Concert review: Hiatus Kaiyote at the SingJazz Festival

Hiatus Kaiyote performing at the SingJazz Festival.
Hiatus Kaiyote performing at the SingJazz Festival. PHOTO: COURTESY OF FULL CIRCLE PUBLIC RELATIONS

Marina Bay Sands Events Plaza

Last Friday

With a made-up name and a lead singer that seemed to be channelling all sorts of animal spirits, those new to Australian band Hiatus Kaiyote might not quite know what to expect from them, save that this five-year-old quartet had been nominated for Grammys twice - in 2013 and again this year.

As it turned out, being open to possibility was a rewarding approach to these musicians from Melbourne, anchored by vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Nai Palm and her bracingly original neo-soul, which was like Aretha Franklin meets Herbie Hancock.

Kicking off in a crush of ascending chords with Shaolin Monk Motherfunk, they unleashed soaring, trippy jags of rhythm that were now undulating and then hopping like the most exuberant reggae kings, amid ever-distorted melodies. Only Paul Bender's bassline was uncomplicated, dragging along like a deadweight throughout their nine-song set.

With their penchant for switching beats up and down without warning, listeners could never quite tell which world they were in: Were they in the Sahara, rocking about on camels? Or in Native American country, dodging arrows? And why did it often feel like they were running through fields of gold?

No matter. They were all lapping up the suddenly bracing, suddenly lulling ballads, which Palm called "the sound of serendipity". Thus had her gift for song transcended the agonies of her childhood, which included losing her mother to cancer at nine and then her father, in a house fire, at 13.

What a head trip it all was, as if one were tumbling about in slow motion, to lyrics such as those on their second song, Laputa, a tribute to anime maven Hayao Miyazaki's work Laputa: Castle In The Sky (1986). "Graphite to paper/A saga- born, hand-drawn artisan dreamer/ Miyazaki frontier/A crystal-clear picture of aluminium seeker/This view from here is airborne," yowled Palm, whose intense delivery was like a cross between an edgy Alicia Keys and a sassy Christina Aguilera.

She made like a lynx on Jekyll, the climax of their consistently excellent performance, as her back-up singers craned their necks and then pulled them back to percussionist Perrin Moss' now-sliding, now- juddering rhythms.

Keyboardist Simon Mavin then broke out in lush glissandos, recalling the summer sun piercing through thickets of trees.

He had also excelled earlier, sending out ripples of sound on the mesmerising Molasses, which had shades of Bob James' slick theme from the 1970s television sitcom Taxi.

Palm then paused at 10.45pm to yell: "We have 11 minutes left."

She had been acutely conscious from the get-go that time on their 40-minute set was ticking by.

With a "I'm gonna shut up and fit more music in," she launched into a new song. Referring to hummingbirds and she neighed - yes, like a horse - to the night sky, bucked and then howled her lungs out at the climax.

They closed with their first Grammy-nominated song, the off-kilter Nakamarra, revelling as always in their unpredictability.

Too soon, they had the crowd chanting, "We want more."

But they could not oblige with an encore as, among other things, the venue's nightly light show was about to begin. The long chorus of boos that ensued was an unfitting end to Hiatus Kaiyote's rousing talent.