February 2, 2008

(Not so many light years) From The Jam

Just got back from seeing 2/3 of the Jam perform as From The Jam. Back in 1991 I saw 1/3 of the Jam when Paul Weller came through Seattle. Based on a show-to-show comparison 2/3 is better than 1/3. Yeah, I know, I'm surprised too.

I have to say that going into From The Jam I was expecting a hollow, shameless tribute band. Not even close. I was actually blown away. Hell even Foxton has acknowledged that they're not much more than a glorified cover band, yet one with more credibility seeing as how they're 2/3 of the original act. Of course, that's the 2/3 that contributed all of about 8 songs out of a total of 100+, and didn't dominate the vocal side. I mean, Paul Weller, a casio, and a drum machine would have sounded much the same as the original line up. Or so I used to think.

Who knew Paul Weller had so much soul? This band had almost none of it. But that wasn't a detriment. Amazingly, they were edgier, punker, and harder than the original. Rick Buckler drove the band with an intensity like Keith Moon's, and Bruce Foxton it turns out actually has a pretty powerful stage presence. Not to mention an energy and constitution of a man half his age.

They pounded out 30+ songs in an hour and fifteen minutes, buzzsawing through them in a really tight manner. Not disrespectfully, but almost as if they were being played for the first time they way they were meant to be played. Faster. Louder. Harder, and with more sneering. It was more punk than ... well, than punk.

Seattle is not a town for visiting bands. The people are depressed, not to mention cold and wet, and they have little excess energy to spare for travelling acts. I've seen countless shows where the audience barely stood up to see the band (The Strokes come to mind). And, this show, sadly, started out no different. A sparse crowd of maybe 300 hundred spread themselves out in a theater that seats four times as many. Made the place look empty, and feel even colder. A few parkas, and a few ill-fitting suits clearly dusted off for the nights entertainment. A pork pie hat here or there. It was a real mod show in that the audience was 4-to-1 males-to-females. But, overall it was mostly beer bellies and work weary khakis. Hardly a Jam like audience that one would have pictured in 1980.

Hugh Cromwell of the Stranlgers opened. One might have asked, Whatever happened to the Stranglers, let alone the heroes? Looked like he had his son and grandaughter playing with him (at least I hope he's related to that hot little 19yo strumpet he had on bass, because if he isn't that's really creepy). Anyhow, his set was okay if you like brit punk via 6 minute Grateful Dead jams. Yawn.

After that, my hopes were even lower than when I'd purchased my ticket. Expectations are a funny thing.

The show started with a piped in song that sounded like a throw away from Franz Ferdinand. It was a guitar driven, neo-wave sort of instrumental with a very synchopated melody. Eventually, the band emerged as the music faded out and they quickly opened the show the way they opened their careers, with The Modern World and In the City, which was a fast paced, frenzied version that had the crowd on their feet -- well, at least the few in the front were on their feet. Remember this is Seattle, we're beat down by the rain and we stay there. After that is was pretty much all Jam Snap! beginning to end. One familiar song after another.

You could sense the audience wake up a little more with each song, and by 20 minutes or so into it everyone was up and into the show. I don't who the new lead singer is --Russell Hastings?-- but you know he was sometimes more swaggering mod than Weller. And, he had a voice to match -- both Weller's and his arrogant swagger. When he eventually belted out --which inevitably I feared he had to-- a song that is identified as much with Weller's vocals as anything else, the audience was nearly his.

The song? It's Too Bad, a tune that has Weller's stamp all over it vocally. Yet, Hastings matched Weller and somehow made you feel the song was his to do with as he pleased. And when they immediately followed with Ghosts, another song that was once keyed to Weller's voice, you had to admire the audacity of the choice, until you realized that Hastings was more than up to the challenge. At this point -- thirty minutes or so in to the show -- everyone was on their feet.

I was won over, and enthusiastically anticipating each and every song that followed. By the time they hit the penultimate song of the show, Eton Rifles, I was ready to become a card carrying member in the Foxton-was-right fan club. The song was that damn good. And, they finished the show with Going Underground. By this time the audience was Hastings' -- and the Jam's. I was finally thinking, Weller who? No shit.

There was an encore that included Down in the Tubestation and Town called Malice -- which was the most trite and cliche moment of the show (great song, but overplayed). And noticably absent were a few classic songs: Beat Surrender, Thick as Thieves, Saturday's Kids and That's Entertainment. I thought for sure we'd hear that last one, though I'm not surprised we didn't hear Beat Surrender. They also avoided most of the other soulful songs like Precious as well as many of the later Jam tracks.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised to say the least and count the show as $27 well spent. When they get to a town near you, you really should get out and see them.

So, here's a couple of videos I dug up. It's Too Bad alright, too bad that they haven't made a decent video. Anyhow, this first one is just purely so you can enjoy the vocals, and so you can hear the similarity between Russel Hastings and Paul Weller. When you're there seeing the show live, Hastings sounds amazingly like Weller. Maybe it's because I'm used to hearing Weller, or maybe it's just that they have similar voices. But, no matter, his vocals are perfect.

From The Jam - Going Underground (Rehearsal Studio 2007)

Also, check out:
From The Jam -- In The Crowd (Live at Cardiff The Point)