Telling people you're off to see an Australian soul band might lead to a few raised eyebrows. But Melbourne's Grammy-nominated Hiatus Kaiyote continue to make believers out of music fans and skeptics worldwide, and they brought their own version of the Thunder from Down Under to the Constellation Room on Thursday night.
The show was the band's latest stop in an American tour supporting their new album, Choose Your Weapon, which was released earlier this month. While the Constellation Room inside the Observatory is usually reserved for smaller acts, the packed show proved that the band is primed for a bigger audience.
The strongest reaction from the crowd came early in the set for "Nakamarra," a track from the band's first album, Tawk Tomahawk, that earned Hiatus Kaiyote a Grammy nomination in 2013. The 80-minute set drew mostly from the new album, however, including "Borderline With My Atoms," "Laputa," a jazz-inflected version of "Jekyll," and "Shaolin Monk Motherfunk." The songs from the new album already felt well-worn, and the band bounced through improvisation sections and rhythmic changes that reconfigured some of the recently released tracks.
Singer Nai Palm looked out at the crowd from beneath Bettie Page bangs, and rocked a gypsy glam outfit that would rival Karen O at her most kaleidoscopic. Moving effortlessly from guitar to piano, Palm owned the room the minute the band took the stage. Her easygoing presence kept things light, even as the band dove into heavier material. One new song, which Palm said was inspired by "the music of the Sahara desert," set the band's soulful side aside for a moment and picked up the quirky rhythms of math-rock artists like Battles.
While Nai is clearly the face and voice of the band, the engine that makes Hiatus Kaiyote run is keyboardist and synth manipulator Simon Mavin. His panoply of sounds, including digitized backing vocals borrowed from Daft Punk, was an orchestral force that seemed to expand the band's powers far beyond the four people on stage. Drummer Perrin Moss played like a drum machine gone rogue, tweaking time signatures and tempos with a jazzy, old-school hip-hop feel that kept heads bobbing throughout the set. And bassist Paul Bender filled out the low end with equal measures of fuzzed-out effects, subtle chords and quick arpeggios.
The band's set felt a lot like both of their albums, in that many of the songs were broken up by interlude-style jams. Palm alternatively danced and crouched out of sight as her bandmates created and improvised around her; she occasionally looked around as if she was still surprised that the complex instrumentation swirling through the room was her own personal playground. And judging by the crowd's reaction at the end of the night, Hiatus Kaiyote is welcome to come back and play in Orange County whenever they want.