Not Just the Ticket — #13, Jesus Jones, May 15, 1991

Jesus Jones, UCLA

Then-current album: Doubt

Opening act: Soho

Back of ticket ad: did The National spend all their money on these Ticketmaster ads? Does that explain why they’re not around anymore? (At least, I assume they’re not around anymore…)

Another browning ticket, another hole punched through it, it’s almost like a pattern. It also reminds me of the fate of the Martians in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, though perhaps more appropriately it should be Shelley’s “Ozymandias” I’m thinking of.

Meantime, a show by the group that had the song that invented the nineties and created alternative as we know it today. Bear with me.

I love contrasting then and now sometimes. Jesus Jones seem so utterly of their time that it’s almost befuddling now, and yet there they were, there I was, once again at a show at UCLA’s Ackerman Grand Ballroom but this time right near the front with a crowd going crazy, once again at a show riding a massive feeling of success, and if it wasn’t anything like Depeche Mode’s firmament-destroying impact it was still a hell of a feeling, with a song whose sentiments seemed to be keyed in to just that kind of feeling, however much of a statement about the state of the world it professed to be. (And give Mike Edwards this much, in writing a song about sitting around and watching things unfold on TV he pretty much described how ‘events’ happen for a lot of us, endlessly mediated.) They wore (and in Edwards’ case endlessly talked about) a rhetoric and style of how rock and roll had to be updated and electronic and of the now in order to survive, which was true enough on the one hand but which was about to be undercut on the other, so as with all other futurists they ended up becoming pretty dated pretty quickly.

There are two arguments that I’ll forever make, though. The first is the one that I need to do a little more research on, but it was advanced by a few people in the industry in contemporary articles over the following year — as well as Mudhoney, in at least one interview — and it runs something like this: “Right Here Right Now” was a crossover hit from the ‘Modern Rock’ charts, and such a big hit that it couldn’t be ignored. Almost immediately on its heels and following a similar path was EMF’s “Unbelievable,” even more of a confection and an earworm, sold as if a version of Jesus Jones’ aesthetics had been welded to the Beverly Hills 90210 version of rave and the last hangover of New Kids on the Block’s popularity. The end result was that a lot of radio programmers around the country thought to themselves “Hey there’s something going on here in this ‘modern rock’ thing and we shouldn’t miss out” and thus were a little more open to the idea of at least test listening to things that they wouldn’t have touched otherwise.

Which proved to be extremely convenient for DGC a couple of months later when they sent around a slew of copies of a song called “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Talking about all that some more would require another essay and a lot more research. Suffice to say the other thing that I’ll always tell people was that this show was really, really good. In fact it remains one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, a slam-bang, busy from the get-go, entertaining as all hell concert from a bunch out to entertain without apology. Perhaps perversely, there’s almost nothing I remember about it in terms of the specific details. Though I’d argue that kinda helps in the mind’s eye, it all becomes this big huge thing in my head that I had a great time at. Plus, being another UCLA show, I could just walk to the show and back as I did with the Charlatans. Can’t go wrong.

I had missed their show the previous September — I was out of town and felt annoyed I couldn’t make it, and apparently they’d previewed “Right Here Right Now” there as a new single, though still months away from any American release. Would have been fun to hear and judge that at the time, but I was at least already a fan of the band, having played Liquidizer to death in the months beforehand. So the fact that they were playing UCLA was something I took as a very good omen, and like the Charlatans while I could have snuck in to hide at KLA I ended up going the regular ticket route as before. And as before I remember a bunch of people crammed into the station waiting for enough people to be milling around outside so they wouldn’t be noticed in the crowd.

It helped too that there was a small screen of plants (artificial? maybe) in a planter that blocked the door into the station from general view, a kind of lobby of sorts with a bench. Being able to just sit there while everyone else was crammed at the other end of the ballroom proved pretty handy — nobody thought to wander over there much and we could all chat a bit and kill time.

I went up close for Soho, who were a real one-hit wonder thanks to their song “Hippychick,” which notably (and for a lot of people at the time, notoriously) sampled the opening guitar from “How Soon is Now” by the Smiths. Arguably even more than Jesus Jones, that song — thanks to it getting a fair amount of KROQ and otherwise related airplay — helped get people just that more used to the idea of sampling, remixes and more besides, only this time in an explicitly ‘modern rock’ context, the equivalent to the previous year’s omnipresence of “U Can’t Touch This” and “Ice Ice Baby” in terms of the (over)familiarity of the main riff. Keep in mind that Morrissey was at one of his own high points in LA around this time too — he either had just played or was about to play the Forum — and the clash of his rock purism with Johnny Marr’s dance experiments in Electronic as well as the use of That Riff in “Hippychick” was emblematic of a larger split that would intensify with the debut of MARS-FM in coming months, and even that was just a hint of how rave had fully started to lock down into LA in general…but again, another essay, perhaps.

