The Cat Empire @ Melbourne Zoo

This time last year I saw Grizzly Bear at Melbourne Zoo Twilights, and this year we enjoyed a live show by the homegrown veterans The Cat Empire. Can we keep the animal band name theme going for a third year in a row? Stay tuned!

I haven’t really kept up with The Cat Empire over the years, but they’ve always had a stellar reputation as a live band so I thought it was about time I caught them in concert. An outdoors live gig is always a gamble, but the weather gods smiled at us on a day with 0% rain forecast. When Mum and I arrived at the Zoo, the front lawns were already busy with picnic blankets and chairs, so we had to settle for a spot further away from the stage, close to a giant inflatable poison dart frog that looked dangerously mobile when the wind picked up strength.

The most complimentary thing I can say about The Meltdown, the opening band, is that at least they weren’t terrible; their bluesy/jazzy sound was generic but perfectly listenable. We mostly spent our time munching on olives, dip and twiggy sticks, and people-watching. What stood out the most was the sheer amount of families with very small children; I guess a fun, high-energy show like The Cat Empire is a good night out for the little ones, dancing around like crazy or sitting on their parents’ shoulders. Also, because of a strict curfew at the Zoo, it’s not a late night out either (nanna that I am, I rather enjoyed getting home and tucking myself into bed before 10.30pm). The only not-so-child-friendly moment was a song with a few f-words in the chorus, which the frontman Felix Riebl playfully foreshadowed by putting hands up to his ears.

I’m not all that familiar with their music outside of The Cat Empire’s first album so I didn’t expect to recognise many songs, but apparently the band treated the show as a launch for their latest album. It didn’t really matter, since the band’s blend of jazz, funk, Latin and indie rock is simply irresistible live, and Felix Riebl is a charismatic presence, vocally as well as a performer. Some people can just light up the place with charm and good cheer. The rest of the band also shined, and got their own time in limelight with some virtuoso extended solos.

At first Mum and I were content to watch the show from our distant lawn, but after making individual trips closer to the stage we decided to pack up and move to where the real party was at. Up close the atmosphere and the audience was much livelier and we spent the rest of the night moving and grooving.

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