"Whatever you think of Ngaiire's current live manifestation, she certainly has an abundance of (super)star quality as well as one of the finest voices in the country at present."
There are lanyarded-up AWME delegates swanning around the balcony section of Max Watt's tonight as Cumbia Cosmonauts take the stage. The band somehow manage to fuse a block party atmosphere with tropical elements and their retro visuals feature old-school, flashing fonts and desert island footage. It's instant vibe music and you've never felt more white in your life while dancing to these tunes, irrespective of your skin tone. Senegalese singer/dancer Lamine Sonko and trumpet player Olugbade Okunade are particularly worthy of note within this vibrant outfit.
Fresh from co-hosting The Age Music Victoria Awards the other night, Chris Gill (Northside Records) is tonight's MC. He asks that we keep Paris in our thoughts and points out that Eagles Of Death Metal (whose concert at the Bataclan ended abruptly when gunmen opened fire on 13 Nov) have graced this venue's stage. Next up and "blending the flavours of New Zealand and Latin America", as introduced by Gill, is Latinaotearoa. This trio bring Latin to Aotearoa (a Maori name for their country of origin, New Zealand), also bringing together a DJ, percussionist and charismatic singer Jennifer Zea with radiant smile (set off by irresistible dimples). Zea's singing is percussive; as rhythmic as the bongos. She's also capable of creating sounds with her voice that you'd swear were coming from an actual siren. "Come on, your body knows this rhythm," she pleads. Latinaotearoa really are excellent, but they may wanna reconsider closing with a mid-tempo number next time they play.
Now is Ella Thompson's time. After being called in by Mark Ronson as replacement for MNDR (who couldn't make his recent Australian tour because it clashed with her wedding) to belt out Bang Bang Bang (perfectly, by the way), it seems Thompson's confidence has grown. She's perfectly poised up there, calls to mind Taylor Swift (in appearance) with her floaty black minidress and blonde bob, and her voice is impeccable. The crowd is captivated all the way back to the mixing desk and beyond. Her extended notes are impossible to sing along with; she must have practiced holding her breath under water to strengthen her lungs when she was a child. Backed by a drummer plus man-bunned keys player/guitarist, Thompson also plays keys but sacrifices nothing from her portrayal in order to do so. Seriously impressive stuff.
Then Ngaiire enters the stage space sporting a magnificent mini-trench in multi-coloured checks (for which she rightfully thanks the designer by name later on, before her closing number. Must look that shit up — want!). There are three backing vocalists, Ngaiire supplies lead vocals and extra tweaks, plus there's another musician up there who creates the electronic backing sounds. The minimal, understated tone is established immediately via Rabbit Hole. What they bring to the stage is really special 'cause they make you feel like you're watching a crew of best friends up there, but they're also equally ridiculously talented. A few songs in, the audience gets a little chatty and we can't help but wish for live instrumentation, even if only one element: drummer or guitarist. And not even for the whole set, just to create a couple of changes in dynamic throughout since it's all very vocal-heavy at present. As the BV masters launch into Dirty Hercules, Ngaiire chuckles and directs, "Let's do that again". They start afresh, but even the first time sounded A-okay to us.
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Gill would make the perfect hypeman. The gee-up he gives Ngaiire, which sees us hollering for an encore, is masterful. Whatever you think of Ngaiire's current live manifestation, she certainly has an abundance of (super)star quality as well as one of the finest voices in the country at present (have you seen her Like A Version cover of Tame Impala's The Less I Know The Better!?).