The Soho set was fun, two singers and the one dude doing their thing, while two of the Jesus Jones folks ended up onstage for “Hippychick” itself, dancing and playing along, it was all good fun. Again, it’s all a feeling of a moment in history looking back at this whole show, something that was so itself. Similarly when Jesus Jones took the stage and, as mentioned, everything went nuts.

Mike Edwards was, of course, up front and center, and it seems now that I think he was almost stolidly planted there, guitar in hand and singing — well, rasping — away. Meantime, his bandmates were living up to an image that was running rampant in UK band circles around then — it was the antithesis of shoegazing, instead being a lot of leaping about and jumping in place and otherwise being as active on stage as the audience was (or hopefully was) in turn. In retrospect one almost wonders how much all the instruments were plugged in but it all seemed to work, and after all, why not? A couple of specific songs stick in the memory — “Welcome Back Victoria,” “Stripped” (not the Depeche Mode one, but imagine if…) — but otherwise I just remember being massively entertained, not caring about the eternal memories or anything. I am pretty positive that they kept being called back for multiple encores as well, not something I’ve seen with most bands — there might have been at least three?

I mentioned in the Charlatans entry about ‘that’ KROQ haircut that I seemed to see everywhere, long/bushy on the top, shaved at the back and sides, and it was definitely everywhere here. There was definitely a LOT of day-glo color in the audience as well. Add it up and the show is all the more emblematic of this time that is the nineties that is conveniently forgotten, the nineties that isn’t ‘the nineties,’ in the same way that the earliest part of the eighties isn’t ‘the eighties,’ and so forth, a time when there’s no codification yet of what’s going on, at least consciously. The stereotypes of easy cultural memory are handy precisely because they are so convenient and lazy, they allow for a summing up that is widely understood. Almost everything about this show — the bands involved, the looks of the people in attendance, the presumptions about where things would go from there — is far more lost to time than any overall decade’s portrait, real or imagined.

But a great time was had in the moment and at the moment. Who needs a greater justification?


7 Responses to “Not Just the Ticket — #13, Jesus Jones, May 15, 1991”

  1. humanizingthevacuum Says:

    My favorite of the bunch. You grapple with a couple of ideas I’ve also considered: the convergence of record company interest in the promotion of “modern rock,” the popularity of “90210” as a platform for teen angst of the aural variety, and what eventually happened on the album chart in January ’92.

    I too saw Jesus Jones in the summer of ’91 – a surprisingly vital show! A lot of the bangers on Doubt‘s second side (“Stripped,” “Are You Satisfied”) got blistering treatment.

    Re Soho: “Hippychick” was my intro to “How Soon is Now”! I don’t think nostalgia’s infecting me when I admit that “Hippychick” is a fine song.

    • Ned Raggett Says:

      Thank ya! Yeah there’s room to expand on this all some more — it was reduced even at the time to an overly simplistic ‘real music is back because Nirvana beat Michael Jackson!’ formula. Nirvana’s success on the level it was was a surprise by the means by which that happened wasn’t.

      And “Hippychick” is a fine little song indeed. “Hip, hip, hip hip hip!”

  2. Tim London Says:

    Ned, that’s one of the most intelligent accounts of any time during the past two decades I’ve read.

    When we hit LA it was the end of the tour with the Jones’s for us (hence the stage invasions by both bands). Fraught for them and us – we started on the east coast with a bass player (Leigh Gorman, of Bow Wow Wow) who was sent home ill and replaced by a sequenced synth bass, programmed on the tour bus whilst traveling to Texas; there was a lot of friction amongst the Jones’s members, amongst all the normal Brit band on tour stuff and more. So it was a relief for all of us to make it across.

    Having been in LA a few times before I had already decided it was a peculiar mix of vacuum, hedonism and apartheid. We had a run in with KROQ: they loved us, asked us on to do a kind of agony-aunt thing with young people ringing in with problems we were meant to help solve. While we were on air a young girl called in in some distress and the ‘crrrrazy’ jocks whose show it was mercilessly took the piss out of her. We had a row and ended up leaving the station mid-show (much to our manager’s and ATCO Records rep’s unhappiness). It’s a good indication of our experiences there.

