This show takes the lead for "best music I didn't love". Ug. I don't know how to write this review. Hiatus Kaiyote's music is clearly awesome. It's full of wonderful sounds, rich arrangement, interesting rhythms, and solid musicianship. I guess it's in the jazz/gospel genre; the singing has jazz' complicated rhythmic and melodic changes and gospel's vocal style, where a single note is the source of extended embellishment. I love how the musicians are so deeply feeling the music, and better yet, the audience was feeling it the same. It was a dream audience: lovers of the music who are also good singers who have memorized all the intricate changes. The music was hopping and the audience got it.
And yet, I'm embarassed to say, the music didn't move me. I guess the melodies are over my head. I found myself "appreciating" it rather than feeling it, like I would bebop or opera. I can tell it's awesome, but I don't share the musical language that everyone there was speaking. I'm hoping this changes over time.
The lighting design was interesting. It was too busy for my taste but there were many beautiful moments and nice surprises. Four risers of increasing height formed a diamond (like the videogame Q-bert) and around the perimeter of each were strips of lights that could pivot to point down at the stage, vertically to form boxes of light, or anywhere inbetween. If it were me, I would have left them in the various configurations longer and made the changes more subtle. For example, the stage smoke flowing down over the risers was beautiful, and looked best when the strip lights were set horizontally. I would have treated this like a "scene", and only changed it subtly over the course of a song, but the show's designer chose to move quickly and boldly through various looks. I found myself distracted by the lights.
Sound was great. It was about 96dba at the back where we were sitting and it sounded best with earplugs (Etymotic). The low end was clear, with bass and kick well delineated. Some of the synth sounds were particularly lush and warm. The drummer was enclosed in a plexiglas sound barrier at the back, even through he's a very subtle, sensitive drummer. A decent-volume snare hit, for example, was played with the stick only about 10cm off the drum. This confirms something I've been thinking recently... bands sound best when the drummer plays really quietly, and then the mics do the amplification. Most bands' Tiny Desk concerts sound better than their club shows, for example. For a taiko player, this has profound implications that I'll likely be working out for the rest of my career.
The Novo theater is very comfortable but it feels a little "corporate". It's owned by Microsoft, and its emphasis is on enjoying the show betrays a kind of distance to art. The venue feels like a movie theater. There are cup holders in all of the seats and there's no flat floor space for dancing. I'm happy to see shows there but it feels a bit cold.