Kings of the Jungle — Cat Empire at the Troubadour

Kings of the Jungle — Cat Empire at the Troubadour

The Cat Empire -- photo by Martin Philbey

The experience of a live concert can certainly be exhilarating and can often bring an added level of appreciation to the music of some particular artists.  Musicians such as Dave Matthews, Bruce Springsteen, and Phish are habitually referred to as “great live acts”.  It”™s not that the music of these artists does not stand on its own, but rather that their musicianship or showmanship or the improvisational nature of their playing simply takes the experience of hearing them to another level in a live context.

This concept has been taken to entirely new and stratospheric heights by Australian band, The Cat Empire, who opened the North American leg of their current world tour one Saturday night in November at the Troubadour Theatre in Los Angeles.

Still largely unknown to U.S. audiences, The Cat Empire has been touring the globe nearly non-stop since 2001.  The six members of the band (pianist Ollie McGill, songwriter/percussionist Felix Riebl, bassist Ryan Monroe, trumpeter / singer Harry Angus, DJ spinner Jamshid Khadiwala, and drummer Will Hull-Brown) have developed a sound and style that is nearly uncategorical.  This is partly because their music jumps from genre to genre throughout all four of their studio albums, and their international success is not surprising when you hear the music shift style from pop to jazz to samba to salsa to ska to hip hop to reggae to old eastern European, amongst many others along the way.  With such a wide spectrum of sound on the disks, every the most stubborn listener is bound to find something they like on The Cat Empire records.

At the Troubadour on Saturday night, the mid-size venue was packed to the gills with their relatively small in number, but fervently devoted followers.  Opening act Allensworth was an excellent choice to begin the evening, as the San Diego based band lead off with an impressively smooth and cool collection of tunes.  But make no mistake; this crowd was here for the Empire.

The Cat Empire -- the guys in action

From the moment they stepped on stage, the evening obtained an almost transcendent, hypnotic quality.  I say this from the standpoint that many of the details of the evening simply fell away.  They began their set at full throttle and did not let go for the entire evening, and the audience was collectively rapt the entire night.  The Cat Empire is composed of accomplished musicians, not showy rock stars, and this is the thing that creates such a truly awesome live experience.  This band has been touring so extensively and their musicianship is so exemplary that you cannot help but become hypnotized by their performance.  Not a band to simply replicate the album version of their songs in concert, The Cat Empire will often veer off during their bridges into extended solos and jam sessions geared to profile each of their members”™ prolific talents.  Even their most recognizable song in the US, Sly, was transformed into a platform for Hull-Brown to tear into an extended solo that would make Buddy Rich green with envy.  Every member was given ample time to wow the audience, but perhaps no one did so as overwhelmingly as Angus, whose trumpet solos were reminiscent of the big band sound of Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, and Chet Baker.  As they ploughed from song to song over the course of the two plus hour set, the audience was transfixed together in awe of a treasure that, for at least a little while longer, will be the privileged property of a lucky few in this country.

Though, like any appreciative music lover who has stumbled upon a gem, the selfish part of me does not want others to discover The Cat Empire, so I can always be one of the chosen few who knows them, I would be completely remiss if I did tell as many people as I could to NOT miss a chance to see this band the next time they come to your town.  Seeing The Cat Empire live is to experience musical ecstasy, and no one should be denied that pleasure.

Review by Zach Jacobs

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.



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