Last night was another music event for this year’s Sydney Festival. Like last weekend’s Kashmere Stage Band show this one was all about funk and was held at the great performance space in Sydney’s Town Hall.
The first act was Saskwatch. They’re from Melbourne, and are a nine-piece funk and soul band. I’d heard them on the radio and they sounded OK; live they were a whole other deal. They laid down some pretty good grooves. But the absolute star of this band is singer Nkechi Anele. Oh. My. God. She was passionate and powerful. Her voice was so strong, her soul sound so intense. And she moved and danced like no performer I’ve ever seen. She was a non-stop dervish of hip-shaking sexiness. Her moves punctuated her singing which punctuated the band’s songs. Saskwatch are amazing. Watch and listen.
Then were the headliners: Osaka Monaurail. They’re a Japanese funk band, and they live and breathe it. Lead singer Ryo Nakata has run this band for 20 years, with a rotating cast of musicians, but this one – like all of them – becomes a full-on ’70s-era funk machine. If you closed your eyes you would be entirely forgiven for thinking you were at an early James Brown show. Nakata grunts and yells; the horn players spin their trumpets on their fingers like pistols; the guitar players come up for solos. They were seriously tight. And when Nakata was in full flow he could shimmy, sing, bounce his mic stand, and do the splits in his dapper suit right on cue.
We got a surprise visit from UK-born, Melbourne-based Shirley Davis, with whom Osaka Monaurail made a single. She was a burst of vocal energy and jazz into the proceedings, a nice change of pace.
The one down side of this set was that Nakata’s in-between-songs shtick, storytelling, and joking with the horn section would sometimes go on uncomfortably long. This did make a few crowd members restless. But when the band kicked back in they killed it, with a fun, genuine, soulful set.