Jamiroquai (photo: Jon Bauer)
For one night last week, Jamiroquai turned San Francisco into a bigger destination than it already is.
Until April 17, Jamiroquai hadn’t played the United States in 13 years. Fans of the preeminent UK-based electronic band flocked from all corners of the globe to see them perform. They returned to take part in this year’s Coachella, treating San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium to their only non-festival date in the country.
From 8:45 until 11, Jamiroquai flexed their prophetic influence in an exploratory genre. Their 17-song performance touched on each of their major hits as well as a handful of deeper cuts and brand-new songs. Although they did not play anything from their 1993 debut Emergency On Planet Earth, for fans of the band who had previously written off any chance of seeing Jamiroquai, the set list was the stuff of dreams.
Halfway through the set the realization dawned this band was putting a futuristic twist on some of the most classic motifs found throughout music. Dirty floor-stomping funk and improvisational free-form jazz of the past combined with time warping synths? It is a prescription for a feeling as fresh and invigorating as music has ever felt. The hype was real.
Jamiroquai started the show with “Shake It On” from their most recent release, 2017’s Automaton. “Little L” from A Funk Odyssey. By the time they moved on to “The Kids,” the first of several tracks from their breakout sophomore album The Return of the Space Cowboy, the BGCA was alive.
Lead vocalist Jay Kay was a brilliant spark of energy to start the show. Hydrating plenty between songs, he was full of roundhouse kicks, jumping in and out of poses, and most importantly, singing his damn heart out. Even within the confines of the often gymnasium-like quality of the BGCA, Jay Kay’s voice was rock-solid and pulsated throughout the room.
Jamiroquai continued with selections from Space Cowboy, including the title track. “This is the song you all wanted to hear first I bet,” exclaimed Kay from the stage as they began the song. The band shined on this number, especially bassist Paul Turner, who sounded even better than his bass looked. Eight minutes into the song, one of the three keyboardists took a risky synth solo that propelled the track into a double-time disco party to end the track.
“We travel around the world, over 50 countries, but we never get the aroma that we seem to have found here at the Bill Graham,” Kay mentioned to the audience following “Space Cowboy.” “Maybe Amsterdam.”
Guitarist Rob Harris took a silky-smooth blues guitar melody for an extended stroll in the introduction for “Alright.” As it became more evident the song he was leading into, the first off of the Guinness World Record-holding (Best Selling Funk Album Of All Time) Travelling Without Moving, the audience grew more and more engaged.
The band then went from a glorious blues motif straight into the background music of a swelteringly hot summer day, and an audience member at or near the front row threw no less than a full gallon-size Ziploc bag of pot onstage. The music had the sound of Santana’s “Smooth” all over it, making the gesture seem all the more appropriate.
After the song, Jay Kay addressed the individual directly, saying, “Thank you! I’m not sure how this will go over with airport security but it’s very kind,” and placing the bag next to his stage monitor. I didn’t keep my eye on it, but eventually it moved offstage.
From the action-packed antics of “Alright,” a flight simulator visual appeared onscreen and Jamiroquai dropped into Automaton‘s “Cloud 9.” “Main Vein,” a tune with a solid ’70s funk core from 2001’s A Funk Odyssey, followed. A flubbed intro didn’t slow the drive of “Hey Floyd,” a roots-reggae vibe with David Gilmour-style guitar swells.
“I love you guys in the front row,” Jay Kay said between songs. “You ready?”
Jamiroquai launched into “Cosmic Girl” from Travelling Without Moving. A heavily reimagined disco track set in the near-distant future made this a great song to bust loose to. If there was anyone left sitting or not already in full swing, they didn’t hold back for this one.
“(Don’t) Give Hate a Chance” from 2005’s Dynamite followed by “Runaway” came next. The latter, from 2006’s High Times: Singles 1992-2006 compilation album, is a scathing commentary on their then deteriorating relationship record label Sony BMG.
An onstage audible saw the band take their time getting settled into “Seven Days in Sunny June,” another Dynamite track. Despite the smooth baby-making R&B jam that it is, the onscreen visualization was a bit off. CGI renderings of the original Doom video game map did not feel like a proper pairing.
The final two songs segued seamlessly together. “Canned Heat,” the only track from the album Synkronized, featured a pulsating synth organ. It transported me into the intro scene to the first Blade movie. By the end, however, the mood picked up and the audience drowned out nearly all of the vocals singing it back to the stage. The set ended with a cut from A Funk Odyssey called “Love Foolosophy.”
Only moments after exiting the stage, Jamiroquai was back for a single-song encore with “Virtual Insanity.” The show ended just before 11pm.