Whilst living in the UK for the past year, I’m ashamed to say that I lost touch of the great things that were happening in Aussie music. However the magical wonders of Glastonbury Festival and backstage passes managed to introduce me to one of the most influential Australian bands in soul music today.
“This is my band” said guitarist Rob Muinos, to which I foolishly replied, “what, all of them?!” Saskwatch are a 9 piece soul outfit based in Melbourne. Six months ago I hadn’t heard of them and now, they seem to be everywhere; and rightly so given the amazing music they’ve been producing. Receiving regular air-play on Triple J and appearing at festivals and gigs both locally and internationally, things seem to be escalating quickly for the powerful nonet.
Saskwatch are currently showcasing their latest single ‘Hands’ on a 12-date national tour which comes at the end of an extremely productive year for the band. On Friday 8th November I ventured into Brisbane’s Black Bear Lodge to see what all the hype was about, and the rumours are true – they are absolutely amazing live!
Although I’ve walked past the entrance a million times, it was my first time at Black Bear Lodge and it has easily become one of my favourite Brisbane venues for live music. The setting is cosy and the crowd intimate, and unlike most places in The Valley these days, it wasn’t full of drunk 18 year old fuckwits spilling drinks everywhere. Sold out gigs are to be expected from the Melbourne outfit and although it was only their third ever show in Brisbane, music lovers of all ages and descriptions flooded out to fill Black Bear and show their support. Unfortunately I arrived just as the first opener Fraser A. Gorman was finishing but after hearing only the last few verses I was left craving more. Acoustic sets with husky vocals are always a winner in my books.
The Harpoons were next to take to the stage and instantly it was clear why they were supporting Saskwatch. Their warm harmonies were right on par in tracks such as ‘Falling For You’, and from their very first note the crowd began to gather in front of them. Not being completely familiar with the Melbourne band, I was pleasantly surprised that the vocal talent transpired through all band members, each taking lead in certain songs. Front woman Bec continued to show off her mesmerising vocal cords with ‘Walk Away’ before an absolutely massive finish from the entire band during ‘Keep You Around’. I found it a bit odd that there was almost no interaction with the crowd or introductions to their songs, but nobody seemed to mind as the floor was almost full before the end of their set with everybody awkwardly bopping along.
Then finally, the ever so playful and energetic Saskwatch. After piling out onto the stage and letting out almighty howls and cheers, the smooth brass section began playing, Nkechi Anele began dancing, and the crowd began to fall in love. Performing classics like ‘Leave It All Behind’, ‘I Get Lonely’ and their newest track ‘Hands’, the crowd was hanging off their every move. If you’ve heard any of their music before you’ll know Saskwatch for their upbeat tempos, catchy rhythms/riffs, powerful vocals and carefully crafted lyricism. But I can assure you, you haven’t heard them at their best until you’ve seen them live; it’s not just a performance, it’s a complete musical experience. Where any other 9-piece band may become lost in the masses of things taking place on stage, these guys manage to melt together seamlessly. Whether it’s instrumental or vocal, fast-paced or slow, incorporates hand-clapping or smooth trumpet solos; Saskwatch have their own unique style and it’s definitely working for them.
Quite possibly my favourite aspect of the gig is the fact that each and every member of the band was fully performing and giving Nkechi a run for her money. Where most bassists or keyboardists may stray from the spotlight, absolutely everybody was going hard for the entire set, which lifted the energy both on stage and throughout the entire venue indescribably; a trait that places Saskwatch in a league of their own. Although there seemed to be a technical issue between Nkechi’s microphone and the speakers towards the end of their closing track, there was already so much energy in the room that I don’t think she even noticed. They ended on an absolute high and left the stage, but after much suspense returned to politely ask if it was okay with us for them to play another song. The answer was obvious and the band took it to a whole other level for their encore performances.
It’s clear why they’ve been dubbed one of Australia’s most electrifying live acts. Taking inspiration from names like James Brown and Aretha Franklin, Saskwatch combine a remarkably tight brass ensemble with a funky rhythm section, and top it off with a vivacious front woman who has a vocal range that should be illegal.
Their latest single ‘Hands’ is out now via iTunes, or you can get the 7” vinyl from their website. Ultimately though I suggest you get to one of their shows soon if you can, tour dates and ticket info can be found here.