Hiatus Kaiyote has an army of co-signers that most up and coming musicians can only dream of. Think Taylor McFerrin, Gilles Peterson, Erykah Badu, Anthony Valadez, Questlove, Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective. And come on, who would defy such an imposing group of tastemakers? Still, if their approvals aren’t convincing enough, there’s the band’s avant garde debut Tawk Tomahawk, which was released independently last year. It’s an eclectic mix of jazz, alternative R&B and “future soul” that, while reminiscence of progressive soul acts like Little Dragon, feels a little too unparalleled to be put them in any one box.
Once an underrated gem, Tawk Tomahawk has been rediscovered amid the buzz. Since then, the Melbourne band has been experiencing a whirlwind of success. They’re touring around the world, have recently signed to Grammy-nominated hip-hop producer Saalam Remi’s Flying Buddha record label, and have released a remix album of Tawk Tomahawk called, Tawk Takeout. But their all-star supporters are merely an afterthought as is the recent hype that surrounds them—though it’s all rightly deserved. Talent is the ultimate test and they’ve more than demonstrated that they possess a lot of it with their show at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, New York. Their alternative take on soul music was undeniable: you’d better check your pulse, if you couldn’t feel the music.
The sold-out show featured songs from Hiatus’ debut album and new additions like the all-consuming track, “Breathing Underwater.” Its opener “Lace Skull” was strong. A haunting yet exultant jazzy number, it had its share of competition. Crowd favorites “Nakamarra” and “Mobius Streak” were transformed into heavenly hymns with charming instrumentals led by Perrin Moss (drums), Paul Bender (bass) and Simon Mavin (keys), which were like butter alongside songbird Nai Palm’s richly textured voice.
Though Palm’s vocals were primed to make a few jaw drops, the synergy that the band possessed as a whole was simply striking. It was interesting to see each band member play with deviating styles in songs like “Atari,” “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk” and “Boom Child.” Each of them seemed to take different routes in their musical journey, whether it was trilling riffs or swooshing drumming, but they managed to end up at the same funky endpoint.
Palm stepped aside a few times to give each band mate their time in the spotlight, even calling upon musicians outside of the band to join the group on stage including opera singer Ashley Grier, who sang with her on “Malika.” While the lyrics to some of the songs weren’t always discernible, it wasn’t hard to have an emotional or spiritual connection to what you heard, especially with the celestial adlibs that followed. There was dancing, incense and a letter thrown on stage by a enthusiastic fan who asked the band to “never change” but to “evolve.” It sounded like an impossible feat for a futuristic band that had done all the evolving humanly possible on one record. But Palm and the gang showed no angst. They kept jamming while infusing the audience with their mystical grooves. All bets were off for the moment. Everything seemed possible then.