Bands in the Ring (1): Jamie N Commons Vs. Erland & The Carnival


Ladies n gentlemen, I proudly present … a new category! In which I am going to compare two bands for no obvious reason at all. But even if the reason’s not obvious, that doesn’t mean there is none. In fact, Jamie N Commons and Erland & The Carnival have more in common than roughly fitting the folk genre. Both are London-based, but not actually from London, and it’s rather hard to tell if they are a solo artist backed up by a band, or just a band with an egocentric lead singer. Last but not least, I have seen both acts at the same club within one week, and because I’m seriously tired of the same old live reviews of bands I’ve discovered, I thought of doing something maybe a bit more entertaining.

So by playing the same club in the past 7 days, Jamie and Erland are united by another anecdote, for the club in question has a capacity of 350 people, but it also possesses a seperate bar room with a stage in it and a capacity of 100. Whereas Jamie N Commons were booked to play the club, but had to be moved up to the bar due to lack of presale tickets sold, Erland & the Carnival were supposed to play the bar, but kept whining for so long until they’d be allowed to play downstairs. Whether this was fair, we will now see by direct comparison, cut into neat little categories I arbitrarily made up.

The Story so far: Could hardly be more different. Erland & the Carnival are a sort-of supergroup including, among others, a former member of The Verve, have two albums up their sleeve (the 2010 debut and the latest output, ‘Nightingale’) and are backed by a load of critical acclaim. Jamie N Commons has just released his debut EP on an obscure label, while his Facebook page still lists him as ‘unsigned’. However, that EP was put together by Eliot James (producer of the likes of Bloc Party and Noah and the Whale), but still Jamie remains so under-represented that I couldn’t even find out if Commons is in fact his real name. (I always read it as ‘Jamie ‘n’ Commons’; however he introduced himself on stage as ‘I’m Jamie N Commons, and this is the band.’)

-> Unfair, yes, but EATC play the experience card and win this round.

-> Score: Jamie 0 – Erland 1

Musical Skill: Again, youthful charm doesn’t stand a chance against years of experience. The aforementioned Simon Tong, who was in The Verve as well as touring with Blur and the Gorillaz, is allegedly one of the 40 best guitarists in the world, plus those geeky show-offs like to present instruments on stage that no one in the audience has ever heard (of). JNC may not have bragged as much in their old-school set up of guitar, bass, keyboard and drums, but with what they had, they created some nice up-beat folk rock that I wish I had seen more of (but came too late, blargh).

-> Fancy VS. down-to-earth: In this case, the former is a winner.

-> New score: Jamie 0 – Erland 2

Stylistic Invention: Jamie may not be inventing something new, but has more blues than the average 60-year-old midwest cowboy and handles his debut with a security that is astonishing for the newcomer he is. Of course, Erland are the more experimental band, and unlike Jamie do create a sound of their own, which most bands fail to do. Their sound may have little overall consistency, but hey, if I wanted every song to sound the same I’d be listening to the Kaiser Chiefs or something.

-> Not just experience pays off, so does experimentation!

-> New score: Jamie 0 – Erland 3

Vocal Quality: Without a doubt, Gawain Erland Cooper is a skilled singer who knows how to bring emotions across and would probably beat most other vocalists out there. Unfortunately for him, his opponent today happens to be Jamie N Commons, whose voice sounds as if he had been sipping whiskey for more than the 22 years he has spent on this earth, and is possibly the only guy his age who can keep up with Paolo Nutini. Luckily for us, instead of singing romantic campfire ballads like Nutini, Jamie decided to put his talent into heart-bleeding folk songs that sound about as raw and desperate as the width of the American heartland, where Jamie also happened to grow up.

-> I’m still looking for the person to beat Jamie in terms of vocal quality …

-> New score: Jamie 1 – Erland 3

On Record: Pretty hard to compare so far, as Jamie has only a 6-track EP to offer up against Erland’s two longplayers. What can be said, though, is that Erland suffer from being way better live than on record, while Jamie, as far as I’m able to judge from the few tracks I caught him play live, leaves a way greater impression on record. However, his recorded music sounds extremely well-produced, whereas EATC’s recordings have a certain raw, unsteady quality to them, as if they hadn’t been properly mixed. In case it was done on purpose, it’s apparently just not my thing.

