Like many others, I was initially enamored with arty British pop-soul-funk collective Jamiroquai from their cutting-edge music video for "Virtual Insanity," directed by Jonathan Glazer ('Sexy Beast,' 'Birth'). That clip, which featured lead singer Jay Kay, in a truly awful hat, sliding around a white room with a treadmill-like moving floor, captured the imagination of the country, and won the group a Video of the Year Award at the MTV Music Video Awards. It was such a fiercely applauded triumph that you could feel the single had all the makings of one-hit-wonder-dom. True to form, Jamiroquai never again achieved that level of critical or commercial success, despite continuing to make music.
Now here's a confession: I'm a closeted Jamiroquai fan. But no more. I'm here, defiantly, to state my allegiance to this goofy pop group and their myriad of awful headwear. When the band is good, like in zippy, catchy pop numbers like "Little L" or early single "Cosmic Girl" or the unfairly maligned "Feels Just Like It Should," they create the kind of indelible mutant pop that so many bands strive for but never achieve. When the band is good, it sounds like they're actually creating something genuinely new. Jay Kay's strong, soulful vocals, lend a strain of retro R&B soul to any of the bands songs, no matter how calamitous they get.
When the band is bad, there's very little worse. It's the kind of lingering, self-important drivel that is the musical equivalent of a space shuttle crashing into a Bob Marley cover band. (Just picture it.) Often times they get lost in their own funky astrological shtick and wayward experimentation (didgeridoos have no place in pop music, I'm sorry).
Both the good and bad Jamiroquai are on display on the new 'Live at Montreaux 2003' disc. Having never seen a Jamiroquai live show (my experience with their live performance begins and ends with their energetic MTV Music Video Awards appearance, which tried to replicate the moving-sidewalk feeling of the video, mostly successfully), this was a whole new bag.
Please be advised, before even popping the disc in, that it's incredibly long. Total time: 2 hours and 17 minutes. Total tracks: sixteen. (Fifteen proper and one bonus song from a 1995 gig.) This is a marathon if I've ever experienced one, and I'm a genuine FAN of the band!
Jay Kay struts around the stage, wearing a white track suit and a chrome headdress (or something, who knows). He sweats a lot. He chats with the audience, mostly asinine stuff like when they have to get back on the tour bus ("I don't have to smell his feet, and he doesn't have to see my underpants") and how much weed he smokes (LOTS). The stage is fairly simply set up - colored cubes of light, a full band with backing singers, and cutouts of the bands' logo (true to form, a funky cosmic visitor). His voice still sounds great, and what he lacks in stage presence, he more than makes up for in cock-of-the-walk energy.
The songs, however, benefit from their studio tinkering, and often come across as limp and draggy. It doesn't help that the band extends every song, pulling it apart like taffy, to see how long it can stretch before actually breaking. These extended, jam band-y versions are peppered with Jay Kay's soulful crooning (and sometimes scatting), but it doesn’t change the fact that pop songs are best when they're little, easily digestible nuggets.
Between the Spartan stage setup, the lack of energy from the crowd, and the repetitiveness of the performance, you might find yourself losing your interest a few songs in (like I did). Still, for those devoted few, you'll want to make it through the entire concert. With the intimacy of the filming and the crystal clarity of the disc, you really do feel like you're there, whether you like it or not.
Still, there's something undeniably fascinating about the band - both their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink music and their retro-futuristic theatrics. They're a band that doesn't know the meaning of over-the-top, and that's refreshing. So many of today's pop stars are far too reserved, processed by the studio system and coming out the other side so bland that you can barely tell their overtly processed voice from anyone else on the radio.
But not Jay Kay and his motley crew. They're the genuine article. Pop artists who aren't afraid to look foolish… and often do.
The MPEG-4 AVC 1080i "live" transfer (aspect ratio: 1.78:1) on this 50GB disc is pretty stellar. As I said before, the image is so crisp and clean that you actually feel like you're at the show (for better or worse).
There are multiple cameras positioned around the stage, so you get to see a lot of every band member. (Sometimes the shot choices, and the order in which they're shown, gets repetitive, but still…) Detail is great, skin tones look good, those colored lights really pop, the blackness of the back of the stage is very deep, and the image has an overall clarity that's truly startling. An early shot of the band's drummer, with his set list taped to his kit, can become a potential spoiler - since you can read the entire list!
Other than that, not much more to report, besides the fact that the image is unencumbered by pesky technical issues (no artifacts, etc.) and looks very, very good. Also, it's a Region Free disc!
There are three audio options on this disc, and no subtitles. The audio options are: Music DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Music Dolby Digital 5.1, and LPCM 2.0.
The track to go with is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. It's pretty phenomenal. The band sounds amazing, with both front and rear channels getting used vigorously, while Jay Kay's vocals are always crisp and clean. There are no technical issues to speak of (no cracks, pops, or anything besides the occasional burst of feedback, but that actually happened on stage), and crowd noise is kept in check, never overwhelming. The dynamic mix really puts you in the middle of the show, it really sounds like you could be standing in the concert hall, listening to these guys perform in front of you.
Overall, really, really excellent stuff.
The other two tracks are serviceable, but they don't come through with the same raucous power as on the Master Audio track. If you have the set-up for it, stick with that mix. You won't be disappointed, in the slightest. You might even find yourself boogie-ing down in front of your television. Imagine that.
Listen, if you love Jamiroquai or have seen them live before and want to recapture the magic, then you're absolutely going to love this disc. It looks and sounds beautiful and delivers the messiness of the band (the good and bad) to an insane degree. All others who are curious about this, maybe listened to the band in the past (sorry, "Virtual Insanity" isn't on this sucker), or want to see an exceptional music title in their home theater system could do worse. My problems mostly have to do with the unending nature of the concert, and the fact that there is not one special feature on the disc (unless you count that bonus song, which I don't). My final verdict? Give it a rent. If you love it and want to purchase it afterwards, you only spent a few bucks on the rental.