The Critics: Rock & Pop: The prat in the hat is back

Jamiroquai Brighton Centre, Brighton Sebadoh Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Jamiroquai seem to be almost fashionable again. Years after we'd written off Jason Kay as that dope-smoking, sports car-driving, funny- hat-loving Stevie Wonder impersonator, he's suddenly winning awards, grinning from magazine covers, and generally being taken a lot more seriously than a man who wears wombats on his head has any right to expect. One reason for this rehabilitation is that he is now one half of a celebrity couple, the other half being Denise Van Outen. Kay's ramblings on the state of the world have earned him almost as much ridicule as his taste in millinery since his first album came out in 1993, so we shouldn't underestimate the if-the-People's-Totty-fancies-him-he-can't-be-that-much-of-a-ponce factor. But even more significant is the sheer number of records Jamiroquai have sold. It's not so easy to dismiss them as an acid-jazz irrelevance now they've shifted 11 million albums.

Their fourth and best LP, Synkronized (Sony), is released tomorrow. To mark the occasion, a UK tour began on Wednesday, staged on a scale befitting Kay's new superstar status. There were video screens, a giant illuminated globe, a whole solar system of mirror balls and a metal climbing frame behind the nine-piece band. Otherwise it was funky business as usual. Kay boogied with an unselfconsciousness that no other male Caucasian can summon unless he is safely in his kitchen; and he wore two different hats (and you don't often hear that said literally). One was of his usual style, ie, a palace guard's bearskin that had been sat on. The other was a feathered head-dress that could have been attached to a handle and used to fan an Egyptian princess.

Chapeaux aside, Kay comes across as gracious and down-to-earth. He made one too many references to Van Outen, but he was remarkably sincere in his appreciation of the audience - the "party people" - and of his new bassist, Nick Fyffe. Fyffe was apparently recruited from a Jamiroquai tribute band after his predecessor, Stuart Zender, left the band to spend more time with Mel Blatt of All Saints.

When Kay had to restart "Virtual Insanity" after fluffing the lyrics, the audience's energy doubled. This was in part because of the singer's good-natured self-deprecation, but also because it was the first unplanned and unexpected moment of the concert. Kay likes his music the way he likes his Ferraris: precision-engineered. Every note is in place, every arrangement has been pieced together beat by beat. And to an extent, this is to be admired. You have to take your furry hat off to an artist who knows exactly how he wants to sound, and there are few bands that are so well-drilled.

The danger is that all the danger is removed. For every great single on a Jamiroquai album, there are several tracks that you don't have to listen to because you know what they sound like already: generic jazz- funk disco, a background hiss of rickety-tickety hi-hat, complicated electric piano chords, scurrying bass and scattish vocals. It's a shame there aren't a couple more songs that catch you unawares, as, for example, the buzzing keyboard bassline on "Deeper Underground" does. On Synkronized, the other obvious examples are the rattling scrape of a detuned guitar on "Supersonic" and the Baroque piano twiddles on "King For a Day". Neither track was played on Wednesday.

The other problem is that Kay's slip-sliding voice is as frictionless as his dancing. The group's next single, "Black Capricorn Day", is about being depressed, but Kay's vocals on it are as sunny as when he sings about being a famous TV presenter's boyfriend. (And given the criticism that is most often levelled at him and his music, it must take some courage to sing the refrain, "It's much too black for me" over and over again.) Jamiroquai are masterly at what they do, but half the time what they do has been done before. If you're looking for guts and daring during the other half of a very long concert, well, that's what the hats are for.

Opening their show last Sunday with a song about "pretending you're bigger than you really are", Sebadoh went on to pretend they're smaller than they really are. The Massachusetts trio's latest album, The Sebadoh (Domino), is stuffed with heartfelt lyrics, haunting melodies and fearsome riffs. It's even yielded a top 40 single and a Top of the Pops appearance. But Sebadoh still set up their own equipment before they start playing, still stand in the middle of a stage that is bare but for the guitar-cases stacked by the back curtain. "This is a very big stage, Jason is very far away," worries Lou Barlow. There are all of two metres between him and his co-frontman, Jason Lowenstein.

Sebadoh don't look like rock stars. The lank-haired Lowenstein could shed a few pounds, and when Barlow brushes back his curtain of hair he reveals the face and glasses of Louis "Weird Weekends" Theroux. But what really holds Sebadoh back from fame and fortune is their own distaste for such trifles. The height of their ambition is to be nothing more than grungey slackers in the early-Nineties mould of Buffalo Tom, the Lemonheads or Barlow's previous band, Dinosaur Jr.

Sebadoh do, however, sound like rock stars ... or they could do with a few minor alterations. In concert, Barlow's sensitive, folk-influenced songs and bruised voice made more of an impression than Lowenstein's throat- damaging,head-banging work-outs. But both men could be on Top of the Pops as often as they liked if Sebadoh allowed someone to clean up their muddy production and tune their guitars. I can't decide whether their determination not to be REM is noble or just annoying.

Jamiroquai: Hull Arena (01482 325252), Mon; Newcastle Arena (0191 401 8000), Wed; Glasgow SECC (0141 248 9999), Thurs; Wembley Arena (0181 900 1234), Sat & Sun

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy