If you could describe Hiatus Kaiyote with one word, it would be generous; generous in their sound, in their stage presence and in the number of talented musical buddies they invited to share the stage as supports. It took three acts before they even made it into the spotlight, and it was well worth it.
Although small in stature, Sampa the Great, the first to take to the stage with her band and back up singers, was a sight to behold. Exploding with energy and spunk, the Sydney-via-Zambia singer, poet and rapper crooned deeply and made spitting fast, sharp rhymes look like a cinch. To my disbelief, I later found out that it was Sampa’s first time showcasing her soul-infused hip-hop live on stage.
Amping the punk up was Melbourne-based experimental group, Jaala. Lead singer, Cosima Jaala looked like an early-2000s Gwen Stefani and joked, “We’re here to shred!” but she wasn’t all that wrong. In spite of all the key and tempo changes, Jaala’s jolty funk sound was tight, if not a little exhausting at times. Bassist Loretta Wilde was kept on her toes by zigzagging bass lines and Cosima Jaala kept the audience hanging with her saccharine vocals.
By this stage, I was well and truly ready for Hiatus Kaiyote. It was time to see the band I came here to see… except it wasn’t. And I’m glad, because it meant I was able to experience Sex On Toast, an ensemble who describe themselves as “irrepressibly charming 10 man organisation”. My grin and the grin of many others was probably the most irrepressible part of their performance and audience members couldn’t help but laugh as Sex on Toast, all donned in black, played a high-energy blend of 80s-inspired funk, soul and R&B (including ‘Oh, Loretta!’ dedicated to Jaala’s bassist) and remained unfalteringly serious during their whole set.
When Hiatus Kaiyote’s lead singer Nai Palm, in her fantastic black sparkly suit, appeared on stage, the night’s music returned to more palatable soul. Masterfully curling her voice around notes, Palm filled the whole space with beautiful soul-drenched R&B. In between playing songs from their debut Tawk Tomahawk and their recently released record Choose Your Weapon, Palm revealed the inspiration behind some of the newer tracks as Japanese anime films and the glass art of a crazy cat lady. She exchanged smiles with the rest of the incredibly talented band and the three back up singers who supplied the effortless harmonies and are likely to be the ‘gangster’ in Hiatus Kaiyote’s personal genre classification: “multi-dimensional, polyrhythmic gangster shit”.
Despite having performed at dozens of international festivals, selling out shows across America, earning a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Performance last year, being featured by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and having starred on the Tonight Show with Leno, the Melbournian future soul four-piece are only now enjoying some locally brewed hype.
It may have taken longer than the Americans for us Aussies to recognise their talent, but the Metro crowd was no less rapturous as Hiatus Kaiyote played and the audience adoration was ultimately awarded with a shimmering, flawless set.
Photography by Dave Nutting.