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AAA Music | 22 July 2019

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The Cat Empire – Live @ Brixton Academy

| On 22, Oct 2013

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Sunday 20th October, London

Australian ska, jazz, funk, Latin, reggae and rock band The Cat Empire came to the Brixton Academy with a job to do. And they did it, owning the crowd and raising the bar for live act performances across all genres.

The band took to the stage as an eight-piece (usually a six-piece) and showed 100% energy from the instant they bounded onto the set, launching straight into ‘Steal the Light’, a track off their newest album of the same name. There is something about the trills of trumpets that rile up an audience like nothing else, and the sea of hands in the air and synchronized bouncing across the dangerously sloped angle of the Brixton Academy stalls showed the reaction to the many trumpet solos. One particularly excited concert-goer held their crutches above their heads from the middle of the mosh-pit, perfectly portraying the audience’s commitment to the cause.

It was a beautiful moment when lead vocalist and trumpeter, Harry James Angus, encouraged the crowd to “not be shy” and link up with strangers, even encouraging the crowd to turn their backs from the stage if necessary to indulge in some stranger-lovin’, saying: “Sometimes I think it’s great to just change direction”. However, they did the very thing I hoped they wouldn’t. After my album review for Steal the Light included my vicious dislike for their 2003 track, ‘Hello’ – they played it. Now for the unthinkable part: I almost enjoyed it. Sure, it still has awful lyrics: “If she was a phone I’d pick her up and dial the fire brigade or 000. She stopped me in my tracks and I said ‘mm hchello hchello’”, but the maturity of the band over the last decade can be summed up by finding this song tolerable that night.

Every song had times where each band member seemed lost in their instrument, with Harry even admitting after one particularly adventurous song: “We were right on the edge there”. And yes, this did sound messy and at times didn’t work, but you can’t fault their enthusiasm, and when they got it right, they got it so right. Other lead vocalist and percussionist, Felix Riebl, would sing his heart out at the mic, before strolling over to the bongo drums and hitting them with all his rhythmic might, reminiscent of Bastille, while Harry stalked the stage during the musical explosions that were the solos.

Cat Empire 2

The opening band Flap!, also Australian, did a great job of warming up the crowd. However, it was unfortunate the stage was set for The Cat Empire, resulting in the sound not being great for Flap!, with their lyrics and most instruments being lost in a loud reverberation throughout the hall.

This concert was without a doubt one of the best concerts I have been to in a long, long time. It was so full of energy, with The Cat Empire looking as though they genuinely love what they do, with the swagger that only a stage full of Australians could have. There is something heartwarming about seeing a crowd so happy and buzzing. I think a lot of this comes from the excitement of seeing a band from home when you’re on the other side of the world. I had this feeling when I saw New Zealand band SIX60 back in May and I believe, in these instances, the crowd and the band develop a symbiotic relationship, using each other’s energy to lift the performance higher and higher.

Every instrument was gifted a solo (yes even the bongos), and my drum-playing boyfriend was itching for drummer Will Hull-Brown to be given the limelight and when it was finally delivered towards the end of the show it was worth the wait. It was rhythmic genius and when he flew into Guns N Roses’ ‘Paradise City’, the crowd ecstatically sung the lyrics at the top of their lungs back at him.

It seemed impossible to think that when The Cat Empire announced their final song the crowd would be able to produce a distinguishable encore cheer, given their average volume throughout the concert was eardrum-bursting. But after a few roars of “we want more!” they bounded back on stage to treat the ever-loyal crowd to two more songs. Finishing on ‘All Night Loud’ was The Cat Empire’s way of thanking everybody for coming along and sharing their passion for their music. Even though this is a slow song, sounding like ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay, the atmosphere didn’t chill out for too long, with their final goodbyes being followed by their signature dance beat behind the ‘All Night Loud’ track. This allowed the crowd to jump up and down one last time before orderly exiting back out onto the streets of Brixton, high off the euphoric experience of witnessing a band that definitely came to play.

Rachael Pilkington

Setlist:

  1. Steal the Light 
  2. In My Pocket 
  3. How to Explain? 
  4. Prophets in the Sky 
  5. Two Shoes 
  6. Hello 
  7. The Darkness 
  8. Brighter Than Gold 
  9. Sleep Won’t Sleep 
  10. The Wine Song 
  11. Still Young 
  12. Am I Wrong

Encore:

  1. The Chariot 
  2. All Night Loud