VIVID Sydney Opera House Hiatus Kaiyote

Kate Young
1st Jun 2023

If someone were to ask me what my favorite music venue is, I would never have thought that the Sydney Opera House would have been my first answer. Nothing against the iconic landmark but when I think of the Opera House, I think well... Opera, I think of the ballet, I think of sitting in stuffy seats (Which I can confirm they are), slow moving tours and matinees for older folks. My thoughts however have shifted over the last couple of years. In 2019 I watched Nick Cave perform a very intimate solo performance, in 2017 I was there for the infamous tapping of Nannette by Hannah Gadsby (I think my mother is still traumatized, guess I shouldn't have tried to sell her on the night by telling her it will be really funny) and this year I got witness punk rock goddesses Bikini Kill in the Grand concert hall, a performance I'm sure no one saw coming. Sydney Opera House has really strived to be diverse and forward thinking in the types of performances they offer up, for this house is a place for everyone.

Tonight, Hiatus Kaiyote make their thrilling return to the concert hall stage and regain their rightful place after having stunned music goers in 2016 with their unique blend of funk, jazz, hip hop and progressive soul. This time however they aren't alone, joining them for a one night only performance like no other is the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Now for anyone who is familiar with Hiatus Kaiyote' s sound know just how electrifying they can be and often sound so much bigger then the four piece they are, team this up with an army of instruments backing you and what you have is a powerful onslaught of audio nirvana.

The Sydney Symphony was first to take the stage and as soon as those strings started to soar and we were launched into Flight of the Tiger Lily, it was quite a cinematic opening like something found in a Disney film. From here the foundation was laid, this was going to be an elevated performance and beknown to me at this point, just how magical this genre bending marriage between the two was about to become. When the band took to the stage, the crowd was already in their hands, Vocalist, and guitar virtuoso Naomi Saalfield (aka Nai Palm) is dressed in a jumpsuit of combating Fluro pinks and greens giving me pop punk princess (Think if Jem and Pizzazz of the Misfits were to morph into one). From the get-go Saalfield declares that tonight will be an "illustrious sonic journey" and she's not wrong, the performance is a kaleidoscope of lights and sound.

Highlights from their critically acclaimed album Mood Valiant round out the first half of the performance, with such tracks as Get Sun, Red Room and All The Words We Don't Say being elevated by the orchestral arrangement of luxurious strings and climatic horns. Saalfield's vocals dip and weave through Paul Benders ever shifting basslines, accompany that with Perrin Moss' drum loops and Simon Mavin's tinkering of ivories now imagine a 40-piece orchestra as a backdrop there was no way silence of any kind was penetrating that wall of sound.

My favorites for the night were the beautiful piano driven ballads Rose Water and Stone and Lavender, oh I still get chills thinking about it. Here Hiatus Kayiote get stripped right back, hushed, and intimate. Saalfeld's is expressive with her vocalization and harmonies leading to a deeply personal performance.

Second half of the concert and it felt like some metaphysical top button on a shirt had been undone, I feel like up and till this point that even though we were all enjoying the grooves we were still all on our best behavior, I guess the Opera House has that effect on you that there is an unspoken need to be prim and proper in this setting. But as the band loosened up and became more into themselves, so did the fans and we were treated to some older tracks. Once again stand out for me was The Lung taken from my favorite album of theirs Choose Your Own Weapon.

Now I have been a been a fan of Hiatus Kaiyote for quite some time now but never had the pleasure of seeing them live, but from what I understand one of the greatest aspects of this band is their ability to just jam with one another, I mean at the heart of jazz music is the freedom to explore grooves, experiment with sound and try out different techniques. Unfortunately, the teaming up with the orchestra took away this fundamental aspect of Hiatus Kaiyote. A band forged in fusion has no room to breathe with such a structured pairing. However, that’s not to say that the night wasn’t a success because in so many ways it was. For one what an extraordinary feat to be asked to play the Opera House in the first place and rightfully so cause Hiatus Kaiyote are esteemed musicians individually let alone the force they are combined. Tonight was a true celebration of sound and like any journey it's all about taking that path less traveled, trusting those that you take that path with and arriving at a destination, and well this one this one ended with a standing ovation of many.