Katchafire and Maoli
A sparse, but intimate crowd gathered at Club Nokia Saturday to hear island reggae groups Katchafire and Maoli. The acts, from New Zealand and Hawaii respectively, are Polynesian musicians appropriating Jamaican music to fit their own cultural identity. The multi-ethnic, tribal tattooed crowd -- in Bob Marley tees and Rastafarian inspired Selah jerseys -- reflected this cultural gumbo. It was a night where sorority types puff puff passed and men backed it up on each other.
9:12pm I arrived late; the show has already started. Amazingly, the small crowd couldn't even fill the orchestra pit. Maoli's lead singer Glenn Awong was dressed in black with a fitted cap, a button up shirt, and a towel dangling from the back pocket of his shorts. Awong gripped his water bottle while singing over the lazy dub rhythms of "Rock Easy" in his smooth, R&B voice. The band, far from flashy, looked like they were performing at a sound check; that's not to say, however, that they weren't focused.
9:18pm Wah wah guitar effects introduced Mark Morrison's "Return of the Mack," of all tracks. Awong's voice barely rose above the band, but it didn't really matter, as everyone knew the words. A swaying mass of women in flowing dresses shook their hips.
9:28pm Maoli's guitarist Jordan T. was not just some surfer guy, despite his scraggly dirty blonde hair, Defend Hawaii tanktop, and tri-colored sunglasses. He offered the best vocal performance of the night, with falsetto notes, each more difficult than the last. When he wasn't singing, he unleashed piercing guitar solos with Guns N' Roses energy. Truly, he stole the show.
9:53pm Irie Love was brought out, a statuesque blonde singer-songwriter. But the crowd started to get antsy to hear more of Maoli's well known songs. They delivered with "Write Me A Letter" from their first album, Groovin'. Awong went from a Hawaiian accent ("hang it like a posta") to a guttural Jamaican inflection, with ease. Island reggae was originally known as Jawaiian. A thrashing reggae breakdown sounds good in any accent.
9:58pm Maoli performed an encore, following the crowd's chants of "Hana hou!" which is Hawaiian pidgin for "do it again." Their choice was "Blew It," off their latest album, Arize. The band's perfectly three part harmony rested delicately over the one-drop rhythm.
10:30pm A girl drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon stooped low to light her weed pipe. Katchafire was about to come out. Seconds later, ethereal synths emerged. The music sounded more appropriate for a UFO landing than a reggae concert. Katchafire's handsome lead singer Logan Bell led the band on stage. He had a very understated appearance in a fitted hat, black shirt, and light shorts.
10:32pm "Are you ready for some New Zealand roots music?" he asked, as the group launched into their song, "On The Road Again." The speakers were so loud, the the song's vibrations could be felt in the knees. The audience were clearly die-hard fans, singing along to Katchafire's lyrics ("London, Scotland, Ireland, Hawaii") like they'd memorized the band's flight itinerary.
10:38pm The crowd recognized "One Love" and began singing before percussionist Leon Davey could even get out his part. His high voice and staccato melody was echoed by the voices of the concertgoers. In the song, he exhorted his lover to not be shy, and the crowd certainly wasn't. Weed was passed and amorous couples mildly groped each other.
10:48pm After the ska-influenced "Get Away," a couple walked on stage and there was a wedding proposal. "Two years ago it was the worst time of my life and she came and saved me," said the guy, who bent down on one knee while the audience screamed.
11:21pm The concert kept getting better; percussionist Leon Davey, drummer Jordan Bell (Logan's brother), and saxophonist Jamey Ferguson switched off on lead vocals. They have a similar timbre (all are higher voiced tenors) but they exude different emotions. Ferguson showed his sensitive tough guy persona in the funky "Groove Again." Dressed in a bandana and a sleeveless shirt exposing his massive arms, he stiffly stepped from side to side, with his eyes closed.
11:33pm Katchafire was destined to become more than a Bob Marley cover band. After inviting Maoli and Irie Love for a rendition of "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," they launched into some genre mashing-up: "Done Did It" went from hip-hop salsa, to disco funk, to ska. Their three piece horn section sounded great. Thanks to constant touring, almost every song from the group turned into a virtuoso jam session.
Personal bias: Jamey Ferguson is my favorite Katchafire member. I'm willing to start an online petition for a solo album.
Katchafire set list below
Katchafire set list:
On The Road Again
Who You With
Is This Familiar
Collie Herb Man
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Everything's Gonna Be Alright (Bob Marley)
Done Did It
Reggae Revival (Encore)