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What's in iJamming! Music
Sun, Mar 3, 2002
From the Jamming! Archives:
interviewed in 1978
"A number one single would be a bit scary."
The iJamming! interview:
"'Acid Trax' by Phuture came out and I was just 'Okay, forget all hip hop and all old school rare groove right here, this is it.'"
The Best Of 2001
Tony Fletcher's Top Albums, Songs, Concerts, and Books
Strange Currencies:
R.E.M. at Carnegie Hall
In his room:
Brian Wilson at the Festival Hall
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN: "Flowers is Echo & The Bunnymen's finest hour since Ocean Rain."
Latest album reviews
An intrigue of early 90s New York nightlife.
NEW CHAPTER now online
From the Jamming! Archives:
U2 interviewed in 1984.
"It's not U2 that's creating this great art. . .There's something that works through us to create in this way."
iJamming! Wino/Muso:
"New world wines are just too techno for me."
iJamming! interview:
Jesse Hartman, aka LAPTOP
"Every New York band knows the meaning of failure"
MIX Albums:
Who, what and why you should bother
"I don't think people realize that life can become so exciting and interesting that it can draw you away for long periods of time from creating music - & why not?"
From the Keith Moon archives:
the JEFF BECK interview .
The iJAMMING! chat:

"If I was asked why Sniffin' Glue was so important, it was the way we conducted ourselves, the style of it, just the attitude. It had attitude in abundance didn't it?"
Forgotten Classics:
THE CHILLS: Brave Words
THE iJAMMING! Book Review:
SNIFFIN' GLUE: The Essential Punk Accessory
Musing with SALLY TAYLOR:
"I'm not interested in what the major labels have to offer."
From the JAMMING! archives: ALTERNATIVE TV
interviewed in 1978
Fran Healy explains why "you cannot own a song." (And why Liam Gallagher "is going to turn into a really great songwriter.")
Featured Artist Web Site:
From the JAMMING! archives: The Story That Spawned Creation
The iJAMMING! interview:
"Once you've had your go, what-ever it may be, they want you to piss off, and they can't bear it if you come back, they can't bear it."
They love rock'n'roll but they don't want to deal with the hassle
The full iJamming! Contents
A weekend with John Mayer, Sugarcult - and Elvis
Fri Feb 22nd.

A Friend is in from LA. We’ve agreed to hang out Friday night; I’ve told him I don’t mind where. He calls me in the morning, informs me with evident satisfaction that he’s scored tickets for John Mayer at Irving Plaza. Never heard of him, I respond, who’s he opening for? There’s silence at the other end of the phone line. John Mayer. He’s headlining. He’s sold out two nights there.

Okay, so there are moments in your life where you suddenly realise that you’ve fallen outside the loop, and this appears to have been one of them in mine. To make mild amends, I do some quick homework on the web, where I learn from his web site that Mayer is a singer-songwriter from Connecticut via Atlanta, who built a grass-roots following off his first album, got signed to a Columbia subsidiary and is doing good business on his second album, Room For Squares. His bio allows comparisons to Sting and Dave Matthews; a Rolling Stone review cites Elvis Costello and David Gray. Esteemed company indeed.

When I approach Irving from Union Square at 8 o’clock, there’s a line snaking its way down 16th Street and I assume it’s for some other event, especially because the crowd looks so un-rock’n’roll, until I realise it’s making its way round the block to Irving itself. This is obviously an audience that doesn’t want to miss a thing, not even the taped music before the opening act. This is also an audience noticeable for being a) young, b) white, c) very collegiate and d) predominantly female.

