There’s a crush of boho twentysomethings up against Brighton’s Concorde stage, working themselves up into a state of such anticipation that the appearance of a sober-looking tour manager bearing towels and water is greeted with a ragged cheer. They go nuts when Hiatus appear. It’s one of those occasions when band and audience look interchangeable. Frontwoman Nai Palm sports a leather blouson and baseball cap, heavy eyeshadow and a furry tail, like a b-girl raccoon – she looks a little nervy at first, even taken aback by the enthusiastic response, but quickly warms to the task, hitting every note squarely on the head.
Three songs in and they’ve delivered their biggest number, ‘Nakamarra’, a sunny, meandering take on jazzy nu-soul. Then we’re into the material from the new album. Nai Palm negotiates the twists and turns of the ever-denser arrangements on her spangly silver guitar as the band match every one of her melismatic vocal lines. The sound originates in soul funk but assiduously avoids the clichés, while recombining many of the same elements – Simon Marvin on keys adds twinkly Rhodes, adroitly handled analogue synth textures and Maschine-triggered samples, while Perrin Moss on drums supplies rim clicks and jagged kick-drum drops and keeps on top of the ever-shifting meters and recombining cross-rhythms. Paul Bender, surely vying with Submotion Orchestra’s Chris Hargreaves for the genre’s most impressively bearded bassist, provides the backbone of the sound and some requisite fusion-chops flash.
They’ve staked out the territory somewhere between Snarky Puppy (to whom they narrowly lost a 2013 Grammy nomination) and Jill Scott, soulful but also propulsive and unsettling. But there’s hints that their influences are drawn from a broader palette - an unexpected reworking of a composition by pre-modernist electronica icon Daphne Oran approaches the kind of furious intricacy associated with Frank Zappa in his more serious moods. They’re impressively tight and make a massive sound for such a small unit, indicating countless hours spent playing together. Fellow Melbourne native Remi joins them for a freestyle rap and some sinuous dance moves, and his relaxed presence is a welcome addition to the set, drawing a big grin from the taciturn Marvin.
It’s a real band sound, a product of mutual respect, a shared vision and a lot of hard work, that can’t be faked. The crowd are rocking, greeting Moss’ jagged beat breakdown with whoops and cheers and trying to sing along despite the indecipherable lyrics and notable absence of melodic hooks or killer choruses. It might be offputtingly cerebral were it not for unassuming warmth and sincerity of Nai Palm’s onstage persona. They’re on the leading edge of a curve and it’ll be intriguing to see where they head for next.
– Eddie Myer
– Photos by Rob Hogg