Live Review: REMI

2 October 2018 | 11:56 am | Bryget Chrisfield

"This spare-no-expense, full-band incarnation of REMI appears before us as a dream fully realised."

A vocalist, accompanied by a pianist, supplies the serene sounds as we wander into National Gallery of Victoria's Great Hall where tables and chairs are set up in order for attendees to take a load off and rest their glasses when not quaffing. The vibe could not be further removed from that of your usual hip hop gig. REMI’s first set is scheduled to kick off at 7pm and we wonder how the seated punters are gonna react when we dance directly in front of their tables in precisely 15 minutes. 

Enter Remi Kolawole and his hypeman/esteemed hip hop artist in his own right, N'fa Jones, plus longtime musical collaborator Sensible J (supplying the bass and cheeky smiles tonight) alongside keys player James Bowers, guitarist Brad Green, drummer Leigh Fisher and percussionist Nui Moon. 

We try to be respectful and dance with our backs up against a wall - attempting not to obscure any seated person's view - but, alas! A seated lady leans forward, pokes my plus one in the back and gestures in extreme annoyance that her sightline is compromised. Jones steps down from the stage and approaches a table, playfully rapping right in the faces of some seated punters. Enter the funky AF For Good beat. We chuckle as Kolawole raps, "...put your pubes on it..." inside National Gallery of Victoria's posh setting and feel restricted by our angry-lady-assigned position against the wall while subtly grooving along to these irresistible rhythms. One radiant dance enthusiast (who Kolawole later thanks for starting the dancefloor) can't take this formal reception for a moment longer and bravely penetrates the empty space in front of the tables and chairs to get on down. Soon everyone stands up and follows suit, creating an impromptu dance-party vibe. Smoke machines puff out extra atmosphere.

“We’re gonna have a funky good time,” Kolawole promises, opting for his neat, braided-hair look this evening.

Sensible J on bass is all laidback brilliance. Kolawole sure can sing as well! Overheard: “I think I love Remi more than my mum.” And before we know it the entire audience is two-stepping, in unison, on command. When the Michael Jackson Workin' Day And Night chorus is worked in, we're powerless; seated peeps have become the minority and their protests will no longer be tolerated by the party people in the house. 

Before we know it, a full-on Xtc Party has descended upon NGV even though the hands on the Play School clock are yet to strike 8pm. Onstage, it's a mutual admiration society and joyous looks are exchanged as the music they create even seems to blow their minds. Some fun call-and-response moments are incorporated into this show and the throng participate with gusto (especially during the "gang-guh-guh-ga-ga-gang..." parts borrowed from Blue Boy's Remember Me). 

Those in attendance explore movement vocabularies they never knew they had in them as prompted by these infectious beats. This super-humble ensemble are ridiculously talented and we just can't get enough.

After a short break they return to the stage at 8.45pm to present a second, identical set, which creates a déjà-vu experience for those who choose a repeat dose of REMI rather than checking out the exhibition - MoMA At NGV: 130 Years Of Modern And Contemporary Art. This spare-no-expense, full-band incarnation of REMI appears before us as a dream fully realised. The only possible improvement we could think of would be the inclusion of REMI's stunning cover of Sisqo's Thong Song - yeah, we know we're greedy!