Aftermath: Gene Loves Jezebel at Meridian

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Every so often, a show that might otherwise be just OK becomes something much cooler when there's hardly anybody there to see it. Aftermath isn't talking about some fresh-out-of-the-box band playing its first show in front of friends and family at the Mink, either, although there's certainly nothing wrong with that.

Thursday night, about 60 die-hards - a crowd that could have fit upstairs at Rudz with room to spare - gathered to watch '80s afterthoughts Gene Loves Jezebel, one of that decade's many "that song" bands; groups most commonly identified by "you know, that band with that song..." In GLJ's case, that song is 1985's steamy come-on "Desire (Come and Get It)," and of course they played it at the end, but ultimately that was only a small part of what made the evening so enjoyable.

Any band can push it to the hilt when there's a packed audience urging them on, but it takes real commitment to do that when the entire crowd could fit on their tour bus. And yet, the four-piece originally founded in London in 1981 played a powerful set of dark, Goth-y glam-rock with driving bass; druggy, Velvet Underground-like guitars (plenty of Jesus and Mary Chain and Doors too); and frontman Jay Aston's voice none the worse for wear even after all this time, even if the same couldn't quite be said the same about his face.

"Just because you look good doesn't mean you can sing," he said at one point. "I used to have a brother like that once." (Aston's brother Michael co-founded GLJ with him; the two are now involved in a highly litigious battle over the copyright to the name.)

The suspiciously Cult-like "Jealous" - from 1990 and actually a much bigger U.S. hit than "Desire" - was juiced by with a cock-of-the-walk riff and some narcotic licks from ex-Generation X guitarist James Stevenson, was worth the walk from the MetroRail stop all by itself, especially to get a gander at the high-kicking female fan down front. Stevenson quoted Blondie's "Atomic" in the next song, and laid down some fuzzy, seedy Smithereens-style blues in "Break the Chain."

Most of all, Aston and his bandmates offered a nice reminder that no matter how much British bands of the of GLJ's stripe may have dipped their heads into the chemical well back in the day, the reason their music - and the same goes for JAMC, Echo & the Bunnymen, etc. - continues to hold up and influence younger bands like soon-to-be SXSW stars Glasvegas is that it is shot through top to bottom with genuine, if sometimes extremely stoned.

It's just too bad more people weren't there to see it. I guess. Then again, for those of us who did show up, it was kind of nice having Gene Loves Jezebel all to ourselves.

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