I originally published this article with Austin Daze back in 2013, but I've been seeing the images disappear on my original article, so I wanted to reprint the article here for eternity! Rumor has it, Jamiroquai is about to release a new album in 2016. This month marks the 3-year anniversary of their Latin America tour. Back in February of 2013, Jamiroquai played a show in Monterrey, Mexico. Local Austinites took a trip to give you this report:
Usually, when I travel, the first thing that people say when I tell them where I’m going is, “Wow, that’s going to be awesome!” When I said we were going to Mexico to see Jamiroquai, the response was, “Be careful.”
Knowing that attitude is everything, my buddy JB and I figured embracing every moment with positive intentions and no fear would result in a great trip, and we’d be totally safe the entire time. With that, we drove to Laredo and ditched JB's car at Wal-Mart so we could take a cab to the bus station. By the border in downtown Laredo, bus companies abound, and each bus leaves at a different time. We meandered for 15 minutes, missing each by 5 minutes until we found one. We boarded it 3-hours direct to Monterrey. Though we saw a beater of a bus at the border that was worse, Greyhound was definitely not the nicest bus option. Ours was a luxury coach with only 2 other passengers, and the trip was only $25 each.
Welcome to Mexico, Gringo!
When crossing, we were given the Mexican “Departure Registration” that would require us to pay about $35 to leave the country. We were told we should do so at the bank in Monterrey. We were specifically instructed not to lose it or we would have exit problems. There was one other checkpoint on the way and when the agent entered the bus, he took one look at us and with a grin mumbled, “Americanos.” We were obviously no threat to anyone.
The next morning, we talked down the price and rented a manual transmission with a rattling fender and bald brakes to drive around. We stopped at the Topo Chico factory to see the source of the sparkling water loved by Austinites.
Unfortunately, the plant was closed to the public. JB managed to line up an appointment by bringing up that we were from Austin and had worked with C3. We said that we were trying to bring Topo to Austin City Limits. JB researched this information online at the hotel room that morning. It got us the appointment, but we never made it inside. We gallivanted around the city, driving up Parque Ecologico Chipinque and through San Pedro.
Our second day was dedicated to Jamiroquai, who were playing at Arena Monterrey that night. We got a hotel within walking distance and decided to see how close we could get to meeting the band before the show. Knowing that attitude is everything, we walked together through the gate of Arena Monterrey, chatting to each other with smiles as the guard stopped us.
“¿a dónde vas?” asked the guard (Where are you going?)
“Trabajamos con Jamiroquai!” JB happily answered (We work with Jamiroquai)
From there, we scoped out the loading dock to the back stage and made our way down the incline to the goal. It was a large fortress-like metallic door. Someone was walking in front of us, so the door opened and we casually walked through into the backstage area greeting the guard. The band and their tour management was nowhere to be found, and we were the only white guys backstage (we might have been the only longhaired gringos in the entire city).
Everyone assumed we were part of the band. We walked up to the back of the stage and peeked at the gear that was being soundchecked by the local roadies. All connected, we saw a hallway of green rooms. All the doors were closed except the one at the end—Jay Kay. No Jamiroquai, but I snagged a picture of his poncho. We decided to come back later, and on the way out, without words, the door guard made a guitar motion question mark. Being musicians, we replied, Si!
If at first you don't succeed...
Two hours later, we were back to try again. There was a new front guard, but the good vibes got us in with ease. However, when we made it to the steel doors, the tour management from Jamiroquai was there, and they stopped us to ask what’s up. Time to make it happen.
“Hi! We’re from Austin, Texas, and we write for the Austin Daze. We’d like to do an interview with Jay Kay if that’s possible,” said JB. In gruff London accents, we learned that Jay is really hit or miss for interviews. He normally shows up 10 minutes before the show. The rest of the band was soundchecking, and we asked to watch. They said it was closed, but they could hook us up with tickets. We already had our cancha (court) tickets. He was impressed. We met up with the lovely tour manager and she agreed to let us come at the end of the sound check.
Gushing, I replied, “That’s great! I’d love to interview Matt (the keyboard player) because I also play the keys and I love what he does.”
“Ok, see you at 5:15,” she confirmed.
We went back to the hotel with some time to kill, so we chatted up the door man. Testing the waters to understand the culture and for research purposes only, we asked him about scoring some cannabis. With the grave look of many a cab driver, he began discorse.
