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[whitespace] Jammin' Java

Bands on the Nescafé Java Jam played to 500 as if they were playing to 5,000

The Nescafé Java Jam held last Thursday (Nov. 1) at the SJSU Event Center offered a surreal scene as fewer than 500 people turned out to see Fuel, Saliva and Breaking Point. It felt as if everyone there was witness to some special private performance, and the best seats in the house were up for grabs to anyone who wanted them.

To their credit, the bands didn't let the meager head count dispirit them. If anything, they seemed even more determined to put on a good show.

Acknowledging the overwhelming sense of emptiness, Saliva frontman Josey Scott said, "I'm kinda glad there ain't that many people here, 'cause we got the whole place to ourselves."

Saliva's heavy brand of Memphis-bred Southern rock--a style the band calls "bounce"--is often compared to Kid Rock. But with elements of Faith No More, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marilyn Manson and Stone Temple Pilots woven in, Saliva's sound actually becomes pretty distinctive--and it's addictive.

In a smart move, the up-and-coming band (which has sold close to 500,000 copies of its Island Records debut, Every Six Seconds) kicked off with its powerhouse single, "Click Click Boom," quickly identifying itself to the crowd. With the lyrics "What the hell is wrong with me? My mom and dad weren't perfect, but still you don't hear no cryin' ass bitchin' from me like there seems to be on everybody's CD," Saliva assured the audience that it's a far cry from those whiny metal bands.

Live, the band comes across as downright friendly and full of Southern hospitality. On Thursday, Scott made the San Jose crowd feel special when he announced, "This is a song that's especially for you because we've only played it three times," before slowing down for its fame-seeking power ballad, "Hollywood" ("I'm chasing my dreams again/ I'm going to Hollywood/ And I'll never be the same").

Afterward, Scott declared, "Enough of that sissy shit" and dedicated "Musta Been Wrong" to "Osama 'Bitch' Laden."

Like any good red-blooded American boy, Scott paused throughout the night, moved by the spirit of patriotism. Many bands are touting their American pride these days, sporting red, white and blue and leading chants of "U.S.A." But when Scott declared, "When it comes to Americans and America, when you fuck around, you won't be around. United we stand. Together. Forever," it was clear he was speaking from the heart.

Saliva's sincerity is so refreshing that it's hard not to root for its continued success. With a disc full of potential singles--the songs "Superstar," "Lackluster" and "Beg" are particularly strong--it shouldn't be hard to come by.

Sparking the Joint

Headliner Fuel takes a different approach, bringing plenty of cocky rock-star strut to the stage. Throughout the night, the Pennsylvania-based band's photogenic frontman, Brett Scallions, was full of rock & roll poses and sexy sneers. Raspy-voiced Scallions sings with a melodramatic intensity that suggests he's going to explode with the pain and passion of each song.

An impressive band to watch, to be sure, but Fuel seems to have something of an identity problem. It wants to be the second coming of Guns N' Roses, but its radio-friendly style of power rock puts it more in league with mainstream bands like Creed and Collective Soul.

Scallions desperately wants to play the bad boy, but he just doesn't seem to have it in him. After the first song, he asked the audience, "Who's got the weed?" and commented, "Smells good." Encouraging someone in the front to share the wealth, he pleaded, "Let's see that joint." They passed it up to him, and Scallions took it, but quickly said, "On second thought, I'll save it for later" and set it on the drum riser. If he wasn't going to smoke it, he shouldn't have asked for it. The half-finished gesture left him looking foolish.

Still, Scallions is well schooled in the arts of being a rock star, and he's got all the moves. But while Scallions serves as the visual focal point and voice of Fuel, it's lead guitarist Carl Bell who writes the music and lyrics. Under his deft hand, both of Fuel's albums (Sunburn and Something Like Human) have reached platinum based on a string of hits that includes "Shimmer," "Hemorrhage (In My Hands)" and the latest single, "Bad Day."

The band ripped through those and more, teasing the audience occasionally with snippets of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."

Following Saliva frontman Scott's heartfelt comments on the war, Scallions announced, "We'll have our very own candlelight vigil right here," before dedicating the grieving power ballad "Innocent" to "the greatest country in the world."

One of the loveliest songs Fuel performed was the wistful "Untitled" (from Sunburn) on which Scallions confessed, "I wanted to feel something, to be something to see something/ I wanted to find one thing that was mine."

"Sunburn" took on an eerie quality as the sound of a thunderstorm, complete with lightning effects, filled the arena and the band played the dramatic opening like a music box slowly winding down.

Overall, Fuel ran like a machine from start to finish. It seemed the band would have given the exact same performance if the place had been packed. Fuel deserves credit for generating so much energy for such a sparse audience. But at the end of the night, as the crowd trickled out of the venue, one thought lingered: Scallions never did spark that joint.

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Web extra to the November 7-14, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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