Jellyfish – Live at Bogart’s 1991 (review)

Jellyfish – Live at Bogart’s 1991 (Omnivore Recordings) review

First-ever official live album from these influential power poppers

Legends have a way of growing over time – especially when the band, only around for a few short years, calls it quits and never reunites again.  That’s Jellyfish, who arrived in 1990 with their album Bellybutton – thumbing their nose at the hair metal and pop schlock of the day, embracing everything 70’s, from their unabashed melodies to their throwback costumes.  Although they did manage a minor (#62) hit with “Baby’s Comin’ Back,” rock radio was too busy schmoozing Poison and Cinderella to notice their Badfinger and Cheap Trick-infused songs.  The band managed just one more, almost-as-good album, 1993’s Spilt Milk, before quietly breaking up, and never looking back.

Surprisingly, guitarist Jason Falkner, who played a limited role in the band, was the one member to emerge with some success – first fronting the supergroup the Grays, before embarking on a critically-acclaimed, ecclectic solo career.  However, drummer/vocalist Andy Sturmer, essentially the face of the band, disappeared and hasn’t been heard from since (although he did briefly surface to help out with Mandy Moore’s surprisingly good Coverage disc).

That’s what makes Live at Bogart’s 1991 such a triumph – it’s the first officially-sanctioned live album from the original band.  Although, that isn’t quite correct – guitarist Falkner was still technically a member during the time of this taping, but was home nursing a shoulder injury.  However, his stand-in, Nico Wenner fills in quite nicely with guitar and backing vocals.

Recorded for the tour of their debut, the amazing thing is that the band actually pulls off many of the big production elements of that album live: “She Still Loves Him” features excellent harmonies, complete with faux strings and wah wah guitar, while “Now She Knows She’s Wrong” is powered by a Partridge Family-harpsichord and acoustic guitar.

The band certainly plays up their retro, music geek philosophy – opening the show with a snippet of Argent’s gonzo-classic “Hold Your Head Up,” before launching into the Trick-inspired “Hello,” a charging bit of power pop glory, which never made it on to a proper album.  Sturmer reveals that they listened to “Carry On Wayward Son” five times in a row on 78 rpm, and then wrote “Will You Marry Me” – another rocker that remained unrecorded in the studio.  Other places, they name check Mr. Mister, Chicago, and even do a snippet of Player’s “Baby Come Back” before launching into their own “Baby’s Comin’ Back.” In case their influences weren’t obvious enough, they run through inspired versions of Badfinger’s “No Matter What,” and Wings’ “Let Em In,” just to be clear.

When their debut album, Bellybutton, was released, Albhy Galuten, who also famously helmed the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, was praised for his ability to re-capture a vintage Seventies’ sound.  However, what is made quite apparent in Live at Bogart’s, is that the band were quite good all by themselves and could pull off just about everything – from the Raspberries’ nod “The King is Half-Undressed,” to the excellent ballad “I Wanna Stay Home.”

With Jellyfish not likely reuniting anytime soon, Live at Bogart’s 1991 gives further evidence that these guys were criminally ignored back in the day.  It also is an excellent addition to their catalog and sits proudly next to their two fantastic studio albums.  A must for power pop fans.  –Tony Peters