Date: December 6, 2017
Venue: O2 Arena (London)
Tour: Automaton Tour 2017
Jamiroquai is undoubtedly one of pop music’s most unlikely phenomenons. What seemed like it could have been a momentary fad has sustained its momentum for 25 years. The band started off in 1992 as the poster-children for the UK’s burgeoning acid jazz movement. Their music had a pop sensitivity and yet could not be classified as jazz-pop by any stretch. The sound was distinct and they most certainly stood out from the acts that they competed with on singles charts and albums charts worldwide (sans the US until the release of their hit single and groundbreaking music video for “Virtual Insanity“). Their transformation from a band to one of pop culture’s most recognizable brands was propelled by the Stevie Wonder-esque voice and flamboyant persona of their magnetic frontman Jay Kay, the “larger than life” hats that become a defining element of Jay Kay’s visual aesthetic, the trademark “Buffalo Man” artwork that featured on their album covers and practically became synonymous with them (almost in the way that superstar Prince’s unpronounceable symbol sign was), and the high-budget music videos that featured eye-popping special effects, luxury cars, exotic locations, and stunning models. In fact, for an act that took their music as seriously as they did, they seemed at ease with welcoming the escapist spirit of the music video format. Their inherent quirkiness and superior artistry was seductive. At the end of the 90s, they made the audacious stylistic reinvention from an acid jazz band to an act whose sonic template was an invigorating cocktail of funk and disco soul. The first sonic manifestation of this change was their 2001 album “Funk Odyssey“. To the surprise of fans and skeptics, their reinvention was embraced by the public and the the album’s lead single “Little L” peaked at #5 on the UK singles charts. Since the release of their “Greatest Hits” album in 2006, the gaps between albums have become significantly larger. In fact, in the last decade, the band has only released two albums – “Rock Dust Light Star” and “Automaton” – their 2017 album that has also become the premise of their most recent concert tour. Admittedly, while both of these albums are not considered some of their strongest work, they do have a few sublime moments that suggest that Jamiroquai’s creative well has not dried up. Noteworthy examples include “Summer Girl” from the “Automaton” album and “Two Completely Different Things” from “Rock Dust Light Star“. The band’s lasting appeal stems from a vast and stellar legacy and the fact that they are truly unique. This might explain why 25 years into their career, they have not been relegated to playing smaller venues (like many acts from yesteryear are). In fact, they have enough star power to fill London’s O2 arena.
It seemed clear at the very beginning of the concert that the band was keen on promoting their new album “Automaton“. In fact, the concert began with a series of videos played in quick session featuring personalities from the tech world and media world talking about the rise of artificial intelligence and the controversial questions that its rapid advent poses. This is the premise for their latest album’s title track. That being said, the band opted to open the show with “Shake it on” (the first track off the “Automaton” album). Lead singer Jay Kay appeared on stage wearing lit-up head gear identical to that on the album cover of “Automaton“. Fortunately, the band did not succumb to the pitfalls that most bands find themselves slaves to by playing too many songs from their latest offering in favor of tracks that cemented their artistic legacy. In fact, the band flitted back and forth between new songs and their treasure chest of hits dating all the way back to “Emergency on Planet Earth“.
Throughout the show, the band performed with a gusto and energy that fans do not typically associate with veteran acts. In fact, there were no dull or low-energy moments – which is commendable given that the band played for two hours straight with no breaks. It was a show that was originally scheduled for June this year. Unfortunately, the O2 arena dates had to be scheduled for this past week because of a medical procedure that the frontman Jay Kay had to go through. He was both apologetic for rescheduling the dates while being very grateful for the hordes of fans that attended the rescheduled dates and supporting the band for 25 years. It was refreshing to see a level of humility that is not typical of acts in the upper echelons of music royalty.
The setlist had its fair share of highlights. The first and most obvious one was the brilliant performance of “Space Cowboy“. With the exception of the high notes on the lyric “Somebody who I can rely on”, Jay Kay’s vocal delivery was true to the original. The band went one step further by playing an extended version of the song post the second chorus. This extension featured a vocal interpolation of the core song that worked every bit of the way. The deceptively downtempo, dreamy, and goose-bump inducing introduction to “Alright” (the third single from the “Travelling without moving” album) had people sitting down assuming that the band was about to perform a slower song – only to have them out of their seats and dancing less than a minute later. The fantastic electric guitar solo on “Love Foolosophy” alone suggests that this song is practically begging for a new studio version release. Jay Kay paid respect to his former bandmate Toby Smith (Jamiroquai’s keyboard player and co-songwriter) who passed away at the young age of 46 earlier this year. He made a special mention of Toby’s musical acumen while introducing “Too Young To Die” (one of the songs they wrote early in the band’s career). Jay Kay also took advantage of performances such as that of “The Kids” and “Travelling without moving” to showcase his trademark dance moves with the same amount of energy that he displayed when he made these moves his own at the age of 24. Other noteworthy performances include that of “Canned Heat“, “Cosmic Girl“, and “Cloud 9“.
The post-encore track, rather unsurprisingly, was “Virtual Insanity“. Its choice as a concluding track almost appeared like a nod to the fact that while the band had already proven themselves as a musical force to be reckoned with prior to the release of this song, it was with “Virtual Insanity” and the vivid imagery of its groundbreaking music video that they became permanently engraved in the history of pop culture.
As with any concert, this one had a couple of missed opportunities. Given that the band had large screens at their disposal on stage, they really ought to have screened the music videos for “Cosmic Girl” and “Cloud 9” while performing these songs. Furthermore, these songs should have been performed one after another – given that the music video for “Cloud 9” feels like a sequel to “Cosmic Girl”(albeit 20 years apart). These are minor issues given that this concert was very much an embodiment of artistic perfection.
In the age of homogeneity in terrestrial radio’s programming, and algorithmic curation for those that are not tied to terrestrial radio, it is unlikely that an act that shares sonic roots with Jamiroquai could become a similar potent force. Jamiroquai’s meteoric rise in the commercial mainstream required the gatekeepers at terrestrial radio to have a broader view of what could be commercially viable. On the other hand, algorithmic curation requires a band to share similarities with most of what dominates the pop music landscape. Given that Jamiroquai has never sounded anything like what dominated pop’s mainstream, they would also not feature in algorithmically curated playlists of the type that an entity such as Spotify would create for its listeners. I personally am glad that the band found its chemistry in an era that predates the digital music revolution. That timing alone could have been the deciding factor between relative obscurity and global stardom. Fortunately, Jamiroquai became the beneficiary of the latter. This evening’s concert at the O2 arena is a reminder of that fact – and pop music aficionados are most definitely better off for it.
STAR RATING: 5 out of 5 stars
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In case you did not pick up on this earlier, the blog you are reading is affiliated with Radio Creme Brulee – an online radio station that features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. The music of Jamiroquai (both old and new) is a regular staple on our radio station. We don’t restrict ourselves solely to the singles. We also feature “rare for radio” Jamiroquai songs such as “Starchild” and “Smile“. Alongside newer artists, we also play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s and 90s. Noteworthy examples include Simply Red, Wet Wet Wet, Tears For Fears, Suede, The Corrs, Dubstar, Duran Duran, Camouflage, Spandau Ballet, INXS, Depeche Mode, Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Culture Club.
Give us a spin when you get a chance.
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