Jay Reatard
The Underworld, London
13th November 2009

Musicians die. Sometimes quite unexpectedly, most before their time, but not often enough for your brain to idle between song, between string changes or tunings to wonder “will this be the last time?”. You don’t, because you’re too busy enjoying the moment. The news of Jay Reatard’s passing on January 13 of ‘cocaine toxicity and alcohol’ left most in disbelief and shock. Having witnessed him play what would be his last ever show in London, Reatard was anything but the vision of a man kicking out the last of his jams.

It’s not unknown for band members to quit halfway through a tour, but it’s pretty rare for band members to quit because the singer urinated on them mid-set. In a hilarious twitter tirade, Jay Reatard sent them packing and quickly enlisted a fresh pair of drum and bass hands courtesy of the Cola Freaks to get Reatard through this European tour. These guys seem to have their wits about them. Not once during Reatard’s non-stop rock set did they turn their back on him. Actually, they seemed to stand well away…

A oddly empty venue filled rapidly swelled once Reatard and band walked onstage. No ‘GOOD EVENING LONDON’, ‘FUCK ART, LET’S ROCK’, Reatard just called out “Blood Visions” and the band followed suit. The first barrage of tracks are almost indistinguishable from each other (“It‘s So Easy“ into “Nightmares“ into “Fading All Away“, Reatard introducing them Dee Dee Ramone style, an incoherent slurring of words, a bashing of instruments, two minutes later the song is finished, then a split-second pause, a shouted title and then two more minutes of frantic fretwork and head shaking. “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” has the floor shaking, but where was the whiskey and bourbon, Jay? The man was slamming straight Red Bull as if he were fighting off some kinda travel lag.

A mid-set momentum shift occurred with a guitar change, with Jay switching from the ubiquitous Flying V to an semi-acoustic to play a handful of melody-centric tracks — “I’m Watching You” off-beat strum to it that reminds me of Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to be Kind”, “I Know A Place” and “All Over Again”. The pace doesn’t slow down but it’s enough of a break for everybody to take a deep breath before the moshing (yeah, it’s 2009 and pinballing into each other is still big with the kids) and V-switching starts the second electric set, rounding out with some of old and new faves, “See Saw” and “Before I Was Caught” and finishing off with a long jammed out version of “Trapped Here”. Y’all got your money’s worth. That’s all I can say.

Later Jay. Loved your music, loved your shows. You’ll be missed.

Jay Reatard – London – 13 November 2009.

Jay Reatard – London – 13 November 2009. Photo © Craig Smith.