Joining my friends (a couple of journalists, a publicist and a major label employee, which makes us sound like a den of thieves I know!) at the restaurant Galaxy, underneath the venue, confessing my ignorance to Mayer, I suggest that the crowd looks like Dave Matthews fans to me - and that Mayer looks like a younger Dave Matthews in his pictures. Turns out the two artists share a producer. So chalk one up to my instincts, even when I’m outside the loop. We argue keenly over a surprisingly good vegetarian dinner about new music (most of it spent on the Strokes, but I think we cover Oasis, Elbow and South along the way) and then join the throng upstairs. The lights go down, and the screams - of all things - come up. When Mayer steps onstage, it’s obvious why. The guy oozes sex appeal: he’s all bushy eyebrows, hunched shoulders and affected coolness. He opens his mouth to sing (a song called ‘Why Georgia’) and at least 300 people join him word for word. The screams increase in volume. I feel even further outside the loop.

John Mayer in typical hunched-shoulder pose
By the time we’re fifteen minutes into the set, I’m grateful as to my prior ignorance. Mayer has what it takes to sell records, of that there’s no doubt, but he doesn’tsell me. I find the songs to be those earnest roundabout numbers that drip with sincerity yet never go anywhere - very much like his major influence Mr Matthews. But that’s okay, up to a point. It’s the self-conscious sex appeal that offends me. Mayer’s good-looking and there’s no reason not to play up to it when your audience is as young and as hot as his. But doing so by attempting to downplay it doesn’t pass mustard. So when he goes into a little speech about how all those years of playing in his bedroom, staring at the posters on his wall, have not prepared him “for a man to shout ‘take your shirt off’,” as apparently has just happened, and when he dovetails from that into how “people may have shouted it at Miles Davis, but he was cool,” I’m not fooled for a second. What I get from this is that Mayer is letting us know a) even the men in his audience thinks he’s sexy, and b) he sees himself in the same class as Miles Davis.

I’d let him off some if his guitar playing was a match for Davis’ trumpet playing, but there are too many earnest Eric Clapton moments, eyes closed, leaning back, pulling at the guitar strings like he’s really tugging at your heart, his three on-stage henchmen pulling out standard jam-band accompaniments that never threaten to steal his limelight. His voice is good-not-great. And that constant hunching and unhunching of the shoulders...I feel like a grinch disliking him, but it's for all the opposite reasons than why 30-somethings usually dislike younger musicians. It just seems so incredibly wimpy. I’m frustrated and not a little depressed that today’s college crowd should be settling for, of all things, Dave Matthews lite. It just seems we could be doing so much better.

Mayer’s clearly a phenomenon in the making. A quick look at the message board on his web site shows 77 threads active on a single day. One fan starts a thread wanting to know whether to hell her boyfriend she’s not a virgin, another wants advice on SAT scores. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! But when a girl announces that she was 'excited' at meeting Mayer after the Irving Plaza show, except that in parting he commented that he "wanted to have sex in the shower" with her - and that she was 'shocked' by this - she's chased off the board for going off-subject or/and lying or/and showing off. You want to know John Mayer’s audience, there it is: high-schoolers and young collegiates obsessed with grades and romance, and unwilling to brookthe first suggestion that their new idol may be less than a role model. You want to know who else will get these people in their audience, then follow the thread that asks for ‘artists like John Mayer,’ and the answers are instructive: Dave Matthews (but of course), Jack Johnson, Ari Hest, Mason Jennings. Some of these I’ve been sent records by, some of them I know just by reputation. There’s a scene going on here for sure. Oh, and Ryan Adams.

Come to think of it, Adams and Mayer have much in common: they’re both too obsessed with their image and with playing-to-win to convince me they’re truly ‘4 Real.’ But at least Adams, for all his grandstanding, has some guts to him, and he’s written a song for all time in ‘New York, New York’. I heard lots of things at Irving Friday night, even above the screaming girls, but I didn’t hear John Mayer’s soul - let alone a melody I could call my own.
Saturday Feb 23rd.