-> It’s too early to judge anyway, but my vote goes to Jamie for the enhanced sound quality.

-> New score: Jamie 2 – Erland 3

Live Performance: Another unfair category: First of all, I hardly even saw half of Jamie’s set, as they hadn’t just been moved up to the bar, but were further degraded by having to open for shameless Strokes rip-off The Rumours instead of headlining. The club stage, then, is at least six times as big as the one upstairs, leaving Erland all the space they needed to unfold, while JNC were not really able to stretch out a limb. Moreover I took great pleasure in Erland Cooper’s dramatic gesturing and wriggling and the amount of funny instruments and his Scottish accent, so the winner in this one is obvious.

-> The circumstances never really spoke for JNC anyway!

-> New score: Jamie 2 – Erland 4

Career Prospects: Erland may not have been around that long themselves, but already acquired a loyal following and enough arrogance to piss and moan until they get their will, capacity-wise (although they claimed it was solely about the space available to them on stage). But despite how much I appreciate them myself, I can’t see much commercial success for them on the horizon. They may continue to live a fulfilled life as an underground cult act, but I don’t really see how their intricate web of harmonium carpets, stomping gypsy folk and elaborately played chaos should make it on a big scale. Now that Florence and the Machine have gone old, there’s even less hope left. Jamie, then, definitely has the talent to make it big; the question is whether his musical style can hit a nerve with a larger audience. As far as no debut album has been released yet, we can still hope for him to lighten up a little and successfully hop on the Mumford & Sons bandwagon.

-> Finally, youth is good for something!

-> New score: Jamie 3 – Erland 4

Personality: Jamie N Commons is the kind of guy that asks the audience where to party after the show, and when you walk up to him to have a chat, he will politely introduce himself and shake your hand. Erland himself was less whiney than other people in his travel party, and capable of asking ‘How are you?’ as if he actually cared. So nobody really fails in this category, but personally I was more taken in with the merry unprofessionality with which JNC even failed to bring any merch to sell after the show, or how proudly he remarked that they had been on tour for a week now. Ask Miles Kane, he must have been touring for a nearly a year now!

-> Now even lack of professionality pays off! Who would’ve thought…?

-> New score: Jamie 4 – Erland 4

Accent: Before attending the show, I had only heard that Erland & The Carnival were supposed to be ‘from London’, but I quite soon realised this was only half the truth, from the way Mr Cooper pronounced the words ‘joke’ or ‘way’.

-> I’m sorry Jamie, but your weird transatlantic accent doesn’t stand a chance against the Scottish.

-> New score: Jamie 4 – Erland 5

Appearance: OK, I only included this category for the lulz, and because it was sort of expected. You must know that when the situation demands it, I can never resist delivering even the worst of jokes if nobody else won’t. So, Erland looks ageless enough to sport his v-necks and skinny jeans on a teen magazine cover as well as babysit his two daughters. Jamie apparently tries to convey a Pete-Doherty-esque air of the lonesome poet in an extravagant hat and a public masturbator trench coat, but seems like such an overall jolly person he just ends up looking fairly funny. I do credit him for attempting an individual style, unlike Erland. So I would deem them both as certainly handsome, but unfortunately Jamie will both have to work out and cast off his overcoat if he wants to keep up with Erland’s so proudly uncovered arms and abs.

-> And now I have lost all credibility I never had, just for the sake of the bad joke.

-> FINAL SCORE: Jamie 4 – Erland 6

I’m not a hundred percent sure this made any sense, but I hope it was at least diverting. So to answer the introducting question: Relocating Erland from the bar to the club was a fair move, however Jamie would have deserved to headline his own show, but just didn’t draw enough people – yet. We will talk again when Jamie’s debut comes out next year! And now please compare for yourselves:


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