So check it out: My favorite band of all time is coming to town.
Of course, it isn't really The Jam that will be playing in Denver at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom on October 6. The band famously broke up in 1982, at the height of superstardom in its native England, and leader Paul Weller has since vehemently rejected any plans for a reunion. (Not that he needs the money or anything; his solo, post-Style Council career has been chugging along solidly and respectably for almost 20 years now–despite the fact that he let me down a bit with his new album, 22 Dreams.) Instead, a bizarre new entity will be taking the stage that night: From The Jam.
From The Jam is a tribute band–one that plays faithful versions of The Jam's many anthems, from 1977's punky "In The City" to 1980's soaring "Going Underground" to 1982's soulful "Town Called Malice." The weird thing? From The Jam features bassist-singer Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler of The Jam–that is, two-thirds of the original lineup. The remainder of From The Jam's roster is made up of, well, some other dudes. Including a guy impersonating Paul Weller.
Playing Paul Weller's songs.
With Paul Weller's old band.
Is it just me, or is that like screwing some guy's wife while wearing a rubber mask of that guy's face?
In all fairness, Weller appears to have been none too friendly toward Foxton and Buckler since The Jam's implosion all those years ago. He broke up the band without consulting them. He offhandedly hinted in interviews that they weren't good enough musicians to keep up with his new, slick direction. (Ironically, a few sloppier musicians in the mix might have made The Style Council a little more listenable–not that Foxton and Buckler were ever anything than incredibly tight and versatile, with Foxton's bass lines in particular driving many of The Jam's songs.) And Weller has steadfastly refused to appear onstage with his former bandmates, in any capacity.
That aside, you have to admire Weller's integrity. True to the strident, stiff-spined sloganeering of his early songs, he swore in 1982 that The Jam was forever behind him, and he stuck to that for decades–refusing to even play Jam songs in concert, regardless of the fact that people never stopped screaming for them. (I'm one of those people; I went to a solo Weller show in 1997, and I pleaded along with everyone else in the audience for him to please, for God's sake, just play one motherfucking Jam song. He smugly ignored us all. Still a great show, though.)
But then, a few years back, a crazy thing happened: Weller stunned an audience in England by busting into some Jam classics. No heads-up, no explanation. Then early last year, he played a series of three shows in New York–the first night dedicated to The Jam's material. Apparently, he was having some second thoughts about his legacy. Maybe age had nudged him off his pedestal a bit. Or maybe he just remembered that, you know, millions of people love those goddamn songs with all their hearts, and it wouldn't hurt to throw us lowly fans a bone every once in a while.
I can only imagine the mood in the (probably quite modest) homes of Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler the night they heard the news that Paul Weller was playing Jam songs again. "Reunion" must have been the first word to pop into both their heads. Followed quickly, of course, by "lucre!" After all, the duo had gone on to do squat after The Jam, despite being one of the best rhythm section the British punk explosion produced. Foxton did wind up spending a number of years as the bassist of Stiff Little Fingers, the Irish punk band that–despite being kick-ass and legendary in its own right–surely required a little initial pride-swallowing on Foxton's part.
Foxton didn't join Stiff Little Fingers until after its run of classic albums, but when I saw SLF play in Denver (with Gang Green opening!) in 1997, he helped make it one of the best shows I'd ever seen. Maybe the best. It was awesome to see Foxton up there, a huge grin on his face, happy to be playing in front of 400 fans–fans of a band he really had nothing to do with. He seemed oblivious to the fact that, 15 years earlier, he'd been playing in stadiums packed with 50 times that many people. At the SLF show, there was even a whole group of kids planted in front of Foxton yelling "Bruce! Bruce! Bruce!" between every song. That's the cult of The Jam.
Which is why it bums me out that Foxton and Buckler are milking that cult (of course, all us cultists of every kind love to be milked, don't we?) by assembling From The Jam, taking it on the road, working on a live DVD, and apparently doing so without the slightest tickle of conscience.
I've got nothing against reunions. I know that Foreigner tours without Lou Gramm. That Journey tours without Steve Perry. That the fucking Doors toured without fucking Jim Morrison, and in doing so made a permanent joke out the occasional joke known as Ian Astbury. But The Jam? The Jam I actually give a shit about. The Jam stood for something. The Jam went out in a blaze of glory. The Jam stuck to its guns. I don't begrudge Foxton and Buckler a paycheck. Hell, for all I know, From The Jam is incredible live. A perfect facsimile. But I think I'd rather see a bunch of random dorks down the street start a crappy Jam cover band than watch two of the group's architects become squatters in the skyscraper they helped design.