Wouldn’t normally share all this but it forms a useful bridge into Sunday. We had friends round for dinner. Got through some seriously good wine too, especially a couple of Syrah’s. Alain Voge’s Côtes du Rhône 1999 from just outside his Cornas vineyards is a svelte syrah quite unlike your peppery, high-alcohol southern Rhônes and good QPR at $16. And then the real thing. The Cornas region of Rhône produces some of the most impenetrable syrahs in the world: they are inky black, laden with tannins, but they have a full-on flavor even in their youth and gain complexity after a decade or so. One of my best friends prefers them young and raw: he brought along a Thierry Allemand Cornas 1997. It already had about an inch or more of sediment, a bowl full of raspberry-blackcurrant fruit, a mouth-leathering quantity of tannins still, an intense smokey meatiness, and was a good five years shy of its peak. We knew we weren’t drinking Merlot, that’s for sure.

Elvis Costello reflecting on the memory of that Tube show - without hunched shoulders
Anyways, after dinner, we found ourselves watching an old episode of the Tube, for a live performance by Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Newcomer John Mayer may invite comparisons to the man christened Declan McManus from other critics, but you won't find me in that camp. Mayer’s 23-24 and that seems impressive; but by that age Elvis Costello had released three of the greatest albums of all time (My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model, Armed Forces), laced with biting lyrics, overflowing with musical experimentation and chock full of with hit singles, too. At the point of this November 1983 TV Tube performance, he was on to Punch the Clock and in his soul period, the Uptown Horns and female backing singers helping him out on a four-song set featuring ‘Shipbuilding,’ ‘Everyday I Write The Book,’ ‘Clubland ‘ and the song I always thought was called ‘Clowntime Is Over’ except I can't find that title in his back catalogue. (Help me out someone!)

Elvis didn’t need to hunch his shoulders to make you believe. The brief period in his career that he attracted screaming girls (this exact period in '83, coincidentally) genuinely bemused him. He threw his entire soul into every show; he had some of the best musicians in the world alongside him to keep him on his toes (keyboardist Steve Naive was frightening on this taped performance), and though he didn’t try to be anything he wasn’t - like a lead guitarist - he was always, always striving for more. It wasn’t enough to be perceived as an angry young man, it wasn’t enough to be seen as a singer-songwriter. It wasn’t enough to be political, it wasn’t enough to be soulful. He continually pushed himself into new territory. And the thing about him for many many years, was that if you didn’t like his latest album, that was okay, he’d have another one coming out in a few months. The Tube performance was a riveting one, a reminder of a true great at just one of his many creative peaks.
Sunday Feb 24th.

Rarely do I go out to shows on a Sunday night, but Sugarcult were in town, opening for Unwritten Law. I missed Sugarcult at the Warped punk Festival last year, which I came to regret given how hard I fell for their album Start Static, and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. So I called my neighbour Paul, who happens, by fortunate coincidence, to be about my age, from the UK, married to an American, and with a sole son; being from multi-culti Bristol, he grew up on ska, reggae, punk and funk which means, all told, we have plenty in common. He was happy to join me on a drive into Manhattan, to Irving Plaza of all places.

I could feel a theme coming on here. Apart from wanting to see Sugarcult for the pure hell of it, I was keen to see how I could compare them to my experience at the same venue on Friday night. The average age at Warped is probably about 15; it turned out to be only a year or two older at Irving. New York may be hurting financially, but the kids are finding money for their gigs, that’s for sure.

Tim Pagnotta: Elvis Costello fan, Billy Joe lookalike, and fond of the 'f' word: "You guys are the fuckin' best."
There were certain similarities to Mayer. When the lights went down around 8.45pm, the screams - of all things - came up, and when Sugarcult ran onstage, it was obvious why. They ooze sex appeal. Actually, they don’t. But singer-guitarist Tim Pagnotta is hot, in a Billy Joe-from-Green Day kind of way, and punk fans are hardly spoiled for choice. They commenced with Start Static's opener, ‘You’re The One’ and my pal Paul was most impressed, noting how Sugarcult have that late 70s Buzzcocks-Vibrators look down to a tee; I even thought I could see a Vibrators button badge on lead guitarist Marko 72’s shirt. (I was right; I could.)

