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 & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'

'Rebel without a Cause', 'East of Eden' and 'Giant' re-released

Arts & Entertainment
TV The second episode of the hit HBO featured a surprise for viewers
Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Arts & Entertainment
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on The Crimson Field
Arts & Entertainment
Gian Sammarco plays Adrian Mole in 'The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole'

Sue Townsend's much-loved character will live on
Arts & Entertainment
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show

Kylie Minogue quits The Voice UK

Arts & Entertainment
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Favour Asikpa and Thandie Newton in 'Half of a Yellow Sun'

Review: Half of A Yellow Sun

Arts & Entertainment
Andrew Motion would send 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens
booksLeading writers protest against government restrictions on prisoners receiving books
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
    Supersize art

    Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

    The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
    Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

    How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

    More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
    10 best activity books for children

    10 best activity books for children

    Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
    Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

    Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

    Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
    Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

    Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

    Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
    Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

    Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

    With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
    Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

    NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

    Politicians urged to find radical solution
    Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

    Ukraine crisis

    How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

    The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

    A history of the First World War in 100 moments
    Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

    New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

    Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
    Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

    Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

    Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?