The Hi-Fi, Friday August 31
With most of the Kiwi population of Brisbane packing out The Hi-Fi, opening act Paua’s introductory line is perfectly judged: “We come from Brisbane, via Aotearoa!” calls frontman Jay. With sweet three-part harmonies already stroking our eardrums along with epic basslines and ace muted trumpet solos that typify the genre as much as red, yellow and green, it’s impossible to not keep moving right from the start.
A song introduced as “taking it back to our Uncle Jamma’s era… the 1920s” turns out to be a cover of Slow Jam, a delicious love affair between Nick on the vibraphone and Cassie on alto sax — has The Hi-Fi ever been quite so romantic? Seamless transitions maintain a rapt crowd through Addicted, a new number with a great slow-burn vibe and dissonance-riddled bass, and Babylon, which sees the lyric “they’re calling me a criminal, because I smoke a little thing that grows natural” and in response, plumes of smoke rise from points throughout the crowd, blurring with impunity the meek A4 signs BluTack-ed to the walls: “No smoking please and thank you.”
Paua round off their excellent opening set with their new single Time Heals and crowd favourite singalong Coming Home. With a final “thank you, whanau!” they make way for their heroes, and tonight’s superstars, to take the stage.
Katchafire are such a staple of the New Zealand music scene that it’s really likely that the entirety of the expatriate community in Brisbane have indeed showed up to sell out the venue — the band’s success is matter of national pride.
The nine-piece are impossible to fault. Opening with the title track of their new album On The Road Again, years of back-to-back touring is apparent not just in the tightness and effortless ease of everyone on stage, but the engaging horn lines, angular synth leads and the exploration of a genre that could be easy to dismiss as formulaic. It becomes apparent just how a band like Katchafire could continue to tour back-to-back for years — because the music is designed to make us feel good, and warmth and love really does come rippling off stage along with the echoey, laid-back brass of songs like Irie and Lead Us, through a crowd of people with midsections rolling compulsively to those familiar two-and-four keyboard stabs.
Jordan Bell and Leon Davey swap drums for a microphone and percussion for drums to mix up the line-up for Sweet As, a perfectly Aotearoa-encapsulated love song, and trade back in preparation for the massive reception to their equally massive breakout single Giddy Up. “Are you ready to go to the next level?” lead singer Logan Bell calls and then takes us there anyway, climbing a column of shredded guitars and squealing horns and even fatter basslines into a glorious return to their roots as a Bob Marley cover band: it’s Three Little Birds, Paua is joining them on stage, and the crowd rewards them with the sweetest, most tuneful singing along I’ve ever heard.
An ultra-high energy encore with drums and percussion trading solos and some bona fide skanking going on in the front lines completes the night. With the green-smelling haze making halos around the stage lights and the hum of good vibes all around, you could imagine those muted horn solos reaching your ears under the stars on an island in the South Pacific — and once again, Katchafire have done the best thing reggae can do and taken all of us to a place we’d rather be.
SAM GEORGE-ALLEN is a Brisbane writer, postgrad student and musician who can be found being disappointing @samga