For the past few weeks, I’ve been comparing Jagwar Ma to their fellow Aussie psych-rock brethren Tame Impala. And on record, the comparison seems legit: Both bands are fans of sonic layering; both toe the line between dizzying weirdness and catchy hooks. Still, when Jagwar Ma hit the stage at SOhO last Wednesday night, it was immediately apparent that Tame Impala they are not. While Jagwar Ma’s members most definitely dabble in psychedelia, their live show is more interested in getting feet moving than heads bobbing. And to their credit, at least in Santa Barbara, they succeeded wildly.
Only one album into their career, the band’s set list consisted of nearly every song off their debut, Howlin. Like their recorded counterparts, the songs were constructed piece by piece, growing from unassuming synth hooks to grand sonic landscapes with deep grooves. Take, for example, “Uncertainty,” an early highlight that slinked along languidly before the bass kicked in, ushering the night’s first full-room dance party. Later, “Four” would provide the climax; the song’s rapid-fire beats were fluidly looped and layered, and for about five minutes, the whole place started to resemble a rave. As with most young bands, there were also some misses. Stripped of his vocal effects, frontman Jono Ma comes across a little thin, and the too-polished pop of tracks like “Man I Need” and “Come Save Me” did him no favors. Still, for a first headlining tour, Jagwar Ma is firing on all cylinders. Better still, they’re well on their way to crafting an identity all their own.