I’d like to think that Boston is special, and it is, but when it comes to The Cat Empire I feel they must get the same reaction wherever they go. The Royale had a feel last night that, to this observer, reveals itself far too infrequently in the world today. It was perfect harmony among a great diversity.
I knew The Cat Empire going in, I don’t remember how I found them, but I did and I very specifically remember buying the two available CDs I could at the Best Buy in Taunton’s Silver City Galleria. I was rocking out to Sly off of 2003’s album Two Shoes before I was out of the parking lot and saying out loud to my empty passenger seat that this is a band I am going to dig. And since that day (in 2007? 2008?) they have climbed the musical ladder of my life to sit amongst my musical gods The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Flogging Molly, Streetlight Manifesto, Frank Turner and the Suburban Legends. There is something different about these guys though, musically, and it showed last night.
Looking at the bands atop my personal Mount Olympus (I wanted to do a personal Rushmore, but couldn’t narrow it to 4) there are a million similarities in musical style and they are all based in that world that is a cross between punk, rock and ska. It’s not that The Cat Empire doesn’t fit there, it does, but it also fits into jazz, latin, blues, big band, all with the crazy twist of having a DJ on stage scratching records, something I typically find very out of place in a band, but the subtleness of his style fits right in. They readily admit their lack of a “genre” and don’t much care, best illustrated in the chorus of their tune The Chariot,
Our weapons were our instruments, Made from timber and steel, We never yielded to conformity, But stood like kings, In a chariot that’s riding on a record wheel.
It’s a simple premise and it really defines them and it’s reflected in their audience.
I had no idea what to expect. I am a punk/ska show guy so when girls in “dressy” skirts walked by followed immediately by a guy with a leather coat and dreads I was like, ‘well ok’. So I started to really look around and I started to see people from a thousand walks of life. Older folks, like legit adults, who looked like they came from a PTA meeting. Younger folks, some of which made me question the legitimacy of the 18+ mandate on the ticket. White folks, black folks, asian folks, australian folks (I heard the accent), gingers (I wasn’t alone!), punk rockers, dead heads, preppies, nerds, gays, straights, and one dude with an AMAZING mullet. Hell, I was sleeveless, so throw me in there as one of the ones others were looking at thinking, “what’s the deal?”
Then The Cat Empire took the stage and anything that could have possibly differentiated each member of the audience was gone. It was one large group of folks reveling in that which is The Cat Empire. People danced like no one was watching. Swayed and clapped when prodded and sometimes when not prodded and eventually all formed into circles, small ones not circle pits, arm and arm with strangers spinning each other silly. It was a series of perfect moments of harmony amidst a world of great diversity, which is what great and powerful art can do.
For me, the band did more musically in about 2 hours than anyone I have seen outside of a full orchestra. They not only utilized the various skills of each member in as many ways as possible, but they did it interestingly, with purpose and not only excellent individual musicianship, but a cohesiveness that, to these eyes, was unparalleled. The highlights being the times the entire band was in complete juxtaposition, each doing this or that and slowly watching them all come together and enunciating the musical point with great enthusiasm and aplomb.
Was it the best concert I’ve ever seen? No, Frank Turner opening for Flogging Molly a couple years ago probably sits at the top of that heap. And there are a at least 5 Bosstones shows that need consideration. Lest I forget the Mighty Mongo/Suburban Legends show in Seattle or the day after Thanksgiving Streetlight Show in Providence for about 100 people. But The Cat Empire is now in the discussion and they did perform the single greatest song I have ever seen performed live.
How to Explain was an amazing musical feat it showcased the amazing abilities of the Empire Horns and also showed the ability of the rhythm section to do their thing while backing improvisational horn solos. And at the end when it all comes together it is the musical version of the perfect harmony that their crowd showed, no one is looking at each other they just knew, musical familiarity that comes with years of practice and trust. Traits their Boston crowd showed in spades and while I would like to think that is special to us in Boston, I’m sure it’s more a reflection of the music of The Cat Empire.