Then the second song opened with the line “I don’t want to kiss you, I don’t want to touch,” and it was obvious Sugarcult were doing more than paying lip service to that era. I clocked the cover before Paul (I should do, I earn my living listening to music). It was Elvis Costello’s ‘No Action,’ the opening song from his monumental second album This Year’s Model. The audience didn’t scream their recognition or sing along as they had ‘You’re The One,’ but hey, what a song. What an inspired choice of cover tune. What a wonderful education for the crowd. What a totally cool band.

I constantly feel like I need to apologise for loving a band like Sugarcult. (I put them in my top 10 albums for the year, then felt the need to say later they were a 'throwaway' vote as if I felt guilty.) They’re not original musically, they’re not saying anything new lyrically, they’re not the best musicians you’ve ever heard or the greatest singers. You can’t even excuse them by allowing that they’re teenagers. (Pagnotta is 24; Marko 72, allowing that he’s run a couple of indie labels, might well have been born the year of his name.) But the thing is, they know all of this - unlike John Mayer, who seems to think he’s breaking new ground - and that clears the decks to love them for their sheer exuberance.

Sugarcult are pissed at the world - most of the songs are about suburban alienation or romantic disasters - but they don’t ask you to destroy. They just allow to have a good time venting all your energy (or to grin madly, like Paul and I, if you don’t have much energy on a Sunday night to vent), and to find them afterwards if you want to know more or just hang out. It’s not rocket science. Pagnotta’s typical rant went something like this: “Fuckin’ A . . . I think New York City’s the fucking’ greatest place in the world . . . can we stay up here all fuckin’ night?. . .Can you show us round town?. . . you guys are the fuckin’ best.’” And you knew he meant every word of it.

On top of which, it has to be emphasised in bold letters, Sugarcult write great songs. Prime among them is the album’s first single ‘Stuck In America,’ on which I noticed the vocals had reverted to their original “blowing up the neighborhood” line; I also noted that the group draped one of the amps with the Stars & Stripes, as if pre-compensating for the negative connotations of that otherwise great song. ‘Pretty Girl,’ ‘Daddy’s Little Defect,’ 'How Does It Feel,’ ‘Bouncing Off The Walls,’ they’re minor classics, every one of them, and given the current state of American rock - the Linkin Parks and Stainds and Slipknots of this world - I’m thrilled to discover they’re getting played on the radio. Sugarcult will never break big like Green Day once did - it doesn’t feel like the right time for it and the more conventionally hardcore Unwritten Law clearly pulled the majority of the crowd this night - but the fact that they’ve got the teenage following down proves I’m not just being nostalgic here. And unlike the John Mayer crowd (where frat boys threw womens bras and condom balloons on stage) the kids here were alright. They weren’t out to get drunk, and they weren’t out to pick each other up, apart from off the floor when they got over excited. They just wanted to have some fun listening to a band they could identify with.

Late in the set, Marko stepped to the microphone to state how he knew that “New York had a real shitty year, like the whole country did....and it was extra shitty because Joey Ramone died,” at which they launched into ‘I Wanna Be Sedated.’ The room exploded. Afterwards, Paul and I cornered Marko and noted that most of the audience hadn’t been born when that song came out. He replied they probably hadn’t been born when the Ramones broke up! As for covering Elvis, he explained, it was to lead the audience back to some of this music’s roots. “They ask us who it’s by, and when we tell them, they’re like, ‘I thought Elvis was just a singer songwriter.’”

Well, there you go. Elvis Costello was so much more than that, and the new crop of American singer-songwriters would do well to remember as much if they hope to be getting viewed on video or covered onstage twenty to twenty-five years from now. But it’s alright. The depression that John Mayer left me with on Friday - that this is what college kids listen to - was relieved on Sunday by the exhileration of Sugarcult. If this is what high school kids are listening to, everything’s cool.


(You can dowload Sugarcult’s cover of ‘No Action', and three songs off Start Static for free at this link from their web site: Hold your mouse-click down to save the file to your hard drive.)

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