Concert Review: Jaguar Wright at Cove Lounge

Don’t let Jaguar Wright’s stature fool you; everything about the petite songstress is larger than life. Her voice is venue-filling and multi-dimensional, her songs are painful without blushing, and her attitude is boisterous. It’s crystal clear that she doesn’t take any mess. Her performance in the intimate Cove Lounge in Columbus last week was sometimes sweet and sometimes crass, but always entertaining.

If Anita Baker came up grooving alongside The Roots and performing next to Jay-Z, she very well may have sounded like Jaguar Wright. Her debut album, Denials, Delusions and Decisions, was highly regarded by critics in 2002. It led to a “Nu-Soul” Coca-Cola campaign, the equivalent to a marketing orgasm for a new singer. After her appearance on Jay-Z’s Unplugged album, Wright was slated to be the next big thing in the ultra-sultry Neo-Soul movement. But she wasn’t feeling it. Hence 2005’s Divorcing Neo To Marry Soul, a slap in the face to incense-heavy Neo-Soul and a fresh start for Wright as an old Soul singer.

Wright beckoned the “spirit of music” as her set began, and she also established that she was going to have a good time whether the audience or the band would have one with her. “I hope you guys can keep up,” she scolded, “because if not, I’m going to go on without you.” Rocking a colorful headwrap and a draping Dashiki-inspired shirt, she looked like a woman at home, waiting for her tardy lover to arrive. And that’s the role she played through music all evening.

On “Should I,” Wright was quintessentially undecided about a loveless lover as her voice trumpeted big at times and smoldered soft, but definitely not weak. “Sometimes,” a song she’s performed but never recorded, was ripe with all the thoughts that swirl through a woman’s head while she awaits her man. Her voice towered sweetly as she spliced the song with A Tribe Called Quest’s “Find A Way.”

The sweetness didn’t last long, as Wright interluded that major labels could “Kiss my ass. Whether I sell 20,000 or two million, as long as it’s mine, it’s all platinum to me.” Wright then went into the Scott Storch-assisted “So High,” an unconventionally minimal song that was full with raw emotion. “Self Love,” a song that Wright says “becomes more relevant every year” had the audience on their feet, singing the inspirationally blunt lyrics. An organic call and response developed between Wright and the audience as she belted “self love” and beckoned “self preservation” from the crowd.

An acapella version of Wright’s single “Free” had the crowd serving as her backup singers. She closed out with the song that made her famous, “The What Ifs,” but preluded that she wasn’t male bashing - “just telling the truth.” Wright’s voice was elegant, though the lyrics were brash, and a breakdown toward the middle of the song tickled the crowd with the ending high note.

Wright comes across as a much more aggressive, yet technically similar Jill Scott. Her show pulls no punches, and anyone expecting to hear an album version of her brassy songs is in for a treat. Jaguar does what she wants, though she reminds you of the girl around the way who puts up with a no-good man, though she knows she can do better. Teetering between woeful, sassy, independent and needy, Wright impersonated all the emotions that lovers feel. With a voice she controls like an instrument, it’s easy to see why the people are feeling her.