From the start of her headlining show at the Roxy, it was obvious that Welsh thrush Jem wasn’t going to play the typical pouty, neurasthenic trip-hop chanteuse. Bounding out onstage, a broad smile on her face, the KCRW favorite opens her hourlong set with the bouncy pop confection of “Just a Ride,” a song that advises not to get too overwrought about life’s problems: “Sometimes you’re up/sometimes you’re down/don’t be scared/don’t hide your eyes.”
That breezy attitude ran though the entire perf, as a live band replaced the loops and samples of “Finally Woken,” her ATO debut. “I Wish” turned into a perfect beach song, given the kind of tidal lilt that would have been heard under the boardwalk in summers past; the mood was enhanced by the lithe cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’).” The song “24,” which Jem admitted was inspired by the Fox series, was given a sharp edge, the guitars ringing like a classic spy movie soundtrack, while “I Wish” had the swooning ache of Portishead or Beth Orton.
But the band’s limitations were exposed on the ill-advised cover of the Stone Roses’ 1989 hit “Fool’s Gold.” The song’s driving funk was simply beyond their abilities, especially drummer Pete McNeal, whose stiff playing was the evening’s weakest link.
But that could not dim the shine on Jem’s impressive headlining debut. Her perf may need a bit of polishing — for all her talent, she never seemed completely at ease onstage — but she is an artist with enormous potential.