The Lonely Telecaster

Listening out loud while my guitar gently sleeps

Jem at the El Rey Theatre

In her return to Los Angeles, Welsh singer-songwriter Jem brought the hits but lost some of the intimacy that made her earlier visit crackle with energy.

About three songs into her triumphant return to her adopted home of Los Angeles, Jem and her band seemed to find their groove during what she referred to as the “last night of a very long tour.”

2004 was a breakout year for the songstress, who has spent much of the past five years coupling with a wide range of artists and songwriters in London and New York hip-hop circles, finding the right beat beds to propel her pop/folk words and melodies.

Some of her experimentations found their way into the hands of influential NPR music programmer Nic Harcourt, who put a 2002 demo into rotation on Los Angeles-area station KCRW, which in turn caught the ear of an A&R exec for Dave Matthews’ boutique startup label ATO Records.

After signing with ATO Records, Jem set about making the record that was in her head, and the end result was 2004’s Finally Woken, a rich melange of hip-hop beats, rock guitars and synthesizer-driven classical-flavored string figures beneath Jem’s pleasant pop vocals. The album has moments of too much production polish, but overall forms a solid, nuanced effort, particularly as a full-length debut.

Against that background, Jem and band packed their July shows at the Roxy (in West Hollywood) with a sense of pent-up, eager energy. The intimacy of that relatively small room brought a shared sense of discovery into the performance, met with excitement and rowdy appreciation from the packed crowd.

The return engagement on Wednesday (12/15) at the El Rey lacked a lot of the first-time sizzle that played so well at the Roxy show, though the band was clearly in high spirits, with Jem often huddling with one member or another between songs to share a smile over whispered comments.

Highlights included a gorgeous guitar-and-vocal take on Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” a powerful “Just A Ride” that was one of the tightest, most powerful moments on stage for the band, and a playful, funky read of Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster.”

Richard Tafoya • December 17, 2004


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