There are so many things that I can’t believe about tonight. I can’t believe that, having passed the quarter century mark only a week ago, I am already among the senior-citizen set in the multitude that have crammed themselves, shoulder to shoulder, in the claustrophobic hysteria that is the Village Underground. For sure, I’m the only person in my immediate vicinity who is legally sporting a drinking armband. The waitress, a petite girl with downtown elegance, looks vexed by all this. Obviously, this won’t be a huge night for her as far as drinks (and their tips) are concerned. I honestly feel like I’m in a scene from Felicity.
8 Nov 2002: Village Underground New York
I also can’t believe that Jump, Little Children are real. They’re one of those bands that seemed to have come to me in a fantasy—a surprise to delight in despite its unexpectedness, like a telephone call from an old friend. When I stumbled upon their 2001 release, Vertigo, I sincerely felt like asking someone to pinch me. The bulk of songs were stunning and etched perfectly, as if in crystal—fragile and delicate, reflective and glimmering, mysterious and cosmic in their power. I would listen to the album with my headphones on and fully steep myself in the serenity created by the lush layers of the instrumentation, vocals, lyrics. At times they conjured memories of the naked emotiveness of Jeff Buckley, the diaphanous symphonies that pepper the end of Radiohead’s Pablo Honey, or the plain pop perfection of Neil Finn. But rather than mimic any of these, JLC occupy a space amongst them. Pretty good company, in my opinion.
And now, there they are and here I am. They’re an eclectic bunch. Lead singer Jay Clifford is the obvious heartthrob, a gallant sort of fellow sporting a guitar instead of a sabre. His co-frontman Matt Bivins is donning an enormously wide white tie—the kind that recalls memories of misguided judgment at the Salvation Army thrift shop—and a shirt that appears gray underneath his jacket but will soon, after said jacket hits the floor, reveal itself actually to be silver and semi-reflective. (HAM, I jot in my notes.) Bassist Jonathan Gray has fashioned his mustache a la Salvador Dali and is wearing a tan fedora. Ward Williams looks like the small fry you remember from high school who, a few years later, has started pumping iron and sports a much better haircut. And the drummer, Evan Bivins, unassuming in a white button-up and tasteful spectacles, poses a dramatic foil to his high-falutin’ bro.
As they open with “Come Out Clean”, by far their best known tune, I realize another thing I can’t believe—JLC’s fans are intense. It’s like watching a mass hypnotized by propaganda—people are swaying, convulsing, screaming, mouthing along, their eyes glued to the stage. Though I found them serendipitously, apparently they’ve had oodles of grassroots followers, from their early indie offerings to their major label debut, Magazine, in 1998, to 2001’s Vertigo, released on EZ Chief Records. Jay and Matt trade off in offering smiles and greetings to the crowd, who lap it all up like thirsty runners after a marathon.
The eclectic look of the JLC crew for sure do justice to their diverse palette of music, which at times seems like it might require several different crowds to truly appreciate, but seems to jibe with those present this evening. Songs like “Body Parts”, sung/rapped/screamed by Matt, have a poetry-slam jive to them and are met with funk and muscle; “Rains in Asia” and “Broken Hearts Education”, two bewitching ballads sung by Clifford, are museum-worthy gems; straight-up pop fare like “My Guitar” and “The House Our Father Knew” set out to rock, and do. It’s as if a conscious effort has been made, in every little detail, to avert being pigeonholed. To wit: they break into a Celtic-inspired jam session as easily as they glam through a cover of “Enter Sandman”. Clifford, whose vocals are nothing short of fucking gorgeous, does a soul-searching acoustic number, then pulls down his pants on a dare. And Matt Bivins—well, I can’t go into it all, but he’s lip-synching, pelvic-thrusting, stripping (ok, not totally) and brouha-haing with the best of them.
JLC are a band that offers something for everyone, or can be everything for someone. And if the couple hundred flush fresh faces that crowd around me tonight are any indication, they’ve done their deed, and then some. There’s something in me too, after their set, that makes me feel the revelry and freedom that accompanies being 18 or so, finally being away from home, and seeing a show that just plain rocks. Hell, I might even go home tonight and tune in to a couple of Felicity reruns on the WB. Believe it or not.