From the Jam – [Live]

Friday, 08 February 2008

Distinguished. That is the best word to describe the band and the audience that showed up Tuesday night in San Francisco's classiest venue. Well…aged, mature, ripened, not too old to rock and roll, young at heart, and lovers of some of the best rock and roll from 30 years ago still out there are some other terms I'd use too. The full house at the Great American Music Hall—predominately 40-50 year olds that were dressed to kill sort of blew my mind. I don't think I've ever seen so many people dance along and sing out loud to every single song at a concert before. The love that was in the air for the From the Jam performers was tangible. Was this a phenomenon unique to San Francisco? I wouldn't be surprised to hear that L.A. fans of The Jam were not as enthusiastic. Hell, if it weren't for old-time San Francisco punk rock fans, punk rock would have died long ago. While that might not be an entirely true claim, but it is fair to say that to fill up the Great American Music Hall on a Tuesday night takes some hard core lovers of well known music. The influence The Jam has had on dozens of bands since their inception in the late 70's in undeniable. Despite the fact that original lead singer Paul Weller refuses to take part in the reunion tour, the energy of the original sound and live performance was perfectly delivered by bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler. Russell Hastings filled in on guitar and vocals (in Weller's position) and Dave Moore also played guitar and keyboards.

Strangely enough, there didn't really seem to be a high point in the set list. By that I mean that the energy level and the excitement in the room was high all through The Jam's set. Right from the opening chords of “In The City,” the crowd was lit up and singing along. There has always been something "young" or "youthful" about the mod movement, and even reunited band members—now in their 50's—were able to spark that liveliness into an ongoing youth-fest. “Start,” “A Bomb in Wardour Street” and “Strange Town” kept the audience ridiculously excited and I thought to myself, 'Hell, how can they keep up this level of energy?', only to be astounded by the pre-encore ending with “Eton Rifles” and “Going Underground.” We all knew there would be an encore because we hadn't heard “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight,” “The Gift” or “Town Called Malice” yet. Within five minutes they were back. Where they found the endurance to astound us with three more songs is unknown to me. I'll tell you though, this genre of music will one day be the modern version of swing for how it keeps you in touch with a youthful spirit.

Earlier, the evening began promptly at 8pm with a lean, and somewhat subdued performance by Hugh Cornwell, the brain and balls behind the legendary punk band, The Stranglers. I have loved The Stranglers since the very first time I listened to their first album, Rattus Norvegicus back in 1977 when I worked at the Record Factory, a music store in Walnut Creek, California. I would have gone to this concert to see The (reformed) Jam anyway, but the fact that Hugh Cornwell was going to be playing too made this the first "must see" concert of 2008 for me. Hugh has become a bit of an old English darling, and the songs that he has written over the past several decades about confused love and disrespect are practically bastard national anthems of a poetic nature. Listening to him croon and jam on his electric guitar made me fall a little in love with olde England (of the late 70's) again. His ensemble was filled out by Robert Williams (of Captain Beefheart Magic Band fame) on drums and feisty Caroline "Caz" Campbell on bass. It was unfortunate that he did not bring along a keyboard player to fill out the full, Doors-y sound that made The Stranglers' music so richly unique.

I had seen The Stranglers perform live in San Francisco, a mere 30 years ago at The Old Waldorf on a Saturday afternoon for an all ages crowd. Funny to see what time can do to people, and how beloved music can still stir excitement in the air amongst devoted fans. The set list included songs like early album favorites “Nice 'n' Sleazy,” “Peaches,” and “No More Heroes,” which to me were the highlight of the whole evening. Mellower songs like “First Bus to Babylon” and “Golden Brown” filled out the rest of the set. People sang along, but I was a little disappointed—as others seemed to have been—that Hugh's gravelly bark and bite had softened a bit with age. Overall, this was another amazing show in amazing San Francisco. I always wonder what other famous musicians might be in the crowd incognito. This was a classy crowd out for some classy English rock and roll. Maybe some of the original musicians that actually inspired the music of The Jam could have been there. You never know!

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