SELECTED LIVE REVIEWS
Melody Maker (UK -Oct. 25-31, 2000)
NME.com (UK/Web - Jan. 29, 2001)
Rock City (Web - Jan. 31, 2001)
The Independent (London - Feb. 4, 2001)
NME (UK - Feb. 14, 2001)
The Times (London - Jun. 15, 2001)
The Face (UK - July/Aug., 2001)
The Independent (London - Aug 12, 2001)
Melody Maker (UK)
Laptop: Underworld, London
4 out of 5 stars
By Trevor Baker
It must be a tough life being friends with Jesse Hartman, New York’s ironist supreme, fully certified synth-pop genius and mainman of Laptop. There are all those Sparks CDs he probably makes you listen to, not to mention a sense of humour dryer than asphalt. Be nice to him anyway, though. Because you sure as hell don’t want to end up as his enemy.
“I’m So Happy You Failed” was almost a novelty single last year. Not any more. Now it seems like a straight confession, plumbing new depths of goth-electronica, sounding like Lou Reed singing the Pet Shop Boys. Jesse is revealed not as the wry joker of yore, but as a man with endless depths of real malice and spite.
Tracks like the twanging “Gimme The Nite” lay modern life bare with gruesome precision. Old British punk Wreckless Eric appears, playing guitar on a cover of his own “Whole Wide World” which is remixed by viewers to Laptop’s Internet site as it’s played in front of us. Scary what they can do these days. It adds substance to what was, occasionally, a thin night. This is the beautiful sound of cruelty. Enjoy it.
He seems to be taking this all very seriously. As New York's most prominent one-man-band and ironic icon of dry cool Jesse 'Laptop' Hartman should know he's got a duty to uphold. It doesn't matter how many times he gets dumped, a true New Yorker should always be ready with a quip, right?
Not, it seems, anymore. With his debut album, 'Opening Credits', Jesse conjured up a world so flawless in its low-key, synth-driven, bathos that the labels pinned on him on its release will probably stick around forever. Tonight, though, as he stands there plucking dolefully at his guitar and emoting like a more tuneful Lou Reed, those labels, 'ironic', or the other favourite, ''80s-fixated', are far from view.
Instead, the new single, 'End Credits' throbs with a dull ache which suggests he's rather fed up with being dumped and no amount of cheesy Numanoid keyboard is going to make it better. With every morbid clang of electronic bass and twang of soulful acoustic guitar he gets further away from being any kind of novelty act. The line "I've got this feeling you're like me/A damaged package filled up with uncertainty" (from 'Gimme The Night') says it all. Jesse's the kind of man who likes to spread his self-loathing around a bit.
He is, in fact, a man who's made a modest career out of it. Still, if you wouldn't want to get too close, even to the comical misanthrope of 'I'm So Happy You Failed', at least there's a painful nugget of truth here. Oh, and some great tunes.
Rock City (Web)
Laptop/Shortwave @ The Social, Nottingham 28 January 2001
Wednesday, January 31, 2001
Opening up for Laptop, local outfit Shortwave bring their eclectic sound to The Social with plaudits of ‘Sex Pistols meets Kraftwerk’ banded about on the promotional posters. If such a sound exists I’d like to hear it, and this incredible description may not fit Shortwave as snug as a favourite pair of pants, but there may be good reason to reference them in such a fashion. Despite being a three piece, their sound at times is greater than the source, and fills the tiny upstairs of The Social. Full of battered drums, throbbing bass lines and punkified guitar, they throw in shards of whirling synth waves to envelope the room. Whilst technically a three piece, Shortwave feature the incredible dancing of Damian (dancer/super-fan), entertaining the gathered throng with a myriad of moves and poses that in most situations are quite unfortunate, yet in front of The Social crowd, are a sight to behold. To put it in context, if you have ever seen the ‘before they were famous’ clips of a pre-stardom Boyzone, prancing about in dungarees, miming on an Irish chat show, lets just say that Damian would wipe the floor with the lot of them! ‘Skeleton’ and current single ‘If It All Ends’ rock The Social foundations, allowing bassist PK Ramone to radiate a chilled confidante cool at the side of the stage, while Steve Blackman furiously barks out his vocals. Damian meanwhile is lost in his own world of performance art.
