I WAS THERE . . . Jaguar Love at Southpaw 8.19.08

Jaguar Love flail, wail, and put on a killer live show at Southpaw. Photo Credit: Dorit Finkel

Jaguar Love
August 19, 2008

“Do you have loooove for Jaguar Loooove??” Johnny Whitney demands late on a Tuesday night at Southpaw in Brooklyn, in a broken voice filled with the sincerity and emotion of Miss America and the ferocity of a warrior.

Oh yes, we do.

Whitney, who recently formed Jaguar Love with his Blood Brothers mate Cody Votolato and ex-Pretty Girls Make Graves drummer Jay Clark, struts, screams, sighs, and sweats his way through a rendition of the band’s debut album like a preacher on speed.

Before one sees Jaguar Love pounce and growl in a live setting, it is easy to feel that their sound falls short of what it could be. The music is tighter, brighter, and more melodious than most of The Blood Brothers’ material; the bass and keyboard interplay sounds like the foundation of the Next Hot Indie Rock Band. But Whitney’s vocals, which actually do sound remarkably like a baby jaguar’s, put an awkward frosting on the cake. Often doubled, often off-key, and often lacking the subtlety needed to complete the band’s careful sound, the whole package can make one’s ears downright uncomfortable.

Hence, the importance of hearing this band perform. As they rocket from the muscular thumping of “Bats Over The Pacific Ocean” to the seizurely lament of “Highways Of Gold” to the epic, someone-went-back-in-time-and-gave-the-80s-some-balls “Jaguar Pirates” (“Oh children, take back the rad world!), one fact becomes clear: what seemed like an unfortunate contradiction on record is what has this audience thrashing in joyous abandon. In each song, dancing is not just doable, it is necessary. But more importantly, dance-rock has fused with out-of-control metal and headbanging punk, and Whitney’s T. Rex-on-steroids yelping and glam-grunge attitude are responsible.

As any dissonance between band and fans disappears with “Humans Evolve Into Skyscrapers” (a grotesquely poetic description of a psychedelic apocalypse), everyone falls absolutely in love with each other. All the explosiveness and good vibes that so many hipster bands lack seems to be vacuum-packed into the tiny club. As the energy shakingly escalates with a cover of The Black Keys’ “Have Love, Will Travel” and the band’s own emotive “My Organ Sounds Like…,” Whitney and Votolato break the last barrier, flinging out into the small crowd, hugging, kissing, flailing, screaming, and receiving a Jaguar Love-fest in return.

This is not awkward. This is perfection.

Dorit Finkel

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