    I don’t think I have ever been in a place where I met so many people who were utterly and unapologetically selfish, where actual poverty and poverty of experience sat right next to brazen wealth. And yet we were welcomed by the golden youth, cruised by Rodney B and treated really well by most people we met. Obviously there was confusion as to what kind of group we were. In the UK, the music press, at least, understood that we came from the same Kentish Town/Camden scene as Jesus Jones, but in LA, we were another weird English pop group.

    I think there was enough jangly 60s elements in what we played, though, to strike a ‘soul memory’ chord with west coast youth. The Daisy Age thing had started by then and in the UK the kids were on their third new summer of love (depending I s’pose on when they took their first X pill). If we had stayed in America, particularly the west coast and Texas, we might have had another hit. But rappers and soul singers were black, pop singers were white, rock bands were meant to be male and white and we were a mixed up bunch – indeed, we were the kind of group who could appear on Arsenio Hall and have his dancers doing the Hammer-time to our music as well as support Iggy Pop and entertain the moshers. The poor, confused record company didn’t stand a chance.

    So it was just as well for them that grunge came along: big guitars, big hair, denim and plaid shirts: business as usual.

    The moment in time you describe matches the same time a decade earlier, around 80/81, when there was kind of golden time in UK pop, when credible bands had hits with deep songs and the freaks briefly invaded the TV studios. That didn’t last long, with Wham! leading the corporate charge that led to Live Aid, but for a while it was a good time to be young and listening to the radio.

    What happened to radio in the States is interesting: the major record companies just woke up to the sleeping commodity that was ‘alternative’. The practices remained the same (payola etc with the indie promoters) but there was a new emphasis on credibility. Now with the introduction of online listener programming American radio might be truly credible for the first time ever, which is a small revolution and which means it’s a great time to be in a new pop group!

    Ironically, we now get more props, particularly from young Americans, for our cover of Whisper To A Scream, from the first Scream soundtrack than for any of our albums. And we make more money from re-runs of Beverley Hills 90210 (who used our music a fair bit) than we do from any other sections of the media. We’ve been sucked into two iconic ‘dramas’ that sum up, for me, the teenage west coast experience, almost despite ourselves…

    Tim London of Soho (yes, we’re still around!)

    • Ned Raggett Says:

      Tim, thanks very much for your extensive thoughts (and your kind words!) — there’s so many things I’d love to delve into more here and I may yet given a little more time! Summing up LA as ‘a peculiar mix of vacuum, hedonism and apartheid’ — especially under the Daryl Gates regime, but hardly stopping there — is one of the best more-accurate-than-we-want-to-admit judgments about the place.

      It’s also extremely encouraging to hear that the story did not just stop with you and Soho — I do love upset expectations of preset narratives, especially when it comes to the one-hit wonder tag, which I admit I used freely!

      More later, a very busy day’s ahead, but thanks again for this!

  3. mackro Says:

    To Ned: ah I had seen the Jesus Jones show from months earlier you wanted to attend, the one that was supposed to be at Holywood Live! but got moved to The Palace. Yes, they debuted “Right Here Right Now” in LA there, but it wasn’t this magical moment. It was given a good nod, but – as you described – it was the more caustic set of songs that made the crowd go crazy. No one wants to admit this, but the crossover between KROQ and industrial was right there! Jesus Jones should thank Pop Will Eat Itself profusely because the band may not have gotten that chance had it not been for PWEI’s earlier embrace with KROQ.

    To Tim: as someone who grew up in LA, you summed up the city’s downsides perfectly. To a large degree, that’s STILL the case in LA, though the names and demographics slightly changed. And I so wished Soho had opened for Jesus Jones at the show I attended. I got School Of Fish instead. (don’t fret at all if that name escapes you.) On a more Soho note, I had tried to find the “Hippychick” PV on YouTube, but couldn’t find it – thankfully, because I found the live on TV footage of that song instead, and realized what a strong live pop group Soho were. Glad to hear you guys are around today. Thank you for your comments! – mackro.

  4. Not Just the Ticket — a ticketless entry on Ween, May/June 1992 « Ned Raggett Ponders It All Says:

    […] the state of the neighborhood, was as classic a reflection of what Tim London of Soho, in his recent kind comment on his entry in this series, identified as LA’s mixture of “vacuum, hedonism and […]

  5. Not Just the Ticket — a ticketless entry on Ween, May/June 1992 « Ned Raggett Ponders It All Says:

    […] the state of the neighborhood, was as classic a reflection of what Tim London of Soho, in his recent kind comment on his entry in this series, identified as LA’s mixture of “vacuum, hedonism and […]

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