Review by Lucy Holt
Jagwar Ma played their first show in Manchester on Thursday. This was brilliant news for people who like to make observations about things, because every music journalist and his dog seem hell-bent on drawing parallels between the Sydney duo’s sound and that of the city formerly known as Madchester.
Yes, on their debut record ‘Howlin’, they do sound a bit like the Happy Mondays. We can’t run from this fact, and if we did we’d probably trip over some baggy waterproof apparel.
If that’s not your cup of tea though, you shouldn’t let it taint your view of Jagwar Ma, because whatever your reasons for disliking those halcyon sounds of the Happy Mondays et al – whether it’s the ladism, the relentless nostalgia or the fact that Ian Brown once nearly ran over your (my) mum at the school gates – with Jagwar Ma live, things are very different.
In a commendable act of multi-tasking, Jagwar Ma DJ their own gig in place of a support act; bonus points for efficiency. A bold move, but it works.
When they do get to their ‘real’ set, of course the singles are most well received. Yet there’s a clever electro pop sensibility that is laced through their catalogue that makes nearly all of the tracks as exciting and as accessible. Yes, the geometric rhythms and urgent vocals of the radio-gracing current single ‘Man I Need’ command glory, but as do the album tracks and the weird, extended breakdowns.
They closed the set with the complex, tropical delirium of ‘The Throw’, which most clearly references the acid-trippery of their supposed local heroes. If that wasn’t overt enough, they acknowledge that “we’re from a long way away, but we get lots of comparisons from bands around here, which is cool”.
Where most electronic duo type outfits take deliberately antagonistic elements and collide them in an angsty melee (see: Boards of Canada), Jagwar Ma advocate of a more cohesive sound. Despite the fact they deal with more pop, up-tempo grooves, there’s a sense of cohesion about the whole thing. A cohesion that they will no doubt be unleashing on a field near a motorway to much delight.
It seems that from the other side of the world, Jagwar Ma have managed to take a long-view at the music of Manchester past. Taking the good bits, filtering out the awful. The Emperor’s new clothes perhaps? But with regards to ‘their sound repackaged’, the Manchester crowd were sold. And drunk. And sweaty.