"The heat, the effect of the throng, and the call and reply of the gutsy vocals and eight accomplished instrumentalists make the night feel like a spiritual experience of sorts – a testament that Saskwatch is surely good for the soul."
Nkechi Anele is iridescent as she takes to the stage. The lead singer of nine-piece Melbourne group Saskwatch is clad in a gold sequinned mini that's sparkling like a beacon at Cherry Bar. There's palpable excitement as she shimmies up to the mike; heads turn and glinting eyes dart up towards the stage – the crowd, a tribe of magpies, has just spotted their shiny prize.
It's soul night at the well-loved home away from home of soulsters Saskwatch, and tonight marks the last show of the nonet's month-long residency. How they manage to all fit onto the miniscule stage is impressive – the power of their super-smooth sound is just as remarkable. The crowd swells towards them; expectant faces sprout up as benches become free game for those of short-stature; and grooving (a word usually best left to ABBA revival bands) is appropriate if not expected.
The hour-long set is frenetic, infectious, and laden with the intricate layering of bass, drums and horns. There's none of the uneven distribution of sound multi-player bands often succumb to; each tune is thoughtfully arranged and allows every member the chance to groove out on his or her own. Make You Mine is upbeat, full of pop licks and highly danceable; rhythmic flair and a cacophony of kick-arse horns are injected into a much-needed rearrangement of the Robbie Williams/Kylie Minogue song Kids; and Little Red's Coca Cola is funked up and reinvented as a less staccato, more sensual rendition thanks to Anele and the boys.
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings are never too far from mind as the feel-good tunes continue. The enthusiasm of the crowd testifies that the return of old school soul is a welcome one. Anele's glittering garb is soon rivaled by an increasing gleam to her face. She repeatedly remarks how hot it is (somewhat apologetically) but there's little annoyance among the dripping faces: the tropical humidity seems to add to the fun.
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Second Best and Pushing Me Away round out the set and take it to a grittier dimension with powerful, robust lyrics. The room is writhing around en masse: hips shake, bodies gyrate and anyone in the near vicinity is deemed a decent dance partner. The heat, the effect of the throng, and the call and reply of the gutsy vocals and eight accomplished instrumentalists make the night feel like a spiritual experience of sorts – a testament that Saskwatch is surely good for the soul.