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Irresistibly Fresh Jamiroquai Is a Wonder

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

If you didn’t know the history of the English group Jamiroquai, it might be easy someday to assume that leader Jason Kay formed the outfit after being inspired by the dance-minded ‘70s music in the film “Boogie Nights.”

Those ties to a particular era prove both the strength and weakness of the band, which headlined Wednesday at the Universal Amphitheatre and will open for the Rolling Stones on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Kay--he’s the singer who wears the funny hat in the “Virtual Insanity” video, which won an armful of MTV awards this year--has designed a sound that is so reminiscent of the silky, funk-based music of Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire that you began thinking early in the show that he was going to run out of interesting variations on the theme before the two-hour set finished.

And there is such a thin level of originality in Jamiroquai’s approach that there are moments when you wish Kay had spent a little more time checking out other R&B; influences--maybe the great Stax/Volt artists.

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Just when your interest starts to wander, however, he bounces back with another song that has such irresistible rhythm and playful edge that it sweeps you up. If anyone needs ‘90s music for a “Boogie Nights” sequel, Jamiroquai’s good-natured “Cosmic Girls” or its high-stepping, Bee Gees-charged “Alright” would be excellent choices.

While Kay has assembled a sturdy, 10-member musical team, including a deejay and a horn section, he is clearly the heart of the group.

Though he looked far less regal than in the video because he wore a relatively ordinary ski cap instead of the famous Mad Hatter-type hat, the 27-year-old is a remarkably natural performer.

He never just walks, but rather asserts the confidence and command of a dancer with moves as fluid and surprising as Prince’s. In moments of heightened enthusiasm, he’ll even do a handstand or move his limbs with the speed and unpredictability of a marionette.

What makes him particularly winning is his sense of fun. He works hard at establishing a rapport with the audience. After earlier noting that Wednesday’s show was near the end of an exhausting 14-month tour, he was rolled back on stage for the encore on the kind of dolly used to move office furniture.

Jamiroquai’s songs have elements of social comment, but mostly Kay--whose voice has a sometimes uncanny similarity to Wonder’s--sees his music as simply a positive, feel-good vehicle. Even if the music sometimes seems too generic, he brings an individuality to the evening that is constantly disarming and fresh. With growth, Jamiroquai (which will play KROQ’s Christmas concert at the same hall on Dec. 5) could be something special indeed.


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