Decked out in a brand new LED headpiece, Jay Kay strutted the stage at the Roundhouse on Friday with a pair of twinkling toes that belied his 47 years of age. Sporting black flares, a tracksuit top and a little extra padding around the mid-section (he joked he’s releasing a fitness video this Christmas), his lithe dance moves were as on-point as his razor-sharp vocals. No mean feat considering Jamiroquai's debut 'The Emergency On Planet Earth' dropped 24 years ago.
Having released new album ‘Automaton’ earlier in the day, it felt official. Jamiroquai were back from a seven-year absence and the queues around the block of the venue exemplified the anticipation that had been building since the start of the year. And for a band that has often been derided as one-dimensional white funk, it was a little surprising. Who thought that Jamiroquai would be considered bastions of cool in 2017? But here we were. A show that sold out in 60 seconds, fans gagging to get into the venue and the praise of some very cutting-edge artists.
2010’s uninspired ‘Rock Dust Star Light’, many had written off Jay Kay and his
revolving band. Kay's jazz-funk-disco melting pot, slightly problematic
headgear and general silliness was at odds with the more sombre stylings of
post-dubstep and dance-edged indie rockers seven
years ago. This is a guy who owns a small fleet of luxury cars and lived up to a number of
rockstar clichés in an era that anonymity was en vogue, after all. But with the
likes of The Black Madonna and The Internet vocalising their fandom, Anderson
.Paak, Chance The Rapper and Tyler The Creator citing them as influences, and streaming services reminding
people that ‘Virtual Insanity’ and ‘Canned Heat’ are actually fucking bangers,
it appears the music world is fully onboard for the Jamiroquai comeback.
This renaissance seems to have even taken the charismatic lead singer aback. Halfway through the show he stopped to say: “Number one in 38 countries, number two in 52 countries. Even though I thought I was dead and buried.” It wasn’t with the braggadocio he may have been guilty of in his paparazzi-scrapping past, but with total humility. Maybe it's the two kids he's had in the 10 years since he said he would be quitting music and flying helicopters, but he was definitely settled and at ease on stage. He just wanted to play some tunes. As the shimmering keys of ‘Return Of The Space Cowboy’ filtered in, it highlighted a poignant moment of the night. Return he certainly had.
But, while the night was overwhelmingly positive, there is a side-effect of this renewed interest in bands of Jamiroquai's legendary ilk: their gigs tend are a feeding frenzy for the hits. Despite this show being in support of their new album, a decent LP that sees the band head down more electronic avenues, it was clear what the crowd wanted. Tracks like ‘Cosmic Girl’ and even the kitschy ‘Runaway’ had the crowd going ballistic. Meanwhile the announcement of another new song (‘Carla’) had one woman next to us sighing, “do they have to?” to no one in particular. It made for a fractured set on a night that Jay Kay should have had the crowd eating out of his gloved palms.
However, despite the less than enthusiastic response to new material, the crowd was still in a festive mood. The Roundhouse’s circular floor was packed and the seats above were filled to the rafters. At the first break in proceedings after clubby opener ‘Shake It On’, disco thumper ‘Little L’ and the robotic funk of ‘Automaton’, the adoration from the largely un-conformed crowd appeared to leave the usually motor-mouthed frontman speechless. Trendy 25-year-olds sung along to all the lyrics, suits a couple pints too deep clapped out of time with abandon and the middle-aged couple in front of us fought over how to correctly dance along to a moody, dubbier version of 'Emergency On Planet Earth'. In those moments the full spectrum of the crowd shared something special. And, despite the slightly odd choice of encore ('Supersonic') and an absence of 'Virtual Insanity', the finale of 'Canned Heat' and 'Love Foolosophy' meant fans left with something a little extra in their heels.
[Photo credit: Nicky Kelvin]