I was, of course, 15 minutes late, and I still had to stand in line behind a bunch of hopefuls squinting to find their names on the guest list. The 9:30 Club was sold out, and people were outside shouting for tickets. I walked into the packed house just as Jamiroquai was launching into “Space Cowboy” off Return of the Space Cowboy. The band—a two-man horn section, two keyboardists, two percussionists, a fresh-faced new bassist, and a DJ—was set against a fabric backdrop lit by projected stars. With his crew in orbit, surrounded by gleaming instruments, lead singer Jay Kay seemed as if he could be on the bridge of his own magnificent starship. Except for that goofy fur hat.
In between songs, Kay, Jamiroquai’s charismatic center of gravity, addressed the crowd. He assured us that he was happy to be here, in a club that reminded him of the small clubs back in Britain—maybe they’ll rename it the 9:30 Pub. Kay also snapped lightly at the American audience for not being aware of the newest Jamiroquai album, Synkronized, released early last month. After Kay had ascertained that the D.C. folks had indeed heard of the album and had indeed come to party, the music started up again, and the audience, which was noticeably integrated, erupted into motion. Teenagers and adults of all races were really dancing, obviously taking their cue from Kay himself, who never stopped moving. The crowd responded to his frenetic Ministry of Silly Walks-comes-to-the-Palladium routine with cheers and outlandish moves of its own. The music was loud, the lights flared to blinding intensity as every cut climaxed, and everyone was thrilled.
It wasn’t long before I realized I was not getting into it. The whole building was jamming to “Cosmic Girl,” and I was still feeling particularly terrestrial. So I headed to the bar for a drink, but even my gin and tonic seemed a little too mundane for the events at hand.
I was half the man I used to be
Maybe that’s because you’re the other half of me
Like the spring in bloom
The summer of our love is soon
Every bird will sing
The melody of our love tune.
My last serious love turned me on to Jamiroquai. Her name is still taped to the inside cover of our used copy of the Return of the Space Cowboy CD. Some time after that relationship fell tragically to Earth, I decided that if I could ever replicate the sentiment in those lyrics, Jamiroquai’s “Half the Man” would be the song played at my wedding. Yeah, the words are a little corny, but it’s a nice idea and a pretty song. Jamiroquai came nowhere near that song on Monday night. Too sentimental, I guess. Jay Kay also informed the people in the audience that they would have to wait until November, when Jamiroquai returns to the D.C. area, to hear “Manifest Destiny” and a few other tunes. “Manifest Destiny”—my other favorite Jamiroquai song—is Kay’s simplistic but I hope sincere take on his ancestors’ part in slavery. Too serious. Apparently, the fellas in Jamiroquai were not willing to try anything too mellow and risk dropping out of light speed.
Instead, we got disco didgeridoo. Wallis Buchanan, Jamiroquai’s long-standing, dreadlocked didgeridoo player, came out under flashing strobes to perform “Supersonic,” off the newest album. In keeping with the theme, Kay took a break to tell us about his need for speed. The artist, who, Vibe magazine recently revealed, has a thing for classic cars, also has difficulty keeping a driver’s license in his homeland. His problem is apparently related to his low “regard for authority.” “Fuck ’em,” Kay shouted to the audience, who replied with blind enthusiasm. How do the Brits put it? Cheeky devil.
Jamiroquai did a lot of material from the new album, including the next single, the Sly Stone-ish “Black Capricorn Day” and the funked-up but environmentally conscious “Planet Home.” I eventually realized that I was in no danger of hearing either of my two favorite Synkronized tracks, “Falling” or “King for a Day,” because of their low hype factor. The climax of the evening came when Kay pulled a voluptuous young showboat on stage to dance with him to a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.” The woman’s refined rump-shaking made Kay’s funky-white-boy jerks seem even more spastic, but she never forsook him. They danced ass cheek to ass cheek and held hands as he spun her around. In the end they hugged, to genuine applause from the crowd.
In 1998, Jamiroquai came out with a high-energy song called “Deeper Underground Pt. 1.” Unfortunately, the song was written for the Godzilla soundtrack, along with that laughable song by Sean “Puffy” Combs and Jimmy Page. “Deeper” was a No. 1 hit in the U.K., but the soundtrack and the movie were both duds in the U.S. Yet for some strange reason, Jay Kay and the boys expected us to believe that they would actually end their sold-out D.C. concert with that song—when they hadn’t even done the first single off their most recent album. Even more shockingly, the audience followed along like Hale-Boppers, clapping and hollering for the inevitable encore.
The 10-member band filed back onto the stage as expected and leaped into a supercharged version of “Canned Heat.” As Kay led the crowd in a chant of “D.C. party people are the best party people,” I had to concede that I had missed the point. Jamiroquai thanked the sweaty crowd as I walked out, still uptight. CP