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Review: Hiatus Kaiyote | Sydney Opera House

Written By Sam Murphy on 06/01/2016
Photo by Prudence Upton

Photo by Prudence Upton

Before saying anything about the show, it’s important to look at how important a moment this was for Melbourne band Hiatus Kaiyote. Despite the Grammy nominations and packed-out shows overseas there’s nothing more gratifying than growing your audience back home while still staying true to yourself. This was a sell out show in one of the country’s most iconic venues and as such it felt like a victory lap for a band that has been touring their most recent record Choose Your Weapon for almost a year. This is a big feat for any band but it felt even more of an achievement for Hiatus Kaiyote, a band that are making some of the weirdest, most experimental music in this country right now.

Hiatus Kaiyote may be divisive but because of that, they’ve garnered a dedicated fanbase of people that really appreciate the music. Fans that are happy to sit, dance and watch the band take wild musical detours for nearly two hours. They could’ve been playing unheard b-sides for the entire show and you get the feeling the fans still would’ve got a kick out of watching Nai Palm groove and the rest of the band jam.

Not only were they playing the Sydney Opera House, but they were also playing as part of Vivid meaning there was a whole other dimension to the show. Lights, orchestrated by Timeboy, beamed up around the band and made them look mythical. Almost as if we were watching holograms. Nai Palm’s voice is far too raspy and soulful not to be real though and so with all that was going on around them it was their natural personality and talent that shone through the brightest.

Photo by Prudence Upton

Photo by Prudence Upton

The first thing that hits you during a Hiatus Kaiyote show is Nai Palm’s incredible ability to feel for unique melodies and yet bring a force to each of her notes. She slithers through grooves like Ella Fitzgerald and howls like Janis Joplin. Early moment Shaolin Monk Motherfunk allowed her to show-off pretty early on, chopping and changing as the melody ebbed and flowed. Throughout the whole set there was barely a minute where we were left with the same beat. The experimental jazz roots of their music adds an A.D.D. element to their set. One song often seems as if you’ve heard an entire album but that’s what makes them most thrilling.

For the first 45 minutes of the set, the audience marvelled. Nai Palm said very little, moving from song to song with haste but that was kind of what was needed to follow them on an uniterrupted musical journey. They offered up woozy, jangly electronica with Laputa and twisted, throwback soul on Nakamarra. Despite, the varying musical styles they always threaded it together with Nai Palm’s unmistakeable voice and their organic backbone of earthy percussion and striking keys. The lights surrounding scaled the heights of the concert hall and occasionally lowered down over the audience. They never created a greater spectacle than the band themselves but they complimented the music beautifully particularly on the more electronic-tinged tracks.

The Opera House is a hard venue to conquer. You’ve got to bring a certain grandiose to match its architecture but it’s also a relatively small capacity so you’ve also got to harbour a feeling of intimacy. The stripped back moments where Nai Palm’s voice reached right to the back of the Concert Hall were the best because they made the room feel small. Occasionally, there were too many layers of music and that’s when they lost the sense of intimacy as a wall of sound built in front of them. Thankfully, these moment were few and far between with the band always managing to draw us back in.

The final 30 minutes were the finest moments of the set. The band seemed to forget about the pressure of playing in the Opera House and delivered a relaxed funk. Nai Palm grooved effortlessly to tracks like Swamp Thing and Molasses and one by one the crowd stood up. Before long there were people dancing in the aisles. The energy felt electric and the more people that danced, the more relaxed the band seemed. There was laughter around the whole room as it transformed from a show to an all-in jam session. It was infectious and ensured they ended on a very well deserved standing ovation.

Photo by Prudence Upton

Photo by Prudence Upton