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Jay-Jay Johanson
By Sonya Rinkus
What does it take to get the city’s Big Swedes out in full force? Any remotely Scandinavian event – The Rasmus concert, “Mamma Mia” premiere, Night Flight 15th anniversary party – and they’re there in all their well-manicured glory. Last Thursday, Ikra was brimming with polite, antiseptically beautiful Teutons for the first night of Swedish musician Jay-Jay Johanson’s double-engagement performance.

The impetus for Jay-Jay’s return to Moscow is the release of “Prologue,” a greatest hits compilation that retailed on Ikra’s fold-out table for 300 rubles. It’s decorated with Futurist graphics because, see, Jay-Jay and Russia have a special relationship, dating back to the turn of the century when he was a freaky deaky androgyne of a trip hop DJ. (And “freaky deaky androgyne” isn’t a term you can just throw around. Google 2003’s “Antenna” album cover for a truly disturbing image of Jay-Jay looking like a sexless sewer creature.) But, the Jay-Jay of autumn 2006 is a new man. He’s cleaned up, taken growth hormones or something and changed musical directions, now focusing on lounge-y vocal tracks.

And, man, he needs a hug. Sounding like the lost Scandinavian member of Coldplay, Jay-Jay delivered an hour-long meditation on romantic rejection. There was “The Girl I Love is Gone” (“The girl I love is gone / And solitary fills my home”) and “Far Away” (“Far away, once so close / But now you’re far away”) and then that rousing ditty

“Alone Again” (“How could a love like ours come to an end?/ I’m alone again”), all very melancholy material on a timeless theme. Yet, on the other hand, he wasn’t contributing anything interesting to the vast collection of songs for the lovesick. Who wants to hear Jay-Jay moan “I’m so saaaaad” when you could be exploring the wide and wonderful spectrum of ways to deal with unrequited love, from the anger of Ani DiFranco (“Fuck you and your untouchable face”) to the ironic distance of Nada Surf (“There’s still a feeling of rejection / When someone says she prefers the company of others / To your exclusive company”) to the creepy obsession of The Smiths (“The more you ignore me, the closer I get”)?

Actually, everyone wanted to hear it. You wouldn’t necessarily expect it, but there’s a big market in Moscow for simple, forlorn music that you can drink vermouth to before killing yourself, especially among the Swedes. At his performance the next day, Jay-Jay played a DJ set of upbeat stuff from his freaky deaky androgyne days. It filled Ikra like never before – OK, like Coldcut two weeks ago – though you kind of got the feeling that people wished he would go back to poking their profound emotional bruises.

For Thursday night’s encore, Jay-Jay delivered one final ode to misery, “She Is Mine But I’m Not Hers,” about that special girl he, you know, “likes” but who just wants to be his friend. Plus, her meathead husband is beating her. Naturally. That’s the way, Jay-Jay. Bring the pain. It makes us feel alive.

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