller, more intimate ones : more that, without the muscle of a huge record company chartering jets and aiming for Number 1 albums, these records sell in the hundreds and not the hundreds of thousands. If anything, his songs – their deft use of language grounded in the minutae of British life – are a more specific brand of social commentary that shames Morrissey's finest moments, and shorn of the universal air of human self-pity. Or, another way, JimBob's closest peer would be a modern day Philip Larkin with a guitar. Songs well known - “Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere”, “Bloodsport For All”, “Do Re Me So Far So Good”, “The Only Living Boy In New Cross” nuzzle up to recent gems such as “The Tesco Riots”. It's a short half hour, with the crowd receiving the older songs with joy and the newer ones with curiousity, laying the groundwork for a continuing journey through life as songs. After four years of high profile Carter nostalgia shows, it is a refreshing experience to have the solo songs return to life and live again in front of your eyes.
Half an hour later (and, at 8.15 prompt), Jesus Jones take the stage. For no reason other than they can, every three or four years, Jesus Jones get together for a week or so and pretend to be pop stars again. It's nothing more, and nothing less, than a thoroughly enjoyable romp through an under-appreciated bands back catalogue.
And, what seems alien now, is that it is twenty one years since their biggest record, the slender but nourishing “Doubt”. And no, it isn't a play-the-album-in-full gig. Nothing dates faster than a vision of the future that never came to pass, after all. For a couple of brief summers, this band, and Pop Will Eat Itself, and EMF, all occupied roughly the same place, welding the possibilities of drum machines and guitars and big pop songs : all admittedly with varying degrees of success.
We can laugh at the fashions now : what on earth were you thinking with orange shorts and purple leggings and huge red hats with a thousand fake legs poking out of them? Then again, the big flares or 1990, or the rat-tail jumpers of 1992 were also equally loathsome. And the big white jumpers and floppy Beatle haircuts of 1996. You don't listen to music with your eyes, anyway.
I've now passed the point where I've seen this band more in their reunion years than in their glory. And, to be blunt, they are probably better now than they were then. There's no qualitative difference, at the very least. And, whilst the set is made of old songs, it is no tired nostalgia show. Some songs you might expect - “The Devil You Know”, “The Right Decision”, “The Next Big Thing” - are absent, and instead rarely-played songs - “Blissed”, “Get A Good Thing”, “What's Going On”, are present. You may lament the loss of these songs, but a band is not a jukebox and whilst some of these songs may have paid for their houses, it is not a debt that anyone has to carry. Besides which, haven't bands performed some songs enough? I could happily live the rest of my life without hearing “Wonderwall” again.
They open with “Who Where Why”, which is probably the most enjoyably brash existential crisis I will hear all night. Sometimes its difficult really to connect the impressionistic lyrics with anything in particular : I'm not sure what “Move Mountains” is about, if anything, after twenty one years. Whilst – and in the best sense of the phrase – Jesus Jones were the indie Def Leppard, this is no insult. Words were created and used in the context of phonetics for the earlier records, and sounds were an unholy combination of technology and buzzsaw guitars. And, for a moment, Jesus Jones were huge in the music world.
Those days were different : neither better, nor worse, just utterly different : on the cusp of the analog transition into digital, and the move of our worlds into that of connected bits and bytes. When the future arrived, when computers on every desk became commonplace, and when Oasis ruled the world, Jesus Jones became obselete. We changed, grew up, or grew away, depending on who you listened to, and moved to the next stage. For some people, this music was a fad, locked into a box and replaced with television, Downton Abbey, cooking and home renovations.
Remember when you were alive? When blood flowed? When we jumped and sang and took the night by the horns? What would you know?
You could only buy hits in record shops, on vinyl, cassette, 12” picture disc with an extra song, and CD single. The charts were published weekly in inky paper, and the conduit was the monopoly of print and broadcast media.
That girl, that boy, is still here. International Bright Young Thing, is just such a song. A literate combination of pop at what were then, the boundaries, combined with something deeper. “Caricature”, a b-side that – finally – appeared on an album 21 years after release, goes down better than any other non-hit-single. Were anyone to take their heads out of their collective backside and write a definitive list of “20 best B-sides of all time”, this would be in that list.
Thankfully, it isn't just a case of “PLAY THE HITS AND FUCK OFF”, as Iain Baker's shirt says. Songs are resurrected back to live performance after two decades in hibernation - “Get A Good Thing” was rarely, if ever played, and “Nothing To Hold Me” and “Blissed” haven't been seen since 1991. The first time I saw this band, they disappeared, one by one, to the ghostly chorus of that song, adrift in dry ice and blues and reds that went like a freight train through your mind at 1am.
It's no lazy greatest hits exercise, but it is refreshingly honest to see a band unafraid to tamper with the formula and not just trot out every big song.
There's new stuff too : “The Message” and “Culture Vulture” from the last decade, and songs not played often since 1989.
The main set comes to a close with a four punch of a long lost indie disco. “Zeroes And Ones” was undoubtedly, the band showing their techy stripes – and with “Perverse” taking the unusual mantle of being the first album to be recorded entirely digitally with every instrument recorded and re-sampled – and a compelling romp towards the finish line. After “Bring It On Down”, and the rough and tumble of “Info Freako”, the main set comes to a close with “Idiot Stare” which – to me at least – is one of their finest songs, utilising the much under-appreciated dynamic of tension and release, combined with sweeping string motifs, and deft use of rhythms to bring the night to a crescendo.
And it's not even 9.30 : when I saw Guns N Roses they were still an hour and a half from taking the stage. Two songs later – the full-front Italian piano bongo frenzy of “What Would You Know?” and the aforementioned “Blissed” and it's the end of the trip to the museum of modern music. Cast out into the shopping centre, and with babysitters. Life goes on, but sometimes, for a little while, we can be whoever we were again. It is a mutual moment : Mike Edwards described Jesus Jones existence as “Going on a holiday for a week as pop stars”, and for the audience, it's exactly the same – going on holiday for a night. Last orders is still an hour away, for even if we aren't, the night itself is young.
Who Where Why / Move Mountains / IBYT /. Caricature / Real Real Real / Nothing To Hold M e/ get A Good Thing / Never Enough / Culture Vulture / All The Answers / Welcome Back, Victoria / The Message ./ Right Here Right Now / What Would You know? / Zeroes And Ones / Bring It on Down / Info Freako / Idiot Stare / What's Going On / Blissed