The arrival of Jesse Hartman, aka Laptop, onto the stage is somewhat low-key. With an acoustic guitar, a retro round-the-neck keyboard and his laptop computer, Hartman reels through his set of futuristic folk songs. The contrast of the computerized drums and warm synths, sits engagingly comfortably with his traditional guitar playing. It is incredible therefore to witness several crowd members directly in front of the stage constantly chatting amongst themselves, often with their backs to Hartman who has traveled over from New York to play just a handful of dates in the UK. Even the superb ‘End Credits’, full of downtrodden teenage angst and space age keyboards, isn’t enough for some people to turn their attention to the stage. At one point an incredibly rude audience member actually decides to read a book, right in front of the stage. If Jesse Hartman wasn’t contemplating crashing his guitar over the head of the individual in question, it shows what a restrained character he is, and how focused on his music he must be. Undoubtedly Jesse Hartman looks a little nervous, completely isolated in front of everyone. The Social’s stage is certainly not a big one (anyone remember seeing seven of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci balancing perilously up there?), but with just Hartman up there, it seems to take on football pitch proportions. His nerves could be the reason for the small amount of communication between himself and the audience, with a few mumbles about new singles and albums out in March. Maybe it was the seeming disinterest from the audience that led to his lack of conversation, but as he descends from the stage, he is suddenly urged back on by various hardened fans, keen to get more out of their man. Indeed, Hartman seems almost shocked, yet thankful for the reaction, and rewards the ardent few supporters with edited renditions of songs from his days in former band Sammy (edited as he can’t remember them all the way through) and a chirpy bit of banter. So delighted are some people, a sudden wave of interest descends on Hartman’s area of the stage, one girl excited to such an extent she feels compelled to scream, “Sammy rock!”, at the top of her voice at a man stood only a few strides from her. Now she’s not shy.
The Independent (London)
Culture Music - Rock & Pop
Sunday, 4 February 2001
This' announces Jesse Hartman, 'is another song about an ex-girlfriend who despises me'. Jesse Hartman is Laptop, Laptop is Jesse Hartman, and Jesse Hartman is clearly not a man who suffers illusions about the essence of his art. With no company beyond a computer full of background noises, an acoustic guitar and an occasional bassplayer, the drawling New Yorker with the haircut that doesn`t quite fit has set his catastrophic romantic history to music, and it is to be hoped he agrees the result is worth the traumas of his research.
debut album, 'Opening Credits', was one of 2000's best - imagine Leonard Cohen'
s 'I’m Your Man' remixed by Devo-and the live version is every bit as
commendably bitter and twisted. Hartman, like Cohen, possesses the rare and
treasureable knack of writing genuinely funny songs that are not novelty pop.
This is because Hartman has a rarefied understanding of the truth that, where
male and female intersect, the best comedy is only faintly rewritten tragedy.
When, in 'Nothing To Declare', he sings of having traveled the world in search
of love 'and all I got was this lousy t-shirt', he’s not looking for laughs.
Nor is he really joking when he serenades one down-on-her-luck ex with the
immortal chorus 'I’m not the reason you’re screwed up' , or another with 'I’m
so Happy You Failed'. It’s difficult to imagine a greater contrast, in 24
hours, than the one between Hartman' s deadpan minimalism and the unabashed
splendor of the recently reconstituted Waterboys....(Continues with review
Live Reviews: Laptop --@ Night & Day, Manchester Jan 26th
By Tony Naylor
"Last time we were in this city two band members walked under a bus," recalls Jesse Hartman, deadpan. That would explain then, why Laptop are stripped-down to a distinctly unglitzy duo. It's also Hartman's idea of a joke. Not that, as he plays the first two songs semi-acoustic, he's exactly larking around. "The Reason" -- wherein Hartman informs his girlfriend it's not his fault that she's screwed up -- could easily be New York-era Lou Reed. Had Lou ever had a (very black) sense of humour. "Try your alkie mother", advises Hartman. "Try your sixth-grade teacher". The '80s synths reappear for a withering, brilliantly childish, "I'm So Happy You Failed". "End Credits" -- an anthem rescued from St. Elmo's Fire -- and "Nothing To Declare" are similarly genius, poignant and hilarious resolutions of sharp pop and even sharper words. He may be a cynical wise-ass, but who are cynics? They're idealists who've lived a bit. That said, the set never quite shakes its downbeat start. Maybe the small numbers of true-believers dancing stage-front is disheartening, maybe he's getting weary trying to correct the perception, that he's some heartlessly ironic pop boffin -- either way, Hartman fails to turn this night into a celebration in the face of fashion. Instead, it ends in a limp "A Little Guilt", and no (scheduled) encore. Here's hoping he'll recharge his batteries, and come out fighting and biting once more. We need Jesse Hartman.
