With their music hitting 36 million streams across Spotify and sold out shows across Australia, fiercely independent indie – pop group The Jungle Giants have a lot to be excited about. The joy and enthusiasm of the quartet was palpable at their packed-out performance at Studio the Venue last night.
The way some music publications have been spinning it for a few years, an increasing number of musicians have been spending their time locked in their bedrooms hunched over the latest DJ software programme rather than trying to nail a guitar lick. Just as the gated reverb underpinned the majority of 1980s pop, fuzzy guitar-heavy quartets can be viewed as having had their moment in the sun, peaking with mid-aughties garage rock bands such as The White Stripes, The Strokes and the first two albums of Kings of Leon (RIP).
But music, like fashion has a penchant for being cyclical and we are beginning to see a burgeoning resurgence of the sound championed by Jungle Giants and their opening act, Mt Maunganui/Auckland's The Leers.
Having been a staple of the local alternative music scene for the last few years, The Leers proved that they knew how to work a crowd thanks to their ballsy, brash bold sound. Vocalist Matt Bidios showed that the range that was captured on their debut album Are You Curious? translates well live, switching from a resonant light tenor to a more fragile, wispy vocal with ease. Their rhythm section were tight and their unabashedly pop sensibilities were tempered with heavily distorted freakouts that added a touch of artisanal flair. Unfortunately, the Leers fell prey to poor sound at points, with Bidios's voice being pushed too high into the mix. This wasn't helped by The Studio's famously patchy acoustics. Regardless, they were the perfect band to whip the crowd into a frenzy ahead of Jungle Giants.
A dramatic musical score and furiously flashing lights marked the arrival of The Jungle Giants as they traipsed onstage to rapturous applause. They dived headfirst into the one-two punch of On Your Way Down and She's A Riot before frontman Sam Hales exclaimed “We're very happy to be back here with you cool motherfuckers” before launching into Waiting For A Sign which would've fitted into an early Future Islands EP and You've Got Something. The initial four songs showed off Hale's enviable range and the obvious ability of the band to produce. But it felt like sinking into a bath that was slightly too cold – perfectly pleasant, but something didn't feel quite right.
The tides turned at an instrumental break that saw only bassist Andrew Dorris and drummer Keelan Bijiker onstage. Together they free-styled a funky rhythm jam that morphed into something more psychedelic. Dorris proved to be a consummate performer throughout the evening, throwing himself and his bass with a joyous abandon not unlike Lou Barlow. It became apparent that the band were perhaps thinking too much in the first twenty minutes and they were better off when they performed freely and without too much thought.
The jam session was the shot in the arm the band needed and they took to the stage with a newfound sense of vigour. Their music became less paint by numbers, more Jackson Pollock and the evening was all the better for it. Taking to the stage once more, Hales asked the audience to clap their hands until Bijiker and guitarist Cesira Aitken matched the organic rhythm that was given to them. As the mood peaked, the beat segued beautifully into I Am What You Want Me To Be that was delivered with a spoken-word sass that would make Jack White proud.
The Jungle Giants played for an hour and it was wonderful to see people dancing, grinning and being actively involved in the performance rather than watching it through their phones. The band were genuinely grateful to be there, extolling the virtues of the crowd's faces, vibes, dancing, singing and clapping throughout the set.
As a reviewer, I could rightly point out that the music The Jungle Giants is creating is not particularly new or unique. They aren't going to save the world any time soon. However, that completely misses the point of the evening. The Jungle Giants created music that was fun, easy to dance or sing along to and showed off proficient skill. And goodness knows we need more of that in the world.
More images from the show can be found in the photo gallery further below.