It was one massive dance party at The Danforth Music Hall in Toronto Monday night as Jungle played one irresistible groove after another. Note for note, the live performance honoured the smooth grooves and velvety vocals of their incredible debut album. Beginning the show with a heavy drum beat that evolved into their hit ”Platoon,” it wasn’t long before the hypnotic rhythms and soulful vocals began stirring up the crowd. Suddenly, hands were up, heads were nodding, and bodies were grooving to the beats coming from the stage.
After their first EP The Heat was released in 2013, their retro-yet-modern soul sound attracted immediate attention and two months later they were nominated for theBBC’s Mercury Prize for 2014. Accompanying the singles “The Heat” and “Platoon” off the EP were stellar dance-themed music videos which sparked curiosity about the group since neither member was shown. (Check out the video for “The Heat” and Stories Behind The Songs’ initial post about Jungle here.)
With the 2014 release of their self-titled LP, the mystery around Jungle continued. The album’s dance-centred videos continued to highlight the soul and disco influences in their music and also stayed true to their initial decision of keeping the duo off camera. (Check out their awesome videos here: “Platoon”, “The Heat”, “Busy Earnin”, and “Time”) Their conscious anonymity paired with their electronic-based music made for a high level of curiosity regarding their live show as the stage awaited them Monday night.
The duo (formed in 2013 in the U.K. and initially known only as “J” and “T”) of Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland expanded into a seven piece band for their live performance. Their signature sound of retro soul and disco grooves layered with dreamy electronic textures were re-created live by a stage filled with instrumentation: two soulful backup singers, the use of pop filters over the duo’s microphones, bongo drums, chimes, shakers, a tambourine, a drum kit, electric and bass guitars, keyboards, a guiro and an electronic mixing soundboard.
Never have I ever witnessed a live concert (that wasn’t a DJ) elicit such independent and free dancing. The good vibes were also palpable onstage; the backup singers kept the groove steady with their energetic and unchoreographed dancing while the duo’s energy remained high and interactive with the audience. When it came time for their encore, Jungle played multiple songs and ended the show on a high note as they waved and clapped to the crowd with gratitude while the audience cheered the love right back.
Setting the mood for the night was Empress Of from Brooklyn, NY. Lorley Rodriguez, aka Empress Of, was initially a bit timid in her performance, standing with a slight stiffness and intense focus – yet her voice was anything but shaky. Any nerves she might have been feeling didn’t effect the delivery of her delicate, yet powerful voice. Controlling both her vocals and her mixing board, she soon began to relax into the music.
Rodriguez began picking up energy, dancing and swaying deep into the grooves of her songs. Her sweet vulnerability remained evident in her composed emotion and genuine little smiles to fellow band mates, but with that voice and creativity behind her, she could be one hell of a dynamic performer one day.
After their set, keyboardist Spencer Zahn stopped to chat about the group. Empress Of is a solo project by Rodriguez who writes all of her lyrics and music independently. For live shows, she performs with Zahn and drummer Vishal Nayak who collaborate on translating her electronic songs to a live musical setting.
Her 2013 EP, Systems, is composed of pop melodies and soft yet powerful vocals while her latest single, “Realize You” incorporates a more synth-heavy sound and a consistent dance beat. Fans are still awaiting news about any further upcoming releases. Empress Of will continue to tour with Jungle until joining Kimbra‘s tour on October 20th.