Adele, Academy, Leeds
Jim Jones Revue, Concorde 2, Brighton
That Adele has achieved soul diva status says more about us than it does about this 'daahn-to-erff' chart phenomenon
Sunday 17 April 2011
Adele Adkins ambles on to a stage decorated with dozens of chintzy lampshades, made from the skins of other, better singers. She perches on a stool. She shakes her Croydon-facelift ponytail. And she cackles a Catherine-Tate-granny cackle. "It's so good to be in the fackin' UK!"
Take the temperature of lower-middlebrow Britain right now, and it will read simply Adele. For better or worse, this is what we've come to. Adele is the soul singer of choice for people who find Alan Carr and Keith Lemon funny, whose favourite fashion designers are Ed Hardy and Bench, and who thought Nick Clegg came over rather well in the election debates. And there are millions of them, enough to send her albums 19 quadruple platinum and 21 septuple platinum (the latter has only been out three months).
There's something about Adele that makes people warm to her. It cannot just be her unremarkable, medium-husky, forceful but featureless voice, an unlovely blare that all but drowns out her backing band. It's like being shouted at for an hour.
Could it be her material? Everyone around me sings along from the heart, but I'm baffled. "Chasing Pavements" is a song and a half, no question, and the shivers I get when she performs it can't be explained away by the fact that I'm standing directly beneath the air-con. And "Right As Rain" has an enjoyable lightness of touch, I suppose. But besides that, what have you got? A couple of superfluous Cure and Dylan covers, and a whole load of focus-grouped mush.
No, I think it's that people actually like her. Which is, in a way, the scariest part of all. I know she hasn't actually done anything wrong, and because of her lack of airs and graces, and because there's no apparent distinction between her persona and personality, any attack on Adele feels a bit like stamping on a puppy. It's just that she's a little uncouth. "I know it sounds epic," she says regarding the song "Set Fire to the Rain", continuing "but it's actually about the time my ex-boyfriend said I was useless 'cos my lighter wouldn't work. Wot a cant!"
Maybe that's what people go for nowadays. I'm certainly not arguing that every female singer needs to be a prim little Petula Clark, nor an elusive Kate Bush, nor possessed of Bassey-like levels of star quality. But must Adele be quite this daahn-to-erff? She may be the stereotypical girl down the pub, but you'd move to another table.
She ends the first night of her current victory lap by encoring with "Someone Like You", her performance of which at the Brit Awards seems to have been officially canonised as one of that ceremony's all-time greats, a whole generation apparently having its Sinead O' Connor "Nothing Compares 2 U" moment. But it left me shrugging. Not since Alexandros of Antioch put down his chisels and said "Yep, I think that's done, I just hope the arms hold up" has such a lot of fuss been made over someone standing completely still.
Twenty-two years ago, Jim Jones wanted to kill me. In another lifetime, as a junior hack on Melody Maker, I went to see his psych-rockers Thee Hypnotics at Islington's long-defunct Powerhaus, my interest piqued by a sprawling nine-minute monster they'd just released called "Justice in Freedom".
My review was cursory and dismissive, and probably involved an unflattering comparison with Jim Morrison, with some idealistic youthful rhetoric about the evils of retro rock and the necessity of futurism. Word reached me that I'd better watch my back.
Two decades on, and for one reason or another – maybe I've changed, maybe the culture has – the battlelines have shifted, and retro rock no longer feels like the enemy (at least, not automatically so). We are not at war with Eurasia. We have never been at war with Eurasia. And Jones's new band, the shamelessly old-fashioned Jim Jones Revue, feel like the most vital and of-the-moment thing you could possibly go and see right now.
A messianic moptop on a mission, the testifying figure of Jones comes on like a rock'n'roll version of his Kool Aid-peddling cult leader namesake, while the Revue, all Brylcreem and black leather, knock out blast after irresistible blast of barrel-room boogie-woogie and razor-sharp rockabilly that bypasses the brain and heads straight for the hips.
There are elements of Screaming Lord Sutch, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dr Feelgood, Little Richard (they've been known to cover his "Hey Hey Hey Hey") and, above all Motorhead. The live mix, captured admirably on record by Jim Sclavunos (Bad Seeds/Grinderman), is a real case of everything-louder-than-everything-else and, powering through the mayhem, a voice that has the elemental, force-of-nature ferocity of Noddy Holder in full flight.
There's a riotous version of Elvis Presley's "Big Hunk O' Love" tonight, but JJR's own material blows the covers clean away. The song with which they end, "The Princess and the Frog", gives that fairy tale a filthy-minded undercurrent the Brothers Grimm surely never intended: "Well, she had him in her hand, she started to kiss/She said ... oooh, what is this growing in my hand?"
Jim Jones Revue are improbable and ridiculous, anachronistic and outdated, and completely and utterly brilliant.
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