Things get chilly, inside and outside, at Jeremy Jay’s Glasslands concert
Headliner Jeremy Jay’s reception also ended up being chilly.
Outside, the smokers were evenly split: they were there to see friends, or roommates, or Jeremy Jay, the lo-fi artist whose songs spin themselves out of adolescent disaffection amid somewhat airless synths.
"He has an '80s sensibility, and he writes catchy hooks," said one concertgoer. A few of the members of another opening band, Slowdance (coincidentally the name of a Jeremy Jay album), were effusive. They’re huge Jeremy Jay fans (but the band name is just a coincidence).
Jay’s cosmopolitan charm (he grew up in a French-speaking house, the son of a composer; his influences leave him somewhere between Wendy Carlos, Bauhaus, and Jonathan Richman; he splits time between London and L.A.; he's rakish, lanky, and has an enviable moptop) has made him something of a man of mystery in indie rock circles, and his handful of cool, minimalist E.P.s and albums on K Records have solidified his as the sound of aloofness.
First opener Backwords brought in a sizable contingent of fans.
"We love you," someone said from the crowd.
"We haven’t done anything yet," the band replied.
"We still love you."
The band played a potent version of Neil Young-influenced indie rock, stoner jams between skronks of feedback that had the first few rows dancing. Next up was three-piece Quilt, with a man and woman trading vocals and skittering lead guitar lines. Quilt has an angular charm, but they couldn’t seem to carry the crowd’s interest.
Jeremy Jay was hauling in some gear with his bandmate, a pretty woman named George. I stopped them for a chat.
Jay talked about the tour, his first after an abortive run a year ago. After playing just a few shows in support of his 2010 album Splash, Jay had to cancel his last tour for medical reasons. The problem cropped up in Barcelona after just three dates, he told me. He said that working with Calvin Johnson, late of Beat Happening and the production wizard behind K Records, was "very zen." Jay and Johnson have been friends for 10 years, and they worked together on Jay’s first three albums, though not the most recent, Dream Diary, which Jay recorded in London, on his own, with his own money.
"It was expensive," he said, somewhat self-deprecatingly.
He said he was already at work on a follow-up that would be darker, more drum and bass oriented. In fact, for percussion, he told me, he’s only been using a Roland 626, both for live shows and recordings.
“It killed in Mexico City,” he said. Killed so good the band sold out of all their merch: there’s none left for his New York shows.
Slowdance was up. They’ve been named a Stereogum "Band to Watch" and an L Magazine "Band You Need To Hear." Glasslands was full, or overfull, as usual. Right away Slowdance sounded better than either opener, both of whom suffered from poor sound and feedback. Their sound is a lot of New Order and a little bit of Tropicália; Manchester by way of Rio. They ran through eight or 10 songs, even though their only official release has four tracks.
Soon after, Jeremy Jay and George took the stage. Jay, always attired in a kind of slinky mod manner, wore slim slacks and a blue and red polyester shirt with a geometric pattern. George, a British woman, looked like Jean-Luc Godard-muse Anna Karina; she was confidently composed. Jay was not kidding when he talked about the drum machine. Its metronomic thumping backed every song. They led off with a couple of songs from Slow Dance, probably the high point of Jay’s catalog, then on to "Just Dial My Number", another catalog highlight, then slowed things down with "Wild Orchids," a slow burner from the new one, Dream Diary,. At this point, though, I noticed a strange thing: half the venue had cleared out. People were leaving. Fans bopped in the front row, but mostly they were members of the opening bands.
It’s always seemed a puzzle why Jeremy Jay isn’t more popular, but this show provided a perfect explanation. He’s a colossally gifted songwriter, but there’s that heavy chill in his music, something a little removed, something that won’t condescend to you or give up its charms too easily. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, well, you leave. He and George played their hearts out, but that drum machine gave everything an impersonal, nearly creepy air.
It’s the doudle edge of that cosmopolitan cool: coming off as overly distant. For the crowd last night, the chill inside is what drove them out into the snow.