“I used to grow a few plants on my rooftop in little buckets a few years before the Cartel. No Mas. I would if they made it legal. If you smoke in the street, and the cartel see’s you, they shake you down to find out where you got it. They connect the dots and if the guy isn’t in the cartel, then it’s a tax, execution, or they bring him ‘in.’ The 17 to 19 year olds are most dangerous. They kill you if you owe them 1000 pesos (less than a hundred bucks). Once they get you ‘in’ it’s pretty impossible to get out, and you better be a strong guy or you will get beat up regularly. I think maybe the cartel runs the government. Columbia used to be pretty bad. I think right now, Mexico may be worse than Columbia,” I summarized from what he said.
We brushed up the interview questions in our hotel room. We had prepared some for Jay Kay but had to change some questions for the keys player. We walked across the street to the arena for our interview. At exactly 5:15, the lovely tour manager came out to greet us and bring us to the waiting area.
“Ok, can i see your credentials?” she professionally asked in the most astute British accent. “Oh, no… I sort of… uh.. left… that at…. home, uh…” I stammered. “How about an ID or something?” JB whipped out his passport and she retreated to the greenroom. We waited nervously until she returned with a laptop, typing in JB with full middle name + Austin Daze and getting zero search results. “I just need to check you out and know who you are,” she said. “We are freelance!” replied JB (I prepped this one for him). She then looked us up through our LLC, and we were in. Having time to further research us, I wonder if she discovered my band Jamiroqueen and the line blurring between fan, journalist, student, and weirdo that the situation was.
She walked us into the master control center green room where the keyboardist of Jamiroquai rose from his seat to greet us with a huge smile. We were both stoked to shake the hand of a guy that plays in front of tens of thousands each night all around the world. Starstruck, JB and I took our couch and Matt took a chair across the coffee table. We confirmed that it was ok to record the conversation, and this is it, pretty verbatum. Don’t forget to add the British accent in your head. Or you can listen to the interview on SoundCloud.
Russ: We’re here in Monterrey, Mexico with Matthew Johnson, Keyboardist of Jamiroquai. Do you prefer Matt or Matthew? Matt: Everyone but my mum calls me Matt. Russ: Thanks Matt. How’s the tour been going so far? Matt: Yeah, it’s been great. I mean the high point has been the last gig, I have to say. Mexico City is just off the hook. It’s the best gig I’ve done for years for this band. Very excited. Great crowd! Russ: Have you played through here before? Matt: No. I don’t think anyone in the band has been anywhere near here apart from Mexico City. Russ: ¿Habla español? Matt: Nnnno…. (laughs). JB: When we first talked to you, it was great! You are actually the first people that spoke English. We’ve been here for like 2 days. Matt: Did you come down just for this gig? Russ: Yeah, pretty much. That and Topo Chico! Here’s another question. Derek (the drummer) has recently posted on Twitter, that you guys are about to record a new album. Can you tell us anything about that? Matt: There’s not a lot to tell at the moment. We haven’t really done anything particularly. It’s just more the idea that we are going to start doing that. There’s quite a few songs left over from the last album. Whether any will make it on to this one… I bet you at least one or two will make it to the new album. Russ: What’s the writing process like for Jamiroquai? Matt: Normally, Jay will sing something; he’s normally got a riff or an idea in his head, and then he’ll get together with, normally, me or Rob (guitar player), and we’ll play that riff, and then we’ll start jamming around, interpreting—Jay can’t play an instrument, so we interpret his ideas harmonically. Russ: like an arranger? Matt: I guess so, but then we chip in our own thing as well, so it’s kind of a collaborative effort. The lyrics and melodies are all him. Russ: Have you ever been to Austin, Texas? Matt: No (but I could tell he was interested at the prospect in the way he said it) Russ: Are you guys planning on going through the USA any time soon? Matt: Well, I’d love to, but there’s no plans. I mean, there was talk of Cochella at one point, you know, but… Russ: Have you heard of Austin City Limits? Austin is known as the live music capitol of the world. Matt: Wow, great. I’d love to come back. I’m waiting to come back! Russ: There’s a lot of Jamiroquai tribute bands out there (I didn’t mention the fact that I play keyboards in one of them). What are your thoughts on that? Matt: um… i mean, it’s kind of weird… to watch. Obviously, it’s very flattering, especially for some of the songs I’ve written