Love for Jaguar Love

Aug. 25, 2008
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More than most, I understand that vocals are a matter of taste. I can barely listen to great albums by great bands like The Decemberists, The Hold Steady and Twilight Sad simply because those bands' respective singers make me cringe. So those who can't get into Jaguar Love because of singer Johnny Whitney's, uh, "unorthodox" voice have my sympathy.

Whitney's girlish, helium wail turns more people off than it attracts, but to me it sounds like a sped-up composite of some of the greatest vocalists of the '70s. In it, I hear The Clash's Mick Jones and his affinity for early, doo-woppy rock 'n' roll; Pete Shelley's lovelorn cries; Ian Hunter's glammy showmanship and Jimmy Page's arena-rock excesses. You kind of have to hear it for yourself:

Whitney, paired with his former Blood Brother Cody Votolato and J Clark, late of Pretty Girls Make Graves, kicks out some serious jams on Jaguar Love's debut album, Take Me To The Sea: twisty, shape-shifting, thrashing rockers with gigantic, overkill hooks. It's one of my favorite albums of the year.

With low expectations set by warnings that the band's live show is a bit iffy, I caught the Jaguar Love Friday night at the Vic Theatre in Chicago, opening for The Faint. Maybe they were having a particularly great night, or maybe they benefited greatly from The Faint's receptive, ready-to-dance audience, but they absolutely killed, emphasizing the groove behind their songs while Whitney addressed the audience with his rock-star screeches. Over the top without becoming a self-parody, the band performed with a grandiosity (and, to be sure, a pomposity) few indie-rock/art-punk bands of their ilk can pull off.


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