The Jam was one of the few important bands to emerge from Britain's mid-'70s punk movement. Like the Clash, its sound has often seemed less important than its unaffected style, rooted in the mod '60s. Like the Clash, the Jam has maintained an insistently militant sociopolitical conscience. And, as with the Clash, the Jam has seldom provided such old-fashioned qualities as entertainment or pleasure either on record or in performance. It is the aural, electric equivalent of the underground newspaper.
Last night, after two abortive efforts, the Jam finally played Washington. Unfortunately they wound up in the mausoleum of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum, a concrete box that dulled the Jam's sharp edges into a metallic buzz and obscured almost all the lyrics. The group's long-suffering fans suffered some more, but at least they already knew the words.
Paul Weller, the Jam's leading light (lyrics, guitar and vocals), is one of rock's most serious and intense young men. For him, the stage is a podium to stalk, while a song is a convenient vehicle to express the anguish and confusion of his working-class constituency. It made for a rather bleak, though admittedly energetic, night of music that fell somewhere between punk's overly channeled aggression and heavy metal's soporific irresponsibility. Weller preached his lyrics with undeniable urgency, but he was reaching a full house of already committed converts.