The Times (London)
ARTS SECTION: Laptop@ Notting Hill Arts Club, London
June 15, 2001
"THIS is dedicated to the Strokes in two years time," says Jesse Hartman (aka Laptop) before launching into his magnificently spiteful I'm So Happy You've Failed. It's a gorgeously nasty song (I'm so happy you've failed/I’m so happy you've lost your minds") which makes Kelis's I Hate You So Much Right Now seem positively sympathetic. You can hardly blame the talented Hartman, a droll East Villager with Jagger's swagger, Woody Allen's funnybone and Lou Reed's catarrh, for being a bit tetchy tonight. While his fellow New Yorkers the Strokes - pop's current boy wonders - are hogging magazine covers with their Iggy-tight trousers and secateurs haircuts, he's playing to fewer than 100 people. "I'm going to do some glamorous clearing up now," he says after the show, for which he appears to be trebling up as pop star and roadie. But choosing the Strokes (who also played in London this week) over Laptop - so called because Hartman's instrument of choice is a Mac Powerbook - is a bit like saying you prefer the Bootleg Beatles to the real thing. Hartman, who played guitar with US punk hero Richard Hell, does what so many of his contemporaries don't: cherry-pick then synthesize the best bits of Seventies, Eighties and Nineties pop without creating a retro sound. In fact the most retro thing in his otherwise modern set is the blue satin dustcoat Hartman's slung on top of the sort of black trousers and white shirt favoured by prepubescent Greek waiters.
Still, there was nothing underdeveloped about the playlist: mainly songs plucked from his new album, The Old Me vs The New You including a pitchy cover of Wreckless Eric's British punk classic Whole Wide World. As well as being living proof that you can use synthesized cowbells and Moogy loops in buckets and not look anything like Nick Rhodes. Hartman writes clever and pertinent lyrics about urbane twentysomethings.
His most recent single, Back Together ("Do you think it might be time to get back together?/I could not find anything better/So I'm coming back to say it might be the time"), is about weighing up a desire for relationship perfection with plain neediness. Meanwhile, Not The Right Time, a hymn to commitmentphobia ("I haven't found anything wrong with you/Even my mother thinks you're something special/But it's not the right time/Is it ever gonna be the right time?"), and End Credits, an achey-breaky love song which finishes off the evening, puts him up there with the very best lyrical craftsmen.
Laptop man Jesse Hartman ambles onstage at Notting Hill Arts Club wearing an evil gnome grin. He looks a bit nervous, distracted even, here in the indie-cozy environs of Alan McGee’s Radio4 club. The ice breaks after he dedicates ‘I’m So Happy You Failed’, a jaunty anthem about an overhyped band whose second album stiffs, to ‘The Strokes in two years’ time’, and we all laugh – not least because we’ve remembered that Hartman once played guitar in original CBGBs brats Richard Hell and the Voidoids. If anyone has cause to hate The Strokes, it’s him. So how come he seems to view them more with pity than contempt?
Simply, it’s because Hartman has been around long enough to understand that, while angst is all very well (and a vital component of a song like ‘I’m Not The Reason You’re Screwed Up’), the moment it leaks into your concept of pop celebrity is the moment you start Taking Yourself A Bit Too Seriously. The message is clear: ‘My songs maybe be about anger and loss and the solace of sleeping with ex-girlfriends, but this bit, the performance and record-making bit, is easy. Why get all angst-ridden about this?
Here’s Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan: ‘You lose your mind completely, and then you lose your soul.’ Richard Ashcroft: ‘Working like [The Verve] did can destroy people completely. I won’t go back there.’ Here’s – surprise! – Thom Yorke: ‘It’s just a complete mind-fuck.’ Hang on, you want to say: you wrote some songs. Then you went into a studio and recorded them. To promote the ensuing album, you played some concerts, did some interviews and appeared on TV. You stayed in some hotels. And this stoned sleepwalk of a lifestyle fucked you up?
course, pop stars have always loved angst, largely because pop criticism – from
Tom Wolfe to Greil Marcus to Nick Kent – has always privileged a cutely
romantic concept of artistic creation which bands have felt dutybound to enact.
Now nu metal super-producer Ross Robinson has brought this idiot orthodoxy into
the studio, often driving his charges to tears in the pursuit of
Pop stars love angst because they feel inferior to visual artists and writers, who they suspect of feeling things more deeply than they do. Pop starts love angst because the previous generation of pop stars loved angst—it’s the only Great Tradition the form has. But mostly, pop stars love angst because being a pop star is basically pretty boring, characterized by long periods of diffuse restlessness—a bit like childhood. But while childhood is an educational period of restraint and correction, pop stardom is a state of High Decadence where nothing is forbidden. To make the time pass, obstacles must be self-generated. And nine times out of ten, they end up being the very things you formed a band to obtain: attention, fame, drugs, sex. Why is why, by the time their second album stiffs, it won’t just be Jesse Hartman who’ll be happy The Strokes have failed – it’ll be The Strokes themselves.
The Independent (London)
“Is anyone here trying to get laid tonight?” asks Hartman, with his unkempt hair and white ice-cream vendor’s coat almost unrecognizable from the hip Manhattan fashionista of his 1999 shows, mid-way. “If so, close your ears.” He should have said that earlier: in his world there are no happy ever-afters, only the gallows’ humour of the serially heartbroken.
Despite everything, these songs do stand up, notably the epically embittered “I’m So Happy You Failed”, dedicated to the Strokes. Should you ever find yourself on a one-night stand with Hartman, be warned: that bulge under the pillow will be his notebook.