The Cat Empire are an interesting beast. Defining them really is an impossible task, combining infectious latin grooves, a good dose of reggae, a few morsels of swing, funk and jazz, and a little pinch of hip hop. Throw in a fantastic live show and a willingness to tour relentlessly, and you’re just about there.
Currently on their 10th Anniversary tour of the UK and Europe, they hit Bristol O2 Academy on 23rd October, quickly adding another on the 24th due to massive demand. I spoke to Felix on the phone after the 2 night stint. They are one of the few bands where the sheer musical ability of all the members grabs you. They incorporate a lot of jazz-style improvisation which is often quite inaccessible for an audience in a predominantly rock venue, but somehow everyone is transfixed, hanging on every note and beat. It’s a performance with a warm, friendly feeling to it.There are small touches that just make the performance feel so much more welcoming, from the three way swapping of solos between the horn section to the fantastic vocal range, trumpet skills and scatting ability of Harry James Angus. Felix Riebl, the front man and percussionist, has a very easy, laid back demeanour while performing which certainly helps bring the varied demographic of the crowd together.
They are also one of those rare bands that doesn’t employ a guitarist. This creates a strange sense of space within the music, and really gives Ollie McGill (keyboards, vocals, melodica) room to flex his musical muscles. Underpin this with a rock solid rhythm section and the scratching skills of Jamshid “DJ Jumps” Khadiwhala, and you have a very playful, danceable sound that will bring a whole room full of punks, jazz enthusiasts, hippies, parents, children, students and pretty much anyone else you can imagine together.
They travel through their older material this time round, but still bringing out favourites such as ‘Two Shoes’, ‘Hello’, ‘Sly’, ‘Miserere’ and ‘The Chariot’, before finally launching into ‘The Wine Song’ and transforming the entire crowd into a writhing mass of care-free dancing lunatics.
Compared to their gig here about this time last year, they do seem a little more reserved. Maybe the nostalgia of looking back over their 10 year career has got to them or maybe they were a bit tired. This is all relative, however. They still delivered tune after tune and played phenomenally.
One thing is for certain; this band will always keep filling venues wherever they go. And I thoroughly recommend making sure you are in one of those venues. You will not be disappointed.
Cat Empire’s latest LP Cinema is out now via EMI. See here for an interview conducted with the band prior to their Bristol show: /2011/11/04/interview-the-cat-empire/