Nevertheless, the majority of the 18,000 crowd appeared to appreciate the return of the diminutive eco-funkster in his obligatory silly (sorry, trendsetting - the man's a style icon, according to GQ) hat. This evening, he sported some preposterous shiny, Native American-style headgear. It may have been a reference to the band's moniker - which combines the name of a Native American tribe (the Iroquois) with "jam" (in the musical sense). You did worry, however, that the sharp points of the headpiece might have an eye out - but Kay, thankfully, kept a safe distance from his excellent band and three backing-singers.
Jamiroquai were the last act to bless the three-day B-Live weekend in south-west London - after the bland Brand New Heavies, Amy Winehouse and the inimitable Flavor Flav - and they were, by some distance, the star draw. Dynamite, their sixth album in 13 years, charted at No 3 last week, and is a slick, polished product laden with unsurprising, easy-on-the-ear retro-funk tracks.
However, it was one of the fatter and dirtier tracks that Jamiroquai opened with. "Electric Mistress" is redolent of Prince's filthy funk from the early 1980s, and it's none the worse for its unashamedly lascivious, slightly absurd, lyrics: "Pretty Polly's my electric mistress/ When she's freakin' like a maniac/ She's my aphrodisiac."
There was a great deal of this Prince-lite material that Kay bombarded us with. "Sugar spice/ I'm on the phone/ It feels good I need a little sexfunk right now/ I want you, I wanna lick you up and down," he exclaimed on the single "Feels Just Like It Should". He duly explained to us that the song is about the "sex", and quite frankly we could have done without Kay's "comic" interludes. At various points, he warbled on about the local council (for not allowing the gig to go on later than 9pm), his speeding offences (he was caught doing 111mph in 1998), and his old drug habit. It's this sort of baloney that gives the band a bad press and inspires an exceptional degree of vitriol - one paper ran a gig review under the headline "Prat in the Hat", and Blender magazine dubbed him "the white, talentless Stevie Wonder".
But if you're going to imitate anyone, Wonder's not a shabby role model, and the band's other influences are equally evident tonight - Earth, Wind and Fire, The Gap Band, Parliament, George Clinton, Jimmy Castor and Bootsy Collins. The funk is muscular and thumping throughout the evening, especially on the hits - "Little L", "Canned Heat", "Cosmic Girl" and "Deeper Underground". Kay had reason to swagger: his band sounded flawless and confident, and the crowd dutifully displayed a show of hands for their most successful track, "Virtual Insanity" from 1996's Travelling without Motion.
Ultimately, Jay Kay is an adroit, solid proposition live, even if his intensity is diminished by playing in a field. And for all Jay's Kay's wearisome banter at the crowd, you can't fault the Buckinghamshire millionaire for effort. At 35, his footwork is still fancy, and he leapt and swayed his flexible frame with unstinting vigour throughout the generous, two-and-a-quarter-hour set.
If you look beyond the obsession with cars, the unorthodox headgear and the clumsy, witless lyrics, you'll find some rather pleasing funk. It's not Stevie Wonder or even Prince, but at times it comes within touching-distance.Reuse content