Sydney Opera House, 29/05/17
Photos by Prudence Upton
Can we all please band together and demand that Hiatus Kaiyote (and/or associated artists) are a centrepiece of Vivid each year? Hiatus Kaiyote’s full band performance at last year’s festival was a clear highlight, and frontwoman Nai Palm’s solo performance last night is looking to be the same, albeit for completely different reasons.
Hiatus Kaiyote are, and I mean this in the best way possible, a band of (and for) music nerds. It’s why every time I attempt to describe the band, I end up devolving into a series of “uhhs” and eventually landing on, “they’re just fucking rad.” Doesn’t make for the best review, but that’s the best I’ve got! Seriously, each member of the quartet is so insanely talented that they lock together to create an intricate and intoxicating wall of odd tempos and soul-infused sounds. Their joking bio of “Multi-Dimensional, Polyrhythmic Gangster Shit” is surprisingly accurate. The only thing with this style is you don’t really get the chance to appreciate the talents of each member. Which is what made Nai Palm’s solo show so damn impressive.
From the moment she took to the intimate Drama Theatre stage, in what was clearly this year’s best outfit, it was obvious this was going to be a unique set. Rather than the grand, eerily-THX sounding entrance Hiatus made last year, Nai casually walked onto the stage and introduced us to her newest, most-metal looking guitar, Michael Jackson. She could barely see the crowd, and jokingly described the evening as a “set in my loungeroom”, which would come to be the perfect tagline for the evening and one which I’ll happily steal for this review!
The gig felt very much like being allowed to sit in on one of your friend’s jams (the good kind, not the ‘Wonderwall’ kind) as Nai treated us to a loose selection of stripped back Hiatus classics (such as ‘Breathing Underwater’ and ‘Borderline With My Atoms’) , covers of tracks by friends and influences (such as Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Have You Ever Been To Electric Ladyland’) and new songs, all with relaxed conversation in between.
The feel of the evening may have been loose, but Nai Palm’s voice was anything but, and the solo setting really allowed her to show off that amazing range, with the crowd breaking into cheers and applause every time she hit one of her iconic highs. Nai was also joined by three incredible backup singers whose exquisite harmonising perfectly complemented hers, especially during the back and forth ending of ‘Molasses’. Particularly impressive considering this was their first performance together.
Admittedly, I’d been a bit skeptical about how the complex arrangements of Hiatus Kaiyote’s tracks would fare in a solo setting, but it was actually really enjoyable to hear them stripped back like this. Many of the tracks began unrecognisably, and only began to take on familiarity with the inclusion of an iconic riff or lyric in a verse or chorus. In this way, the evening became a sort of ‘Music Bingo’ when people would try to guess the song before anyone else could identify it. Proving my earlier point about Hiatus’ music nerds, they’d then proceed to quietly hum along with some of the missing parts.
It’s hard to pick a highlight, but second-last song, and Hiatus Kaiyote hit ‘Nakamarra’ was a lot of fun, given the audience’s familiarity with the song, but having never heard it quite like this before. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the performance got me super keen for the next Hiatus gig, but now I’ll have even more appreciation for Nai’s voice, hearing how easily it can carry the songs if needed. Let’s just make sure to get those backup singers along for the ride…