If you’ve ever been interested in multi-dimensional, polyrhythmic, gangster sh-t but have yet to stumble across any, give Hiatus Kaiyote a try. The above description is the band’s own, though the Australian band could also be described as rhythm and blues, neo-soul, jazz, funk or electronic, depending on which part of the song you’re listening to. The point is you’ve never heard anything like the music they’re making.
The band released their first album, “Tawk Tomahawk,” in 2012 to critical acclaim and even a Grammy nomination for best R&B performance for the standout track “Nakamarra.” Soon after, their rise to prominence was boosted when a remix of “Nakamarra” was released with a guest verse from hip-hop legend Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest).
After “Tawk Tomahawk,” buzz about Hiatus Kaiyote increased and their next album became highly anticipated. This past December, the band teased their fans with a three-song EP entitled “By Fire.” These three songs would eventually end up on their sophomore record “Choose Your Weapon,” released May 1.
The album was well received, getting a score of 88 on rating-aggregate website Metacritic, indicating “universal acclaim.” These songs are not your standard verse-chorus-bridge compositions; they contain an astonishing complexity built by a combination of tempo and time signature changes, strange instruments and a wide variety of musical influences.
The band came to Philadelphia’s Underground Arts May 8 as part of their “Choose Your Weapon” tour. The dark, intimate environment provided by Underground Arts was the perfect backdrop for their music.
The eccentric lead singer Nai Palm walked on stage in a shimmering sequin jacket, to which an audience member screamed, “I love your sequins!” after the initial explosion of applause died down. This interaction began a dialogue between Palm and the audience that would persist throughout the night.
After an introductory jam, the band launched into, “Breathing Underwater.” The entrancing yet dynamic tune captivated the audience with its clean guitar intro, spacey details and repeating lyrical motifs.
Next, they moved into the title track of their EP, “By Fire.” The funky, danceable song sonically contrasts its lyrical content: a tribute to Palm’s father who died in a fire. Next, the band played their most famous song, “Nakamarra,” which was met with an emphatic round of applause.
The band then continued to move through a slew of material off of their most recent album, including the crowd-pleasers “Laputa,” “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk” and “Borderline with My Atoms.” After announcing that the next song was a tribute to Michael Jackson, the heavy baseline of “Swamp Thing” shook the room.
Palm introduced the band members during the bridge of their final song, and they walked off with the hysterical crowd begging for an encore. As they came back, they were visibly pleased to give the audience two more energetic songs.
If you missed this concert but are interested in seeing them, you’re in luck. Hiatus Kaiyote will play the Roots Picnic May 30 alongside The Roots, Erykah Badu, The Weeknd and others. Even though these huge acts may seem to overshadow, one of the main attractions of the Roots Picnic lineup is the mesmerizing, ever-changing performance of Hiatus Kaiyote.