Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Who knew you could take so many genres and make them all so fucking boring? All while packing out The Forum? Amazing. No, seriously, hats off. The heaving mass of happily intoxicated fans; guys with short haircuts and white t-shirts with their shorter, dressed up girlfriends all got their money's worth though. Cat Empire were always a band that you could count on for a decent night's dancing, and that quality hasn't changed since they played for $5 at The Night Cat. Not much has when it comes to their performance, behind that though, a business has mushroomed, albums have sold and people have been converted, mainly through relentless touring, something that would lead you to believe they can put on a show.
Their musicianship is supreme, their confidence and performances are all top notch and seeing someone doing something they're passionate about is always a great thing. However, tonight's performance came across like a product showcase for their brilliantly conducted business; they didn't look like they were having fun, more like they were working. Live, their songs are really in their element; smooth and effortless professionalism shines through and the crowd adore it, safe in the knowledge that their $50 will guarantee them a risk-free night of fun. Which is what Cat Empire deliver. Jazz, rock, Latino, funk, ska, dub it's all there in one giant pick-and-mix furrball. Songs begin with a different solo, sooner or later a groove appears, another takes over, then another, then a breakdown, another solo, some rousing choruses and we're home. Noticeably no groove lasts longer than 30 seconds, possibly indicating their attention span and ability to simply ride a groove - something their idols do handsomely, but then their idols aren't playing to mainstream Australia (and this audience was mainstream Australia even when loudly proclaiming "we will never yield to conformity" with fists aloft during Chariot). Their use of dynamics and playful rhythms (thanks to drummer Will Hull-Brown) kept every song kicking on. All this slick style-appropriation does prompt the question, what are THEY actually like being themselves?
This fusion of genre and rhythm can be truly amazing in the hands of people like The Avalanches, Manu Chau or Os Mutantes, but tonight, with all their good taste, "right" notes and faultless rhythms, it just felt like a conservatorium school band having fun, which is essentially all they're trying to do, and on that level they deservedly succeed. The hard yards have been put in no question, though Felix's lyrics are still juvenile at best, his voice dire and stage presence hopelessly pretentious he is an entertainer par excellence and no lame Blues Brothers slapstick dance routine with fellow vocalist Harry Angus will change it. Angus however does sing melodies, but only with a Bob Marley-voice and while conducting himself with his spare hand. Guest sitar player and rent-a-Santana-lick guitarist Kumer Shome brightens proceedings and his interplay with Angus is a highlight. As was Felix's call for us to switch to Origin Energy in an effort to slow climate change, before dedicating Sly to Melbourne. Tracks like that, Two Shoes, Cities, The Car Song and extended encore Hello Hello all deliver their spot-on horn blasts and singalong outros the tightest and rouse the loudest responses. Three-piece Tortured Soul, who opened the evening play forgettable smooth Jamiroquai-lite soul/house music to a disinterested mingling crowd. Quite why they came from America to do this is an as yet unanswered and fair question, but apparently Barry Manilow likes them.