The Channel Club, Boston​

Still Charging Hard On The Punk Rock Line

THE BRITISH PUNK MOVEMENT hit full stride in 1977. Riding right near the top were the Clash and the Jam — two bands that stripped rock n' roll down to the essentials and played it hard, fast, loud… and well. Despite surface similarities, contrasts quickly emerged: The Clash were more overtly political and angry, the Jam were more personal and pop oriented.

The bands have continued to take divergent paths, in both musical and popular senses. In America, the Clash — currently embroiled in the fiasco in New York — are the most popular British punk group. The Jam — superstars in England — scheduled only five dates, including Friday's sold-out show at the Channel, on this North American tour. They remain outsiders in the US — and they like it like that.

America serves as a larger metaphor of their song 'Strange Town' — "Found myself in a strange town… They don't know, don't care and I've got to go, mate," The Jam's orientation — from accent to subject matter — is decidedly, pointedly, British. Does it limit their appeal here?

"Probably, yeah," replied singer, songwriter and guitarist Paul Weller on the Jam's last Boston stop in 1979. "Depends how open-minded people are, really." He was far from dejected. Case stated: We'll do it our way, come along if you wish.

The irony is that it hardly seems like America would need that much coaxing. Like the Who and the Kinks, influences and kindred spirits, the Jam offer entertainment, conviction and release — melodies with a message and stories with real characters. While their pace has slowed from the 90 mph burn of 1977, their intensity hasn't cooled in the least.

The Jam — in addition to Weller, bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler — sweat hard and refuse to make compromises. They're still hitting hard and they're covering an increasing amount of territory.

"Each generation needs its rebellious energy base burst," suggested progressive rocker Peter Gabriel when we talked last year. "Then these musicians mature and energy alone isn't enough to sustain their interest. So they work on their writing, explore sounds and you get the sort of follow through which we're seeing now. The bands have still got contact with what's happening and yet are beginning to explore and are not afraid to take risks. The Jam are a good example of a band that's done exactly that."

Gabriel's right. Though maturity can be the death knell for bands, signaling a retreat from cutting edge rock n' roll, the Jam continue to make songs that matter. Keeping the frills to a minimum and maintaining a hard charging straight-ahead rhythm, the Jam twist their way through an impressive array of moods — from the soft despair of 'The Butterfly Collector' to the defiant exhilaration of 'This Is The Modern World'.

At the Paradise two years ago, the Jam shied away from their less aggressive material. At the Channel they mixed it in skillfully, shifting gears from the mid-tempo romance and optimism of 'Monday' to the relentless, crackling tension of 'Funeral Pyre', their new single.

The Jam set up effective contrasts everywhere, both within songs and throughout the set. In 'Start!', Foxton's 'Taxman'-like bass line intertwined with Weller's desperation-turning-to-hope vocals and stinging, linear guitar lines. For their second encore, the Jam paired the upbeat innocent pop of 'Heat Wave' (which aptly described the sweltering club) with a pummeling cry against violence, 'A Bomb in Wardour Street'. Have some fun, have something to think about.

Jim Sullivan, Boston Globe, The, 1 June 1981