Civic Theater, Santa Monica
HERE IN peanut butter land they call jam jelly and it's transparent, slick and insubstantial, easily assimilated sweetness. Maybe that's why The Jam are having a hard time spreading in the States.
This time around they've gone from clubs to the 3,000-seater (or in tonight's case, stander) Civic, but they weren't exactly a box office smash, and though the people there did make up for it a bit by moving around a lot, it still looked empty but for the couple of hundred stashed down the front.
Unlike some of their fellow Brits (notably these days The Clash and The Pretenders) Jam's records hardly get a look in on the airwaves (I think it safe to say I haven't heard any of 'Setting Sons' on the radio all year). Tonight's set, barbed-wire, relentless, uncompromising, with just a little grace to stop it from going over the top, was hardly one of those ingratiating performances destined to break into the mass market. In fact (again unlike some fellow Brits) it seemed harder, rawer in spots than even their last time over here.
It was loud; Goddamit LOUD, the sort of sound you feel through the floor vibrating up into your teeth before your ears grab hold of it and your toes dare to join in. A relentless, somewhat arrogant, high-velocity attack from start to finish ('Mr Clean' and 'Butterfly Collector' the exceptions).
It was odd but for practically the whole show the band seemed totally detached from the audience, like they were two opposing teams getting on with their job to the exclusion of the other. The crowd at the front (either dedicated followers of fashion in Carnaby suits and thin ties, or punkoid wildmen) working on how to get on the stage, the band ignoring them completely until it gets too heavy, then asking them to move back but not particularly caring when they don't.
By the halfway mark it looked like two teams on an Its A Knockout game: how many people can stand on top of each others shoulders while the other side on the stage drag them off to the side. By the end of the set, more than 200 people had managed to get on the stage completely blocking the band from sight, six-deep maniacs, while the band played on, Jam sandwiched, again giving the impression that they hadn't even noticed anyone was there. At least its's lucky the mob liked them.
I liked them, as always. Some of the knights-in-armour-pursue-urban-emptiness images don't always sit well, inviting critical terms like "ambitious" and "serious" which detract from the great rock and roll that they make, but the spark is definitely still there. Best: 'It's Too Bad', 'Thick As Thieves', 'Modern World', 'Private Hell', 'Strange Town' and the bop-along encores 'Heatwave' and 'All Mod Cons', which invited the stage invasion.
The Jam seem to be rabble-rousers in spite of themselves; the only problem in the States is finding enough rabble to rouse.
© Sylvie Simmons, Sounds, 5 April 1980