Katchafire & Kora, Auckland NZ, 2017

Katchafire & Kora
11th August 2017
Powerstation, Auckland, New Zealand.

Review by Sarah Kidd. Photography by Matt Henry Mendonca.

Katchafire performing live at the Powerstation, Auckland 2017. Image by Matt Henry Photography.

It has now become an annual mid-winter event, and with tradition come popularity – hence the reason that tonight’s Katchafire and Kora double header at The Powerstation has long since out sold out. The weather may have been rather chilly outside but there was nothing but warmth within the walls of the iconic venue as the collective good vibes pulsed throughout the crowd, one of the most endearing factors of any reggae based New Zealand gig.

To kick the whole night off is L.A.B – and if you thought a couple of the faces on stage looked eerily familiar you would be right. L.A.B features both Stu and Brad Kora of Kora fame; founding this new project a couple of years ago they then brought in the undeniable skills of Joel Shadbolt on vocals and guitar. To round it all out, the man who appears to have been born from the womb of reggae itself; former Katchafire member Ara Adams-Tamatea rules the stage on bass guitar. Their mix of pop, funk and soul quickly had the crowd up on their feet and embracing the music, Shadbolts vocal skills impressing all. One thing is for sure; L.A.B could easily headline their own show and would certainly have a whole legion of new fans based on tonight’s performance. Original tracks (soon to appear on their upcoming album due for release in September) such as ‘Control’ showing that this band means business.

Touted as one of the hardest working acts in New Zealand – a title few would argue – Katchafire are celebrating their 20th Anniversary and the fans are ready to celebrate it alongside them. From the opening tones of ‘Sensimilla’ the good time vibes were flowing, Logan Bell’s smile saying it all as he looked across the packed dance floor. There is a beauty to New Zealand reggae shows – whether you are a fan of the genre or not, it is often one of the most relaxing and soul repairing environments to be in; complete strangers sharing the space with a collective mutual respect. “It’s nice to be home! We have the best fans right here” Bell addresses the audience, whoops and cheers rising in response, “and sold out too! Thanks guys!”

Tonight’s performance felt extra special, the collective memories of the last 20 years infusing the songs with added passion; ‘Love Letter’ and ‘Is This Familiar’ causing many a couple in the audience to get just that little bit closer as they moved in time to the music. There is never a shortage of something to watch when Katchafire are on stage, the standard five member crew adding a couple of extra members for the night – in particular a rather impressive double backline of sax and trumpet lifting many of the tracks to the next level. There is no denying that the band who originally began their career as a Bob Marley tribute act have over the years come into their own, carefully crafting their own brand of roots reggae, that has seen them invited to play at festivals across the world.

The feel good vibes continue to grow as the set goes on, some of those vibes manifesting as a familiar smell wafting through the air on wisps of smoke; ‘Who You With’ and ‘Collie Herb Man’ seemingly perfectly timed as Grenville Bell completely lets loose on the guitar, the audience enthusiastically cheering him on. Finishing the set with ‘Get Away’, they ask if the audience wants just one more – the response drowning out the band themselves; Katchafire rewarding the fans for their love with two songs instead, the wonderful ‘Reggae Revival’ and ‘Done Did It’ taking it out in style.

As the audience scattered, making a break for the bathrooms and bar (mostly in that order), stage hands hurriedly changed everything over in preparation for the band known for their sternum vibrating sounds of Alien Funk.

As the lights dropped and the fans quickly got in place, pushing up against the barriers, drinks in hand, the familiar tones of Francis Kora penetrated the darkness; the opening lines of ‘Little Star’ gently easing the audience in before the sonic bass synonymous with Kora dropped; ‘Skankenstein’ exploding across the room and electrifying the audience as Richie Allen (of Heavy Metal Ninja fame) stomps across the stage like a man on a mission. Admittedly the mix for the first few songs seems a little off – bass is great, but not when it drowns out everything around it, including the wonderful vocals of Francis. However the band and the sound desk quickly found their groove within the first few tracks and the set from there on in was nothing but pure ecstasy.

After the chilled reggae beats of Katchafire, Kora is the perfect headliner to take out the night, their energy and on stage frivolity lifting the pace of the entire evening, everyone taking full advantage of the opportunity to break out some epic dance moves. The current line up sees Bradly Kora once again taking up position behind the drum kit after almost 6 years, both himself and Stu impressing all by performing twice tonight. Stu looks like a man possessed, hunched over the keyboards his fingers invoking almost otherworldly sounds. He deftly moves between keys and guitar throughout the night, his vitality knowing no bounds.

Last year’s hit ‘Carolina’ which signaled the return of Kora to the local music scene goes down an absolute treat, Francis asking the audience just prior if they were enrolled to vote; “I know tonight is a party, but I’m voting for change – his hand pointed in the air – you feel that?”. ‘Hit the Wall’ threatened to bring the very ceiling crashing to the ground as the band fully brought funk and bass to the stage, the audience at this point completely lost in the music before quickly finding their voices to join the band in a huge sing a long of ‘Drop Dead Killa’. Francis (the ultimate front man, his cheeky smile and on stage antics hard to ignore) thanks the fans and takes his time introducing each member before they deliver one last song – ‘Flow’ the ending the night flawlessly, the boys throwing in a gorgeous little ‘freeze frame’ towards the end of the song before double timing the beat to an all-out noise fest.

But don’t let the FOMO take over just yet – they are doing it all again tonight! There is absolutely no better way to blow out those mid-winter blues.


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