Jungle’s debut came out in 2014 to great fanfare. They were darlings of Pitchfork and received generous independent media coverage. Yet somehow, despite the success of fellow Brit Mark Ronson’s over-hyped earworm “Uptown Funk” that same year, the press for Jungle eventually fizzled and they never hit the same kind of stride in the US.
A year or two after their rise, they went quieted down. I stopped waiting for more news on the band and assumed that being a 7-piece with many moving parts and personalities to manage, they might have broken up or were bound for some indefinite hiatus.
Then, out of the blue, For Ever dropped in September.
Their sophomore release sees the band refine their sound into a more radio friendly format, driven more by the falsetto vocals than the wild groove that characterized their debut. It’s much safer commercially, but a little less thrilling than the predecessor.
This tour put the band in front of new US cities who have so far never had an opportunity to enjoy Jungle’s silky smooth set, hopefully bringing them closer to the broader stateside recognition they deserve. While the entire set was good, the best moments still came from their 2014 record.
Opener Rhye seamlessly wove together trombone, upright bass, violin, bass, guitar and keys to produce a pensive, somber soul. Sometimes it was funky, but most of the time it wasn’t a party like Jungle. Even the brighter moments were tinged by an undercurrent of blues. The low volume of Rhye’s mix gave the instruments such clarity that it felt like listening to their music through a pair of QC3s, rather than a venue sound system.
Jungle’s members were all dressed in white, some of the garments long and flowing, like a crowd of Hare Krishna devotees. The lighting was impeccable, including a slickly lit Jungle logo.
The vocal harmonies were so impressive that it almost sounded pre-recorded. In fact, most of the music was so unblemished and smooth that it was hard to tell sometimes what textures were long, triggered samples or backing tracks and what was live playing. At times this detracted from the live feeling of the performance, but this was easy to forgive as the impossible-to-resist beat inspired foot-tapping, gyrating and surprisingly even some competent dancing among the crowd.
“Platoon” gave the audience a better idea of what the band sounded like in a live setting. The guitarists dueled back and forth to produce a nasty, asymmetrical lick which might have been the technical highlight of their entire debut.
The pre-encore rendition of their 2014 magnum opus “Busy Earnin” got the most visceral reaction from the audience than any other song that night. People who were too cool or too timid to move their bodies suddenly rose. Up until that point, it was depressing to see so many open seats, but at least that left plenty of room for us all to get down.
Image Credits: Photos by Karo Cantu.