I’m a crazy cat lady. There, I said it. You happy? I grew up loving dogs but somehow ended up with two cats (I blame city apartment living) and I couldn’t be happier. It’s kind of turned into a bit of a joke with my friends and a bit of an obsession. For example, my new rule- I can only buy band shirts if there is a cat on it (note to bands– bring me cat shirts to buy!). All that being said, I’d be lying if I said I had a good reason for picking last night’s show other than the fact that the band’s name was The Cat Empire. Okay, maybe not my best way of going around and picking out shows but last night ended up being an absolutely amazing show. Maybe I’m onto something with this whole cat thing?
Kicking the Monday night show off was Neal Francis. Neal and his band wasted no time jumping into a jazzy and funky set that lasted about forty minutes. Throughout the set I was absolutely captivated. There was something about the way Neal played the piano and organ with his soul instead of his hands and the way his voice mimicked that approach. The four band members that joined Neal on stage were playing the same way. It was blatantly obvious that each of the musicians on stage had a devout passion for their craft and, as a musician myself, that’s all I need to fall head over heels in love with a set.
As mentioned, Neal Francis’ music was very jazzy but also funky. Think New Orleans meets the Midwest with a little bit of California sun shining in the background. Sure, it’s not the type of music that I typically listen to but it was exactly what I needed last night as a way to kick off what will surely be a long week of work and shows. There was a very seasoned vibe to the music with clear nods to some of the greats like The Rolling Stones and Dr. John but nothing about the music seemed old or re-hashed. Everything about the band’s set was original and had the audience moving and grooving to the beat. Time seemed to whisk by and in no time Neal was introducing his talented band and jumping into the last song of the set. Neal Francis’ debut full length is due out this fall and I truly can’t wait to hopefully catch him on a tour in support of it (if not sooner).
There was something so bright and sunny about not only the music, but also the band members. Something about vocalist Felix Reibl just made you smile and his showmanship was absolutely stunning. He honestly didn’t have to do much to get a response from the audience and his dancing around on stage seemed to give way to the copious amounts of dancing going on in the floor. I was in awe of the way he could go from singing and dancing to sitting behind some hand drums and pounding out a complicated rhythm with complete ease. Much like Neal Francis and his band, the talent in The Cat Empire was crystal clear and made the set seem to fly by as I tried my best to focus in a little bit on each member.
Earlier in the night I had met a woman working security for the show and we started talking about what I do, how I got into it and how she could get involved. After getting a couple of pictures of The Cat Empire from the front, I headed to the back to just unwind and be, well, a concert goer. I ran into her and her face said it all. We started talking about just how amazing the set was. The sound was crystal clear, the energy was on point and, most of all, the music made you forget about whatever was stressing you from earlier on in the day. Here I was thinking that I was probably the only one getting that vibe from The Cat Empire so to hear this stranger turned friend say the same thing was just validation of how powerful The Cat Empire’s live show truly was.
The only thing I knew when I walked into The Varsity last night was that I knew nothing at all. Picking a show based on the headliner having the word “Cat” in their name may not be the most scientific way of picking concerts but it definitely worked out for me last night!