Jagwar Ma, Village Underground, London — review

The Australian band gave a foretaste of their summer festival shows
Jagwar Ma's Gabriel Winterfield. Photo: Ollie Millington/Redferns © Ollie Millington/Redferns

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Australian acts have been mining a rich seam of psychedelia lately. Perth’s Tame Impala are the most acclaimed, but Sydney’s Jagwar Ma (now based in London) won a lot of admirers — Noel Gallagher included — for their hedonistic 2013 debut, Howlin. A new album is mooted for August or September. In the meantime, the trio are in demand as a live draw. So here they were warming up for the festival season in an inclement corner of Shoreditch, east London.

The “Madchester” sound of the early 1990s is a touchstone for vocalist/guitarist Gabriel Winterfield, bassist Jack Freeman and the guy responsible for everything else, via an array of electronics, Jono Ma. On record, it’s burnished with a sun-dazed Antipodean optimism and a post-chillwave production sheen. On stage, inevitably, it’s all a bit messier and squallier, but their penchant for jam-band longueurs did the group no favours at the start.

The opener, “Man I Need”, was heavier and more raucous than expected, mixing the floppy stroppiness of EMF with the dreamy vocal detachment of debut-album Charlatans. It seemed almost gauche. The loping groove of “Exercise”, which urges listeners to “exercise your chemistry” (though not too much on a dank Tuesday evening, thanks), lost its way amid clanging Italo-house piano riffs and demented breakdowns.

A clutch of new songs roamed between genres in search of an identity. One essayed a rock rasp over shuddering bass; another a more soul-man style voice over what might have been the billionth use (roughly) of a sample from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”. I was reminded of American band Yeasayer, who do such mash-ups knowingly well, but here they came across as works in progress.

Jagwar Ma hit their straps, however, and galvanised the crowd, with “Come Save Me”. Its surf-pop melody instantly taps a pleasure centre of Beach Boys harmonies and juxtaposes them with an insistent drum loop and zigzagging synths. It built into a huge tribal stomper before morphing into “Four”, their full-on, buzzing, whooshing, acid-house-like “choon”. Even on a school night, it had ravers of various vintages gurning with gratitude. If it can be this massive under railway arches, imagine what it could do in a field this summer.


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