Jagwar Ma at Whelan's by Dave Kelly

Jagwar Ma at Whelan’s, Thursday 8th May 2014

Remember those summers of your teenage years? Maybe it was your first time away from home, and you headed down to the beach with a bunch of local kids you only met that day with a crate of beer under your arm. When you get there you notice a couple of guys who seem to be pretty popular spinning the tunes, friendly guys, kind of dumb, but harmlessly so. And all the girls seem drawn to their effortless seaside cool, while the guys try too hard to try and impress them with their jokes and their dance moves. This is a Jagwar Ma gig, in which they almost seem to bring the beaches of south-east Australia to the Wexford street venue, so you’re half casting your eyes around looking for that bit of barbecued sausage to make its way to you.

Another quality of those nostalgic adolescent beach parties was the fact that the guys who had taken the most amount of varying forms of intoxicants seem to be the ones who are enjoying it the most. Which isn’t to imply that the sober amongst us are impervious to the Jagwar charm. The effortless groove and cool are easy to get on board with. And it starts off particularly effortless, a long preprogrammed beat playing out while the room waits in darkness for the three members of the touring band to arrive.

This beat eventually morphs into What Love, which features many of the trademarks of the Jagwar sound, namely mantra-like lyrical repetition and a beat that’s just that eighth of a beat too slow, turning your natural swaying into a full on Mancunian shoulder dip. Of course much has been made in the music press about the britpop influence that seems ubiquitous on ‘Howlin’, the group’s first and only album, and lead singer Gabriel Winterfield does little to attempt to dispel these associations, borrowing heavily on the night from Ian Brown’s vocal drone, his trademark arm movements, and even seeming to have shaved long enough before the gig to feature the same amount of stubble as the Stone Roses singer.

The thing about Jagwar Ma though is that these obvious similarities affect the enjoyment of the gig very little. The effortlessness of their live performance is largely based on the fact that most of their music is playback, so no great mystery surrounding how they reproduce that backwards guitar sound from Man I Need Dub. It’s all sitting there in the computers, waiting for its cue to arrive. The composition also is simple and satisfying, a beat drop never arrives that isn’t anticipated and one is never suggested that doesn’t arrive. It always hits just when you want it, just when it will be most satisfying.

Still, despite the pure baggy Madchester laziness of their music, they don’t lay back. Guitars are busted out and the bassline that Jono Ma knocks out during Come Save Me is electric. However, much like that beach party by the end it exhausts its appeal, and the encore is there for formality’s sake more than anything. They put on a very enjoyable show, the kind of act with proper cross-genre appeal, the kind of act who might bring rock fans together with fans of EDM and pop in one big mass of danceing synthy appreciation of simple quality songmanship. A very utopic vision, but some parties manage to hit that balance, even if it’s just for the space of eight bars of music. Jagwar Ma sustain it for a full set, next time they’ll need a bigger dance floor to spread the canopy of love a bit wider.

Photos: Dave Kelly

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Photos: Dave Kelly

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