“Music is the language of us all…”
That memorable line from The Cat Empire’s “How to Explain,” the second song of their recent DC set, appropriately encapsulated the atmosphere in a fairly packed 930 Club.
On this balmy Oct. 26 evening the Australian 8-piece, who are on tour in the United States for the first time since the COVID lockdown, provided much needed mirth and light heartedness. Backdropped against several seemingly existential crises happening around the world, the smile-o-meter was nonetheless off the richter scale, as people put their worries and anxieties aside to shake their bodies, sing along, and overall just partake in the musical merriment.
On tour to support their latest album release, 2023’s Where The Angels Fall, most of the set list comprised tunes from this LP (released in July via Diggers Factory!). From rhythm-forward, boogie anthems like “Boom Boom” and “Dance The Night Away” to more thought provoking numbers like “Owl,” these freshly created songs dominated the night.
Stream The Cat Empire’s setlist from their Oct. 26 show at 9:30 Club on Spotify:
Still, when The Cat Empire dove into older parts of their catalog, performing chart-topping classics like “Two Shoes” and “The Lost Song,” you could almost feel that sense of deep fan appreciation; music junkies scoring their fix from the band’s well-worn melodies and rhythmic patterns that rose them to fame in the early 2000s.
I feel that “eclectic” can be a bit of a cop out term when describing a band’s musical influences, and certainly is a much-too-used word in my own personal lexicon, but The Cat Empire truly offers up an eclectic collection of songs — pulling from a myriad of global cultural styles, their influences range from ska and calypso to reggae and jazz all the way to pop and mid-century American R&B. Case in point, during his solo in the pop-laced jingle “Fishies,” drummer Daniel Farrugia seamlessly weaved across multiple genres, from a shimmering jazz run all the way to an aggressive 4/4 breakbeat, before finishing in an effortless polyrhythm section across the cymbals and toms. A nice opportunity for Farrugia to show who, in this vast sea of multi- percussionists that is The Cat Empire, the real slapping-the-skins master is.
The band’s current line-up has some glaring absences for long-time fans, most notably in the form of trumpetist/singer Harry James Angus and bassist Ryan Monro, both founding members who didn’t come back after the Aussies disbanded briefly in 2021. However, founding lead singer and percussionist Felix Riebl and founding keyboardist Ollie McGill, are still very much holding the reins of the Empire, and have selected a strong and impressive cast of musicians to round out the 8-piece group.
Rounding out the core rhythm section of keys, bass, drum set, and guitars, were a trio of sexy-saxy horn players (two trumpets and a trombone). And the percussion…my god, there were drums everywhere. Beyond Farrugia’s anchor kit playing, there was a rotating cast of percussionists, including lead man Felix and his sidekick singer Neda Rahmani. Each member had a chance to show off their musical skill, as jam breaks and solos were peppered throughout the night. Even the guitarist from the opening act, High Fade, got in on the action, hopping on stage to deliver a searing, blues-driven solo during “Brighter Than Gold.”
Watch the official music video for “Brighter Than Gold” by The Cat Empire on YouTube:
And The Cat Empire did a really formidable job using the full breadth of personnel they have — the sound could get super wide and busy, but then suddenly pared down to provide a minimalistic counter balance when needed (but on that note… it does always break my heart to see a trombonist clap for a whole song).
Oh, and can I just say that Felix is one of the most empathetic front humans I have ever seen perform?! (And, yes, I have seen Nick Cave live.) The way he broke down talking about his brother Max, who sadly passed away after a long and painful fight with brain cancer, to be able to then rebound and capture the collective joy while describing his elation to finally be touring the globe again, was just an emotional roller coaster for the audience. The tune dedicated to his brother (who, as an 8-year-old, designed the Empire’s ubiquitous cat eye logo) was a moving piece, and definitely marked the most somber part of the evening’s festivities.
All in all, The Cat Empire showed us, as they have countless times before, that music truly is the language of us all; it brings folks from totally different backgrounds and environments and binds them together with a shared passion; it lifts people up who are going through hard times; and it celebrates the diversity of life and love and joy.
While it was mildly disappointing that I wasn’t able to mosh while serving out my reporters’ duties (c’mon, check out the usual type of band I cover here on Parklife), I nonetheless had plenty of fun tearing a rug with the rest of that packed 930 Club room.