Every year Somerset House in London plays host to the Summer Series at Somerset House with American Express®. The wonderful acoustics in the courtyard provide a perfect setting for listening to live music, and this year there is an impressive line-up of acts including stars such as Laura Mvula, James Morrison, and the act that I had the pleasure of going to see kick off the series, Hiatus Kaiyote.
Hiatus Kaiyote are a Grammy-nominated Australian soul quartet who superbly define their sound as “Multi-Dimensional, Polyrhythmic Gangster Sh*t“. The band members are bassist Paul Bender, keyboardist Simon Mavin, drummer Perrin Moss, and of course, singer and multi-instrumentalist Nai Palm (Naomi Saalfield). They have delivered two full length albums to date, both through Flying Buddha, with their latest release being a shorter EP, Recalibrations Vol.1, earlier this year.
The evening burst into life at 8pm with the incredibly energetic support act, Melt Yourself Down. The London-based six-piece combine many different genres and forms of music such as punk, jazz and funk, as well as North African elements, to create high-octane grooves that had the audience up and moving. The instrumentation of the band is an odd mix, with two saxophonists, two percussionists, a singer and a bassist, but worked really well to create a thick texture of sound and rhythm.
A notable MYD performer was the vocalist, Kushal Gaya, whose restless nature on-stage freed the audience of their inhibitions and got them moving with the band. From twerking to crotch-grabbing, samba dancing to ‘sing-what-I-sing’ Freddie Mercury-esque sections, Gaya’s energy perfectly encapsulated the band’s aesthetic and prepared the onlookers for a highly enjoyable evening.
At 9pm, the headliners Hiatus Kaiyote took to the stage and brought with them an aura like no other band I’ve had the pleasure of watching lately. It’s tough to describe this aura without sounding like a bit of a maniac, but anyone who has experienced it will know what I mean. They were instantly one with their audience, bridging the gap from band to fan – this was inclusive, they were grooving with us and not at us.
Upon listening to Hiatus Kaiyote’s unique brand of future-soul on record, you may be forgiven for thinking that they couldn’t pull off such vastly impressive poly-rhythmic grooves in a live setting – you’d be wrong, so wrong. Each member of the band is virtuosic on their instrument and has a great sense of feel, effortlessly slipping and sliding into each section whilst letting the music breath the perfect amount. I have seen tight bands before where their knowledge of the music is almost robotic in nature, but this was different. The music had real soul.
The live setup also brought with it three backing singers who provided a lot of energy to proceedings. I often found myself looking at their swaying for guidance when the poly-rhythms kicked in and I didn’t know which rhythm to follow. I never once saw any of them without a smile on their face and/or standing still, which has an almighty effect on the mood of the audience.
Nai Palm’s vocal performance was astounding. I’ve seen live videos of the band on YouTube but they do not do her voice justice, it sends chills down your spine. The same can be said for the rest of the band too. At some point in the gig I found myself mesmerised by a different performer; the way the drummer (Moss) switched grooves without losing tempo, the way the bassist (Bender) dictated the rhythm, the way the keyboardist (Mavin) effortlessly glided across the keys of his three-tiered wall of keyboards.
This was an incredibly special evening and atmosphere. The beautiful music was matched by the beautiful setting. As the evening progressed, the sky over Somerset House went from blue to orange to black, while the silhouettes of hundreds of adoring fans danced the night away under the stars and lights.
I thoroughly enjoyed this show. It’s one of those beautiful scenes that you only picture happening in the movies and was enough to send goosebumps down your spine. I was completely overawed by the whole occasion, it was just all too perfect.
Hiatus Kaiyote were absolutely breathtakingly amazing, I can’t speak highly of them enough, and I’m not sure I could because I’d run out of superlatives. The compositional complexities that they conjure up in the studio were executed with masterful musicianship and enviable technical ability, whilst always engaging the onlooking admirers with a flawless stage show.
Six words to some up the evening – ‘Can I borrow someone’s time machine’?
We Plug Good Music saw Hiatus Kaiyote perform as part of Summer Series at Somerset House with American Express, which runs from Thursday 7 July – Sunday 17 July 2016.
Summer Series at Somerset House is just one example of how American Express can get you closer to the action. To find out more – and to discover the highlights from this year’s headline acts, visit www.amexsummersounds.co.uk
Words by William Kitchener