Thursday 2nd November, Manchester Arena
British funk band Jamiroquai performed the first date of their arena tour in Manchester on the 2nd of November. There was surely a personal touch involved: singer Jay Kay was born in Stratford and holds childhood memories nearby.
The tour arrives following the release of Automaton, their first studio album for seven years. The record follows the well-loved Jamiroquai lyrical theme of social critique and human’s relationship with the artificial — a sure farcry to international hit ‘Virtual Insanity’ released 20 years prior.
The great live performances on album tours unleash with a song they are confident will excite the crowd before introducing novel tracks. It is therefore baffling why so many bands so frequently choose to debut songs to an audience nowhere close to warmed up, as Jamiroquai did in this instance with an indifferent ‘Shake It On’.
The eponymous album track too, shortly afterwards, was uninspiring in performance, not at all living up to the vivid if interminable studio recording. The next group of songs, making up the majority of the first half of the show, were further largely forgettable. Too often, Kay did not even attempt the high notes for which he has been so revered for throughout his career, opting instead for more achievable mid-range octaves with considerably less effect. This was particularly disappointing — at times the injection of that energy was sorely lacking.
With the second half came some of classic Jamiroquai jams and yet there were plenty obvious downfalls even here. ‘Space Cowboy’ was severely deficient of the crunching bass slams of its verses — although the chorus was still great, it would be near impossible to butcher. The calmer, slower rehash of ‘Emergency on Planet Earth’ lacked all the pace, urgency, and exigency that made the studio release so brilliant and so in touch with its lyrical subject matter.
There were certainly upsides, too. ‘(Don’t) Give Hate a Chance’ commemorated the location of the Manchester Arena bombings earlier this year, its first live performance since 2006, well performed and unquestionably pertinent. ‘Cloud 9’, off the new album, was well-received by the audience.
There was also a turnaround in the latter stages to a strong finish: ‘Runaway’ had its superb, punchy bass-line smacked out; ‘Canned Heat’, always a favourite, was a true bop; and ‘Virtual Insanity’, with its slammed piano chords and exasperated vocals, was a great closing piece. It was a shame the one-song encore, ‘Supersonic’, was virtually unknown to the audience. It wasn’t worth them coming back out for really.
Photo: Jack Greeney
Unfortunately there are a myriad other underwhelming aspects to mention. Visual effects were rudimentary and limited, not making use at all of the wealth of features you’d expect from an arena show. Kay’s famous shining electronic hat was great, of course, but did not at all match with his plain grey-green tracksuit.
Of course, Kay is the one who the crowds came out to see and hear, but at times the vocals were far too loud in the mix. Many fan favourites were stark absences, ‘When You Gonna Learn’, ‘Too Young to Die’, ‘Deeper Underground’ among others all missing. And finally — perhaps most crucially — to note with utmost respect and personal admiration — Jay Kay was, at times, almost physically unfit to perform. Hands on knees panting a third of the way through the show level unfit.
Perhaps all this can be put down to complacency. Their many years of fame will sell out arenas regardless. It will not, however, live up to fans’ expectations. On the whole, it was a discouraging performance. Jay Kay is lucky he’s such a good writer in the studio because it pulled some songs through, but it was not a show you would buy a ticket to expect.
Photo: Jack Greeney