or whatever. It’s surreal, but good. Russ: On this tour what has been your primary mode of transportation? Matt: We’ve flown everywhere. We’ve done about 13 flights already. Russ: The equipment? Matt: The equipment goes by truck, immediately after the show, but I don’t really know too much about how the gear gets there. I just turn up and its there. Russ: Who are your greatest influences for keyboards? Matt: As keyboards, I suppose the 70s Herbie Hancock Headhunters sort of era, and the like. One of my favorite keyboard players is Greg Phillinganes. He’s like an L.A. session player. He’s recently been doing Toto, but he’s played on almost everything. The 80s, like, he was on all the Michael Jackson, and he was part of that “creme de la creme” of the session scene. So he’s one of these people, that he’s kind of an unsung hero, you know, people might not know it, but you’ve definitely heard him. Great sounds, great feel, great playing. Russ: That kind of goes along with what Jamiroquai does, huh? Matt: Definitely! I’ve met him a few times, he’s a great guy as well. I met Herbie, lucky enough as well, so those are my influences, I suppose. Especially in the days when they were using the analog gear, because I’m an analog freak, ya know? Russ: Oh Yeah? Matt: These days, guys like Herbie, people like that, they all use digital keyboards. Russ: And you use the Alesis A6? Matt: Yeah. Russ: And you have other synths up there? Matt: Yeah. Well, I use a Fender Rhodes; it goes through a Line 6. I’ve got a Nord Wave, which is like an analog modeling kinda thing, but it’s cool because it has sampleability. And I’ve got a Yamaha Motif 8 keyboard as well, which is just a workhorse type thing. That’s it. Russ: Sweet! Well, one more question, I guess. Who in the band carries the most luggage? Lovely Tour Manager <Busts out laughing hysterically> JB: Yeah, haha, that was my question! Matt: I’d say it’s got be one of the backing singers! Who shall remain nameless, but it’s definitely one of the backing singers. JB: Yeah! Russ: I guess we’re about to find out tonight, but what’s the lineup? Matt: It’s 3 horns, 3 backing singers, and percussion… We have a different percussionist this tour. We don’t have Solá on this tour. Solá is actually doing an act and acting in the West End Theater right now. And then, drums, keyboard, guitar, and singing. JB: We’re looking forward to it! We don’t want to take too much of your time. <Matt/Lovely Tour Manager and us say our good byes> Lovely Tour Manager: Thanks for <static and grumbling as we leave the room> Russ: That was fucking Awesome! <static and grumbling as we pass the guard> JB: Gracias!
After a leisurely dinner at Chilapplfriday’s, we decided to sell our extra pair of tickets, so we rolled up early and I put up my hand and they were sold immediately pretty much at face. We took in the vibes in the arena before the show. They sold full bottles of absolut for $100. At purchase, he would confirm the seal and pour it into a water bottle, and you could take a bucket of ice and all the accoutriment mixers. We grabbed a spot in the center about 10 rows from the rail. A striking young latino lady approached us.
“Are you guys in the band?”
“Ahh…” we looked at eachother… “No, we’re journalists,” replied JB. “We came to interview the band.”
“You have the greatest job! I’ve never heard of Jamiroquai, but my friend loves them and thought you guys were in the band.” We looked over at him and he nodded appreciatingly. She then inquired, “Do you know how I can get backstage to get him an autograph?” It just so happened we had a good answer.
The opening band was relatively banal. Without trying to hide it, they always had a full backing track. The sound front and center of an arena is not that great, so we didn’t have the best sound, but there were anomolies. Here’s a poem:
Woman in the mix with only dudes on the stage
They sung to their own backing track cause it was all the rage
Someone playing congas, but we heard a pre-recorded set
The keytar and the synth was really their best bet
The crowd wasn’t impressed Monterrey, it gets the best
The setbreak was upon us
Jamiroquai minus Jay Kay walked onto the stage and the lights went out. They started the set with a tease of a song from the second album called “Scam.” It is a progressive dissonant instrumental to kick off the dance party. Jay Kay made his appearance walking out to the mic, and they went right into the most appropriate song for our situation as tourists, Travelling Without Moving.
The bass guitar was ridiculous. It seemed like the bass player was pretty much the front man, in that he stood front and center like a rock the entire time wailing out some super-riffs of London funk. Behind the band was a huge LCD screen that displayed various race cars, disco lights, and celestial objects as eye candy the entire night in addition to the lights.
