Reviews

Jump, Little Children

Devon Powers
Jump, Little Children

Jump, Little Children

City: New York
Venue: Village Underground
Date: 2002-11-08
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. 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.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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