Could Just Jinjer Have Been Mo

Could Just Jinjer Have Been More Festive?

The last time Just Jinjer played in London was some five years ago, the last time they released a new album, nine years ago.

Could Just Jinjer Have Been Mo

But if they were gone, they were certainly not forgotten. For the queue outside the Clapham Grand stretched a couple of blocks up St John’s Hill to see them touring their brand new album Everything Since Then.

Not that this should come as a surprise. After all, this is the band responsible for All Comes Round, the biggest selling rock album in South African history, and one of the few survivors of the South African Music Explosion of the Nineties.

So there’s plenty of appetite in the spectacular surroundings of the fin de siecle music hall, and the band’s arrival a mere 15 minutes after they were expected does nothing to dull it. What is less expected is the apology from frontman Ard Matthews for the delay. It’s the first sign of changes in approach from a band better known for its ambition and focus than its cuddliness.

The confidence is still strong enough to kick off with three songs that may be relatively unfamiliar to the fans. There’s We’ll Fly Away, originally recorded as Providence off Matthews’ solo album First Offerings, preceded by the wildly uplifting latest single Wonderful World, and to start with, Matthews seated at the piano for Love Anyone, a song this reviewer’s hearing for the first time. And he can’t be the only one – there are few responses when Matthews asks who has the new album: “Four of you? Sensational. That’s two more than two.”

There’s no bitterness. Matthews is cheerful, chatty and genuinely generous in expressing his gratitude for the turnout on a chilly Tuesday evening.

And the audience is rewarded after the opening salvo with an epic, effect-laden rendition of Sugar Man, one that its originator Rodriguez would scarcely have recognised. Its drawn-out, echo-heavy opening few lines resolves into a more traditional chorus and travels through singalong choruses, an autobiographical diversion, a clanking electric rockout and even an estranging effect that makes Matthews sound like Rodriguez himself.

The gig proceeds with more conventional renditions from the considerable Just Jinjer catalogue with a strong showing from the new album but also songs going back almost twenty years, when the only rocking some of the assembled crowd were doing was in a cradle and the band was still Just Jinger.

Ard is back at the piano for the achingly beautiful She Knows (from 1999’s Here’s To You) and then again for All Comes Round’s Shallow Waters, one of the unavoidable South African songs of the Nineties, while bassist Denholm Harding propels the band into Too Late.

And there’s I’ll Stand By You from 1994 . . . wait a minute, that was The Pretenders. Well, it’s reconfigured in a slightly darker, sombre mood for the evening, and for Everything Since Then.

The new album contributes Something About Her Way during which Matthews steps out into the audience, Thanks For The Trouble, a dense rocker that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Queens of the Stone Age set, and the instantly accessible Touch The Sky, led off by a guitar buzz that sounds like a plague of locusts scoring a Quentin Tarantino flick.

Then, like those locusts, the time has flown and the band has disappeared for the mandatory pre-encore break.

It has been enormously entertaining. Drummer Brent Harris has been a showman from the band’s earliest days – when he would stroll the stage beating out rhythms on anything that didn’t move. He’s lost none of that. Smiling and seemingly effortless, it looks like he’s dancing on his drum stool, but when a stick snaps and flies, across the stage, a spare one is instantly in his hand. He literally doesn’t miss a beat.

Harding has turned into an eye-catching bassist in the years since his first appearance with Just Jinger in a railway shed in East London and Matthews shows newfound warmth and charm to complement his distinctive vocals and musicianship.

In fact, the success of the show is undermined only by fuzzy sound production, making it difficult to get a clear impression of the new material or of to enjoy their ordinarily impressive harmonies. And it’s a pity to not to catch every word Matthews has to offer in between songs (did he say the onstage utility musician was Mark Bentel formerly of Amersham?), although it becomes clear that he is not always to be taken literally after he jokes once again, “We’re gonna do something different – first time ever in the history of the world.” It inevitably prefigures an oldie or a gig staple.

But the celebratory atmosphere far outweighs any technical quibbles and when the band returns to the stage, it’s for a triumphant finale. Bright Light, an early release from Everything Since Then, is followed by the gorgeous goodwill anthem What He Means (“Spread the word. Spread the Jinjer word. We’re all about positivity, man”) during which Matthews poses for selfies with the front row and even takes one smartphone on a trip around the stage.

Could it get any more festive? Yep, by bringing out the band’s biggest and brightest upbeat crowd-pleaser Like You Madly. And the crowd returns the compliment.
It’s almost like they’re back in 1998 but for one fact, Just Jinjer are not as good as they were then. They’re better.

by Belfrey Goodington for The South African and