Hiatus Kaiyote / Tanika Charles

Phoenix Concert Hall, Toronto ON, July 29

Hiatus Kaiyote / Tanika CharlesPhoenix Concert Hall, Toronto ON, July 29
Photo: Kevin Jones
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The overarching mantra for future-soul darlings Hiatus Kaiyote is "multi-dimensional, polyrhythmic gangster shit."
 
Truth in advertising, ladies and gentlemen.
 
The Melbourne, Australia-based quartet — as helmed by Naomi "Nai Palm" Saalfield — reside in a chill zone where '90s neo-soul-era kick snares, synths and bass guitar rule the day. It's a groovy place to be.
 
Opening act Tanika Charles set the night's mood off nicely; she's riding high off the recent release of long-gestating debut album Soul Run and its subsequent Polaris Music Prize nomination and it showed. Performing cuts off the project provided just a taste of the energy she can release when given a longer set.
 
If 2012's Tawk Tomahawk effectively introduced listeners to Hiatus Kaiyote's musical mode, last year's Choose Your Weapon proved to be a pacesetter. Using soul music as the base camp, exploratory numbers like "Borderline with My Atoms" and "Breathing Underwater" are best experienced live, feeling fully formed yet amorphous at once.
 
Wearing a white t-shirt adorned by a stylized depiction of an aghast Ned Flanders from TV's The Simpsons, Nai Palm kept the stage banter to a minimum — outside the standard, "How you feeling, (current city)?", ad lib to fade, etc — but it was all good.
 
The band's music can lend itself to protracted navel-gazing, but it was for the most part corralled in favour of a streamlined performance. Nai Palm's lyrics are delightfully unpredictable in structure and tone; her vocal delivery, guitar musicianship and presence come off ad hoc yet in full command.
 
The jazz swing of "Shaolin Funk Motherfunk" is counterbalanced by the Latin fusion of "The World It Softly Lulls" — all capably handled by Perrin Moss (percussion), Paul Bender (bass), and Simon Mavin (keys). Dropping in two new, untitled tracks (tentatively assume the names are "Close to Your Molecules" and "The Words We Don't Say") kept things fresh.
 
The eventual appearance of the Grammy-nominated neo-soul track "Nakamurra" signalled the winding down of a nearly 90-minute set. The punctuated funk of "Molasses" dripped down shortly after, like the syrupy topping for the night's hot funk sundae.
 
Call it neo-soul, jazz-funk — what it can't be called is uninspired. Hiatus Kaiyote served up a show that demonstrated that soul music from their Down Under perspective is an expansive, elliptical musical experience.

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