This is Jamiroquai’s 20th anniversary. Every member has been replaced through the years except Jay Kay in the band’s 20 years. Paul Turner, the bassist, is since 2005. The keyboardist has been with the band since 2002. My complaint was that I couldn’t hear enough keys, but I later learned it was due to where we were in the Arena. I confirmed this later by watching youtube videos from the balcony where the keys sounded sick! The guitar player, Rob Harris has been around since 2000, and the guy can jam. Between playing tasty subtle jazz chords, he’d come out and wail a crowd pleasing funk rock solo. The percussionists (except tonight’s substitute) are from the 90s.
At the past shows on the tour, the band pretty much played the same setlist, but tonight, it was totally different. They played many of the staples such as Alright, Little L, Space Cowboy, Main Vein, Cosmic Girl, and Canned Heat (from Napolean Dynamite). They also played Revolution 1993. I’d last heard it played instrumentally this past New Year’s Eve in Denver by Sound Tribe Sector 9. Jamiroquai just kept pouring it on, and Jay would say a few words here and there, or sit down and chill out. Every musician tore it up. This is a progressive funk disco fusion jam band like no other, and musically, they deliver as well as or better than they ever have.
I’d never seen them live before tonight, but I felt like Jay was way more laid back these days as he gets a little older. He was still on and in with his singing, but there were no acrobatics. When he spoke in between the songs, compared to older interviews, his voice was a notch lower. We recruited a female singer for Jamiroqueen because of the voice range required for such a band. I wonder if these days, Jamiroquai transposes down a half step or two on a song or so to manage that. Though maybe lower, the guy can still sing and rile up the crowd. Overall, it was a super action-packed performance that kept strong the entire time. Clearly, coming to Mexico was worth it, and Jamiroquai is still a powerhouse of worldwide musical stardom.
After the show, we wandered with some new friends in and out of the arena. I picked up a couple of bootleg t-shirts, as the official ones just said Jamiro20, which seemed odd, though you can pretty much put Jamiro in front of any word and it sounds cool (ask my band). We had some (assumedly goat) hot dogs from a lady with a food cart that might have been the best meal of the entire trip, bargaining prices all along the way. We said our goodbyes to the people with whom we danced and made our way back to the hotel.
We reached our hotel hallway, and it sounded like a party in one of the rooms on the way. Of course, we had to knock and see what was going on. 5 guys and 3 girls invited us in to share some whisky. They were locals just hanging out in the room for a few hours before going home at the end of the night. I ran to our room to grab our bottle of absolut and we had some great times. They would tell us a phrase to say in Spanish, and we’d say it with the worst American accent, and then we’d all laugh jovially. An exotically beautiful girl that spoke multiple languages shared couch cuddles and conversation with me. I even got a peck on the lips to close the evening. Mexico isn’t all that bad, after all.
The next morning was basically, “let’s get the fuck out of Mexico,” so we missed touring the Topo Chico museum. We decided to eat Pollo Loco and find a bank to pay the tourism departure registration visa. We went to two banks and both places looked at us like we were crazy, suggesting perhaps we would pay some other bank. In the process JB lost his visa, so a mild degree of concern arose. Very mild.
A Reasonable Border Checkpoint
The next bus to Laredo was too long of a wait, so we grabbed one to Nuevo Laredo where we took a taxi to the walk up line at the border. I wouldn’t recommend walking from the bus station to the border cross in Nuevo Laredo. As we waited in line with our fresh fruit Mexican popsicles, behind us approached a brawny young man that looked quite Latino but spoke with a Texas accent. We greeted.
“I never carry an ID, I don’t want to lose it,” he said, as we approached the border. “I work in the oil rigs as a geologist. The other day, I deposited my check but it didn’t clear until after I couldn’t pay the bill at the restaurant. They threw me in jail because I didn’t have an ID and my check card bounced.” “What are you going to Laredo for?” we asked. “I’m going over to find some dank weed,” he responded.
We were shocked. Research concluded; by the end of the trip we realized it was easy to buy a full bottle of liquor at the arena for a show, but cannabis is on lockdown. I wonder if that guy crossed back to Mexico with a sack of weed and no ID, and if they let him pass. We got a cab to Wal-Mart and drove back to Austin… We didn’t look back.
Copyright (c) 2015 Russell Eric Dobda