Gig Review and Photography by John Bentley

Jagwar Ma, The Institute, Birmingham, 13-5-14

On the basis of their album, ‘Howlin’ and a few YouTube clips, I must say I was really looking forward to this gig from newcomer Aussie émigré purveyors of revival Madchester indie baggy psyche-rock, Jagwar Ma. I was not disappointed. Any cobwebs on audience members at the start were soon blown away, by the bass vibrations as well as the fab tunes and the infectious urge to dance.

Moko, The Institute, Birmingham, 13-5-14

In line with the electronic vibe of the evening, support act tonight is the fabulous Moko. An internet search didn’t turn up much, but it appears this London-based soul singer only started up her career in 2013. However, on the basis of tonight’s gig, I would say she has a great future ahead. Performing as a duo, with a percussionist and boxes of electronic tricks, she turns in a great heart-felt performance. Moko has real stage presence and, most importantly, has a fantastic voice. I could immediately visualise her appearing on Jools Holland’s TV show. Her debut release, ‘The Black EP’, is now available to download.

Jagwar Ma, The Institute, Birmingham, 13-5-14

And so to Jagwar Ma, who finally take to the stage at 9.30. Lead singer and guitarist Gabriel Winterfield most looks the laid-back part, with a very baggy check shirt and woolly hat, while fellow Aussie founder member Jono Ma appears more the anonymous boffin behind the electronics desk at the back. The third member is bass player Jack Freeman, who is long-term touring band member.

From the moment the strobes pierce the darkness of the hall and the beats kick in, it’s clear this is going to be, at the very least, a highly enjoyable evening. The packed audience are clearly up for it. Crowd surfing and (less enjoyably) beer throwing ensues among the predominantly young punters.

Jagwar Ma, The Institute, Birmingham, 13-5-14

While the album, ‘Howlin’, received almost universally favourable reviews, the live performance is more visceral and elevates Jagwar Ma far above this. Indeed, the album sounds quite staid compared to the gig. This now seems to happen with a lot of bands – for example, seeing Connan Mockasin recently, the live show far outshone the album. Live shows will inevitably provide an experience that albums alone cannot. However, my theory is that this is also partly because many albums are no longer recorded in a live band together-in-a-studio situation, but are created more remotely using computers, overdubs, etc. Live, the guitar also seems to assume a more prominent and driving role in the music.

Jagwar Ma, The Institute, Birmingham, 13-5-14

Jagwar Ma obviously owe a great debt to the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Primal Scream’s ‘Screamadelica’, The Beach Boys (eg. harmonies as on ‘Come Save Me’) and, from more recent times, Animal Collective’s ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’. However, they put a contemporary twist on the genre and make it their own. And their songs are darn good.

Jagwar Ma, The Institute, Birmingham, 13-5-14

The gig showcases much of the band’s debut album. There are many highlights, but ‘Man I Need’ is a high spot for me, with its pop sensibility morphing into the extended workout of ‘Exercise’. Towards the end the gig moves from a delivery of the album’s songs to maintaining a groove, which is enhanced by the impressive lightshow. After an hour the band wave goodnight and leave the stage to a repetitive pounding electronic beat, which continues until they return for the encore, which features some new material. Winterfield tells us it’s their first time in Birmingham and, judging from the reception, I would say they will be back soon.

Jagwar Ma, The Institute, Birmingham, 13-5-14

One Response to “Jagwar Ma + Moko at The Institute, Birmingham, UK – 13th May 2014”

  1. Ken Harrison Says:

    Lovely stuff John;))

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