With their debut album complete, Jellyfish prepped to play their first concerts ever. The band would end up touring almost nonstop for a little over a year. Andy Zax writes about their first moments playing live in the liner notes for Fan Club…
With promotional duties looming, Jellyfish were going to have to transform themselves from what had previously been a studio-only project into a functional live band. To do that, they urgently needed to find a bass player (Jason and Redd Kross’s Steve McDonald had played most of the parts on the album). After a fruitless search, Roger suggested his younger brother Chris – who was just about to graduate from college – for the job. Although Chris’s musical credentials were decidedly shaky compared to those of Andy, Roger and Jason, an audition session was quickly arranged. The venue: an unused janitorial closet. It was the first time the group had played any of the songs together in one room all at once. Hearing their music live in 3-D, even in very rough form, left them giddy with excitement. It was decided that, with some coaching, Chris would be able to handle the bass duties, and he was officially inducted into the band. Jason quickly set about teaching him the bass parts, while carpooling to the rehearsal studio each morning enabled Roger and Jason to instruct Chris in the art of three-part harmony by singing endless choruses of Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son.”
How to pad a set when you’ve only got one ten song album to pull from? A ten song album with eight playable songs. Unlike most bands who play for years and have enough songs to make two albums when they first go in the studio, Jellyfish had a bunch of demos they weren’t that happy with as leftovers. So, they started from scratch, writing three great crowd-pleasers just for their live show. “Hello” was obviously designed to be a Cheap Trick-styled opener to start a set off with a bang. “Mr Late“, a favorite of producer Albhy Galuten, went through changes and ended with an impressive cascading acapella ending. “Will You Marry Me?” was a Jelly-styled ode to nuptials with a big blues-rock ending. They all went over great but the band never recorded any of them, though the solo of “Joining A Fanclub” echoes them a bit. Tim Smith and Eric Dover told me they’d learned the songs before the band’s second tour but they were never played again.
In Fan Club‘s liner notes, Roger recalled how they learned the song “Always Be My Girl”, though they never did play it….
“One of my fondest and funniest tour memories occurred while this song was being rediscovered by the band. We’d always felt very proud of this older Beatnik Beatch tune, but for one reason or another it was never made a priority track for the BELLYBUTTON album. We desperately needed material to fill an hour-plus set on our first U.S. tour, so Jason and Chris began to learn the song shortly after we set out cross-country in our band motor home. Time was of the essence, so Chris spent every waking minute learning this lightning-fast and incredibly difficult walking bass part. There was only one problem; the motor home we had rented had blown rear shocks. So every time we’d drive over the tinniest pebble, it felt as though the back of this vehicle would shoot two to three feet up in the air. (This meant no napping/eating/reading or any other kind of relaxing in general.) But Chris was determined to learn his part by the next night’s show. As we all attempted to sleep up front, Chris went to the back of the motor home with his bass guitar and a Walkman cassette player. Four hours later he emerged from his quarters having mastered the part. But he had been so immersed in the task at hand that he didn’t realize that he had become severely nauseous and had inadvertently inflicted bruises on his legs, chest and face. Needless to say, it takes a special type of person to be a member of Jellyfish. Way to go, Chris!”
With their keen sense of pop history and fun, it’s not surprising that their early shows were filled with great covers. In their first shows, they played “The Logical Song” by Supertramp, the MTV theme, “Live & Let Die” by Wings, “Sugar and Spice” by the Archies, a Big Mac ad, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” by Todd Rungren, and a Dennis DeYoung (Styx) soundalike contest where the band members sang “Come Sail Away”. They stuck with “Let Em In” and “Jet” by Wings plus “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac for most of their first year of touring and kept playing Badfinger’s “No Matter What” for the entire life of the band.
They rehearsed a lot but also had to stock up on clothes to go along with the image they’d dreamed up. There was no doubting they were ready to make a visual impact. Dr. Seuss hats, bell bottoms, platform shoes, and frilly things were gathered at thrift stores and taken out on the road. They would later complain that their image got out of control, but, Roger was on MTV licking a huge lollipop from the get-go. Jason said he went for a sort-of Faces look and managed to avoid most of the worst fashion no-no’s. They packed up the costume box, Christmas lights, white picket fence, LIte Brite and bubble machine and hit the road with soundman Shalom Aberle. The Bay Area soundman was in the midst of moving to Atlanta when he was offered the job. “I said I really couldn’t do it,” Aberle told Mix Magazine, “but they sent me a copy of Bellybutton [the bands debut] before it was released, and I knew I would be going. The music was totally up my alley.”
