“Fusion”, would be a good way to describe the show we’ve just witnessed. Crossing every genre imaginable, the band, fronted by Nahko Bear, an American musician from Portland, Oregon, whose origins lie in Apache, Puerto Rican and Filipino, have managed the often impossible and delivered music that can be enjoyed by fans of, well, pretty much anything.
To set the scene, the band play a rock, reggae, funk, throw in a little free form, add a dash of horns, have three band members who can handle lead vocals and mix it all together to present a sound that celebrates Nahko’s heritage without being overly indulgent and creates some of the most infectious music I’ve heard in many years.
“Original” is another word that gets bandied around on a regular basis but it’s safe to say that you’ve not really heard original in this day and age until you take in Nahko and Co. Lyrically the songs do have strong messages and not surprisingly there are pieces about how we need to look after the planet, how we need to look after each other and the impact of authority on our lives.
The evening starts with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”, dished out by the crowd although a quick check of dates would suggest 3rd February is Nahko’s birthday so maybe as a novice in the ‘Tribe’ I’m missing something here. What it does do however is set the scene and bring a smile to the faces of the band who move straight into a set list captured from their two albums.
Emotions of all sorts are played out as the band play soft, hard, energised, thoughtful, reflective and at times, simply, all hands to the pump and the impact on the crowd is almost festival like. They bounce, sway and dance as a single collective with the majority so in the moment that Rome could burn down around them and they’d still focus on Tim Snider’s violin playing!
All of these components come out as the band run through a tight set list that gives every member the chance to shine in their own right. Nahko may be front and centre but the assembled musicians make this a band in every sense of the word.
The anticipation as the extended intro to worldwide hit Aloha Ke Akua is palpable and the crowd sway and move as they wait for the song to start. It’s a great song and one that encompasses the essence of the band perfectly. Portland must have some great influences for musicians as the excellent Dan Reed Network also hail from the same place and manage a similar (albeit slightly heavier) mix of funk, soul, rock and reggae into their songs.
Chase Makai plays acoustic guitar like no other artist I’ve seen in all my years of gig attendance. What this man can do with an acoustic guitar beggars belief. None of the typical sing and strum occurring here. No, Chase plays his acoustic like a full blown electric and literally shreds. His solos wail and lift the songs and the crowd, who lap it all up.
Justin Chittams on the drums keeps the groove going along with fellow rhythm partner Patricio Zuniga Labarca (Pato) and throughout the sense of enjoyment from the two of them is infectious. Adding to the mix we have Max Ribner (I believe) on horns. Even this though isn’t enough to present the wall of sound Nahko is aiming for and as such, he then throws in lead vocals, electric guitar and keyboards as well. What should, based on that combination, sound like an utter shambles instead creates a swirling lifting, energising soundscape that truly feels like it has been a perfect blending of likeminded individuals.
Chitty came out from behind the drums and helped Nahko run through a mash up, rap battle that saw way too many songs for me to list included.
Finishing with Wash it Away and Black As Night, it was, for me, a great opportunity to see a band with a hardcore following in the UK (they were playing the Electric Ballroom due to the abrupt closure of the Empire at Shepherds Bush so can clearly fill the bigger venues) yet one that remains firmly outside of the mainstream awareness.
Credit as well to opening act Kim Churchill whose one man band ensemble delivered an exciting mix of songs, as he played acoustic guitar, harmonica and stomp box and sang his heart out during his short set. The reception the crowd gave him was pretty good and he was definitely a classy warm up act for the headliners.
NAHKO & MEDICINE FOR THE PEOPLE
Vultures of Culture
Aloha Ke Akua
Wash It Away
Black as Night