POP MUSIC Jamiroquai, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
Singer Jason Kay had been suffering from shingles and a throat infection, and had cancelled the first leg of his British tour. ("I dragged myself off my sick bed to be here... basically, the prospect of giving you all your tickets back was too scary.") But when his band took over from what had been a solid and capable support act, the gulf that opened up was ocean-wide. Jamiroquai have a thousand musical tricks up their sleeves, and they came out using all of them: edgy, dissonant brass lines played as crisply as James Brown's but complicated by the intricacies of contemporary jazz; a wider variety of tempos than is common in British funk; energetic bass lines and rhythms bastardised from disco; a DJ using turntables to provide a constant commentary of scratching.

Kay himself is clearly the dynamo that makes each part of the machine work. The cynics still get over-heated about him once sounding too much like Stevie Wonder - as if that was the greatest musical crime - but it's his cocky West London charisma that gives the band its identity. Whether it was a ballad or disco-fuelled funk, Kay sang with that kind of effortless musicality that is so rare that it's surely just too churlish to praise his influences instead.

They played music from all three albums, plus the odd cover and what sounded like a new tune; which was good, at a time when so many gigs degenerate into long pay-per-view adverts for a new album. "Emergency on Planet Earth" has become something like a Jamiroquai anthem, and was received like one. "Return of the Space Cowboy" turned cleverly into a long, trippy rhythm workout - a sense of batucada percussion turned unfamiliar by thick, synthesised sounds. The band's star didgeridoo man Wallace Buchanan made his traditional appearance, providing a cavernous, mumbling foundation to the deeply funky "Journey To Arnhemland", and, on "Didjital Vibrations", made the didgeridoo sound like the instrument missing from all those Whitfield-Strong, psychedelic- era Temptations tracks.

The only let-down was provided by the venue. The Royal Albert Hall just wasn't built with drummers in mind; and while choirs might sound great with a hefty dose of natural reverb, it really takes the wind out of a good funk rhythm section's sails, to hear all the snap, crackle and pop a second time on its way back from the walls and ceiling. It is to the band's credit, that they still managed to put in the kind of gritty but polished, soulful performance that made lots of people put on big, furry hats, and dance.

Linton Chiswick

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