Not a whole lot of well-known bands have made a major-label record without playing a live show. The band’s very first gig was a secret set at Santa Rosa sportsbar the Studio Kafe on August 9th, 1990, two days after Bellybutton was released. Billed as Smürf, the show was a quick warmup before an official coming out the next night at Club DNA in San Francisco, where they would also play their first Spilt Milk show in 1993. Programs with cartoon drawings of the band and a board game drawn by Jim Bricker were given out at the DNA. Andy asked that Bricker use the 1970’s Jackson Five cartoons as inspiration and Bricker happened to have a book focused on the art of Jack Davis which had some of The J5 character model sheets. Bricker remembers the band did the MTV Theme several times that night and closed with “Fever”, which Beatnik Beatch also used to cover. Apparently, the band also played a show at Sacramento’s Cattle Club around this time. Three weeks later, they began a nationwide tour opening for World Party that started in early September of 1990.
Apparently, the first date of World Party’s American tour was headlining 91X’s stage at San Diego Street Scene, which I went to. Nigerian singer Majek Fajek cancelled his opening set because of immigration problems so the Blasters were called down from LA to fill in at the last minute. I’m not sure why Jellyfish wasn’t already on the bill or why they didn’t get the call but I’m not sure I would’ve been ready to see them without warning. I recently found a handwritten account of the night I did and edited it down by about 95%. So if you’re curious about how World Party, Stan Ridgway, the Blasters or the Origin were that night, check it out. The singer from locals the Origin, Mike Andrews, would later start the band Elgin Park, who played several shows with Jason Falkner before becoming a successful soundtracker. Here they are covering the Kinks for fun….
Apparently, from the very beginning of the tour with the world partiers, they blew minds. When I first started my Jellyfish site in 1996, I got an email from a Russ Thompson about one of the very first shows at the Wadsworth Theater on UCLA’s campus. “During every tune the crowd’s mouths were down to the floor in awe, including mine,” he said. “In-between songs people were yelling, ‘Who are you?'” The next night, the tour rolled on to San Francisco at the Warfield. ConcertVault.com has audio of World Party’s performance from that night on their site and a photo of Jellyfish’s set ended up in their boxed set. I didn’t know musician John Walters was a fan until he got his copy and pointed out himself in the front row of the photo. He writes, “They opened with Live and Let Die….amazing set. The singing was insane….great show. Too overwhelmed to even remember World Party.”
There’s little or no other evidence of the tour online. After their monthlong coast-to-coast theater jaunt with fellow 60’s/70’s pop revivalists, Jellyfish came home in October and did a short series of shows at universities around southern California, including one just a few miles from where I grew up at UCSD.
On October 27, 1990, my high school friend Jim Cathcart was watching MTV in Santa Barbara and saw the video for “The King Is Half-Undressed”. He liked it so much that he went to see them that night at The Pub at UCSB by himself. Meanwhile, near Los Angeles, California, I was attending my first year of college away at California State University at Northridge. I had spent my freshman year living at home and having a blast doing audio production at San Diego State University’s KCR. But, LA is the place to be to do the music thing, so off I went to the city of smog.
A few days after the show, Jim sent me a tape on which he explained to me how great Jellyfish was. He raved about them doing “Live & Let Die” and how a friend of theirs played a funky tambourine that prompted Roger to say “Inspiral Tim!” Since he didn’t have the album, he sang “King” to the best of his recollection. I totally remember him saying, “…and then it goes ‘Bapa bapa baaaaaaa…..'” Needless to say, his one part harmony didn’t clue me in as to what I would soon be hearing. A few weeks later he sent me a cassette copy of Bellybutton and…well…I really didn’t listen to it that much. He’d put a mix of songs on the other side that I listened to more. Once I gave it a shot, I liked it fine but didn’t love it, much to Jim’s frustration. He would soon return the favor by taking forever to get into the Posies’ Dear 23 album, despite my constant nagging.
Still, I was dying to see them live. Where the hell were they? KROQ had started to play “That Is Why” and I couldn’t believe that a California band wasn’t playing LA. They spent November playing shows everywhere from Washington DC to Arizona, opening for Maggie’s Dream several times. Finally, in January of 1991, I heard that they were playing a show in San Diego the following month. Check please.