In ‘The Chariot’, The Cat Empire’s Felix sings “we never yield to conformity”.
After almost two decades of genre fusing and expectation defying music, the Melbourne six-piece were joined by a quartet of carnival oddities for the world premiere of their debut cabaret show at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
Early in their set, trumpeter and vocalist Harry James Angus apologetically admitted that he “isn’t sure what cabaret is.” Felix seemed to have more of a grasp of the art form, often providing anecdotes about the origins of some of the band’s bigger hits: The Adelaide Fringe Festival was the inspiration for the swinging ‘Fishies’ from 'So Many Nights', while the stampeding rhythm of recent hit single, ‘Bulls’, came to him in a dream.
The main cabaret component of the show, though, was the inclusion of a quartet of cast members from the circus and burlesque extravaganza, Glorious Misfits. Four of the songs in the evening’s set were accompanied by juggling, stripping, contortion, and hoop spinning. The unrulily moustachioed contortionist Captain Frodo was the highlight from this component, ultimately wrapping his gangly legs around his neck atop a tower of tin cans.
The inclusion of the Misfits did feel forced though; it was obviously simply designed to stamp the band’s passport for entry into cabaret land. It was ad hoc, and so at times was more distracting than satisfying. If anything, it simply detracted from the band’s frenetic live energy and musical virtuosity. No harm was done, really, though, given that most of the performance shone the spotlight on the band and their back catalogue of hits.
In their natural environment of heaving festivals and steaming pubs, it is difficult to carefully observe the splendour of The Cat Empire through the forest of dancing limbs. Watching them while seated as they strutted upon the immaculately lit and voiced Festival Theatre stage was a rare opportunity to quietly appreciate their chops. While some fans in the elevated seating enthusiastically danced for the entire set, it wasn’t until the last two tracks of the night, ‘The Chariot’ and ‘Hello’, that the whole audience rose to their feet, casting off the shackles of the concert hall environment.
For those lamenting their inability to boogie to their fullest, Felix promised to return soon with a follow up to 2016’s successful release, 'Rising With The Sun'. This was a show that wasn’t quite cabaret and wasn’t quite the traditional The Cat Empire experience. They are a band that has devoted their career to such experimentation and evolution, though, which has set them apart.