Gig Review: Jack Off Jill, Heaven, London, 23/10/2015

Jack Off Jill are weird in the way you wished you were when, as a teenager, you painted your nails black, wore a spiked dog collar, and walked around Eltham High Street carrying a kids’ metal lunchbox pretending to be Marilyn Manson. (No? Just me then. I’ll get my trench-coat…)

Despite releasing just two official albums (and a few self-released items) in an eight-year career, JOJ established a cult following which The Guardian recently described as a “devoted fanbase of queers, feminists and outcasts”. Tonight’s gig gathers teenage Gothlings excited to catch a legendary cult band alongside crusty old Nineties-kids like myself in the central London nightclub Heaven, located in the vaulted cellars of Charing Cross station – and we’re all clearly still crazy about the band’s angsty, riot-goth-grrl-horror-punk. I for one am especially excited to hear classics from their debut Sexless Demons and Scars (1997), which I long ago resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably never catch live.* Expectations are especially high tonight. Not only have JOJ recently reformed after 15 years, playing London rarely (if at all) in the past, but it’s front-woman Jessicka Addams’ 40th birthday and officially the band’s Last Ever Gig.

My partner and I missed openers The Regrettes because Wahaca’s QuickPay app just wasn’t quick enough (first world problems and all that). The Ethical Debating Society, a bass-less female-fronted punk band, sound not unlike the headliners, and they’re quite fun in a shouty sort of a way. They’d need to do more with their three chords to especially excite these jaded old ears, however. (Credit where credit’s due: they probably sound better than I did when I played in shouty punky bands at that age, and I wasn’t playing central London nightclubs.)

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In the first of many hammy theatrical additions to tonight’s show, Jessicka is dragged onstage by a dark robed figure – that looks somewhere between Death, Darth Vader and a children’s canine mascot – while the band rip into ‘When I Am Queen’. Jessicka’s voice is on fine form, fluctuating between her characteristic melodic angel/angry bitch styles perfectly. JOJ’s final line-up is completed by Michelle Inhell, guitar, Tenni Ah-Cha-Cha (no really), drums, and Helen Storer, bass – and they sound tight, dirty and punchy. Michelle, part of the band’s original line-up, looks pumped to be doing this still, while Tenni and Helen mostly do the cool, quiet rhythm section thing.

JOJ are determined to make their last show one to remember, with plenty of surprises in store throughout the gig. At one point, Jessicka’s on a giant red phone to her mom (“Hi Mom, I’m in London; yes, they’re very attractive”). During ‘Lollirot’ she throws “candy” to the crowd, while during ‘My Cat’ and other classics she’s slipping her hand under her skirt to throw out chocolate coins. JOJ play rare songs like ‘Don’t Wake The Baby’ from the self-released Cannibal Songbook (1995), complete with Jessicka ‘waking’ her raggy-doll prop, and ‘French Kiss The Elderly’, accompanied by reunion-themed banter about Jessicka being “75 years old”. For some reason we sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Michelle on Jessicka’s birthday, who Jessicka jokes is “looking lovely at 29” (she’s indeed looking great although I think she’s a little older than that).

The most memorable of Jessicka’s props, however, is the pair of over-sized scissors that she uses to hack off lumps of her black bob, making it clear that “this isn’t a wig, I’m just insane”. Jessicka introduces ‘Girlscout’ by stating that “this song always makes me fucking cry”, and she does look a little teary while she starts really going to town on that bob.

Jessicka’s kooky-Carrie stage persona is convincingly-batshit – all Addams Family values and cartoon creepiness – but her band’s always had a serious message, which she bluntly emphasises tonight: “If you don’t like people because they’re gay – fuck off. Because of their ethnicity – fuck off. If you don’t like women, don’t like men – fuck off.” According to comments on their Twitter page, Jessica also spoke out about body shaming at their other recent London date at the Electric Ballroom, a topic she’s been vocal about for years – once stating that “I can’t tell you how many times I heard that if I just lost weight, Jack Off Jill would be the biggest band on the planet.”

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JOJ play for about 1 1/2 hours, smashing through a large proportion of their songs: we get ‘Angel’s Fuck’, ‘Cumdumpster’, ‘Swollen’, ‘Super Sadist’, and more, although unfortunately not ‘Poor Impulse Control’, which got me into them and remains a favourite. It’s everything I hoped for – fun, silly, reminiscent – but something else starts to happen once the lights have gone down preceding the inevitable encore.

Coaxed back on by the crowd’s chants, Michelle asks us to get our phone-lights out instead of lighters (a sure sign of the times) and to sing ‘Happy Birthday’, again, but for Jessicka when she re-emerges. Also, it’s announced that the guy now standing on stage dressed like a geography teacher is none other than Scott Putesky, AKA Marilyn Manson co-founder and former JOJ guitarist, Daisy Berkowitz, all grown up. This is frankly a big enough deal to send music-nerd types like me into paroxysms of starry-eyed frenzy. (That’s him below, left:)

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We do exactly as Michelle asks, of course, as Jessicka arrives back onstage in a blonde wig, tights, Y-fronts and white bodysuit, to be presented with a giant birthday cake. Post-candle routine, the Death Vader Dachshund character is on cue once more to cover her in blood for a storming version of fan-favourite ‘Strawberry Gashes’. At some point Jessicka unceremoniously lobs the birthday cake straight onto the front row of the crowd. Someone set a precedent for crowd-surfing earlier, and now Michelle jumps in, beckoning towards the back.

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Then things start getting seriously emotional. If Jessicka looked slightly wet-cheeked earlier, she can barely hold it together for a duet of Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ with Scott. Dedicated to a “dear friend who passed away’, perhaps former JOJ guitarist Jeff Tucci who died in 2014, Jessicka’s voice cracks on the chorus at one stage in one of many genuinely touching moments.

JOJ close on their fearsome cover of The Cure’s ‘Lovesong’, before the band exchange many poignant hugs, offering sincere thanks to us for years of support. Many people in the crowd appear to be crying, also. JOJ chuck out all of Jessicka’s stage props to the crowd, which will no doubt acquire fetish status in underground Goth lore. Jessicka has the last word, of course: “Look after yourselves”.

And so the crowd all trudge off into the night following a wonderfully intense and unexpectedly emotional evening, scraping icing sugar and jam from our DMs, probably to reunite when Manson plays Hammersmith next month.

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*Also, Jack Off Jill have one of my all-time top three band names (alongside Bogus Gasman and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum), so it’s basically a law that I have to see them live.

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