Hiatus Kaiyote Stirs It Up at The Shelter


Nai Palm delivers a beautiful vocal performance at The Shelter, playing to a sold-out crowd.

Walking down into the basement of St. Andrews Hall in Detroit, known as The Shelter, a small crowd of twenty-somethings can be seen gathering tightly around the stage. A local neo-soul group, White Bee, had started their set. Their lead vocalist, Shannon Barnes, had a commanding presence on stage and the audience was into their music. Most of their songs were R&B influenced, with some occasional punk-esque outros, which earned them rousing whoops and yells from the audience. In their song “Hey Mama,” drummer Anthony Scannell kept the groove tight and his drum fills even tighter, attacking the snare drum with the ferocity of a jungle cat.

Detroit soul band White Bee kicked of the show.
Detroit soul band White Bee kicked of the show.

By the time their set was over, The Shelter had filled up completely (the show ended up being sold out) and the crowd already seemed antsy for the opener to come out. Unfortunately, Hiatus Kaiyote was nowhere to be seen. The befuddled audience watched as their sound technician came out and did a lengthy soundcheck of each instrument. Finally, after about 30 minutes, the band came out, met with roaring applause.

The concert got off to a rocky start, as their lead singer explained how their soundcheck had been deleted so the in-house engineer was going to have to check all their levels as they began to play. There was some meddling with volumes for the first few minutes of their set, but after that, it was pure heaven. They opened with the eponymous track from their newest album, “Choose Your Weapon.” The song is filled with samples and intense electronic textures, which might have been hard to recreate live for a lesser band, but not Hiatus. With rich electric keyboards and bouncing bass lines, they put on a performance with such a high-level of musicianship it was frightening.

One of the highlights of the set was a rendition of their Grammy-nominated song “Nakamarra.” With its unorthodox chords and metric modulations, it is an excellent example of what makes Hiatus so special. With this performance, the band seemed intensely locked into each other as well as with the spirit of the audience. The other song that stood out was “Breathing Underwater,” which was dedicated to Stevie Wonder, and includes a beautiful key change, as well as some incredible musical moments. At one point, drummer Perrin Moss, who always plays in the pocket yet never seems to look like he’s exerting any energy, made the only movement the whole night that let me know it was even a little challenging for him to play drums. He locked eyes with bassist Paul Bender, his face twisted up into an expression of sheer concentration, and he proceeded to play a drum break so filthy I felt like I needed to wash my ears out.

While Moss looked cool and collected behind the set, Bender was constantly smiling and nodding his head to the beat, never dropping the rhythm and even covering multiple instruments on some songs. For instance, on “Laputa,” Bender took to a small sampling machine, adding vocal synth textures to ensure the live performance sounded just as rich as the studio recording.

Bassist Paul Bender, a force to be reckoned with  on four strings.
Bassist Paul Bender, a force to be reckoned with on four strings.

When the set was over, the audience was left with dumbfounded expressions on their faces, unsure of what they had just witnessed. Hiatus came, they saw and they proceeded to blow the mind of everybody in The Shelter that night. “There was this one break, in the second tune they played, where the bass player just played this pop, during the break, and that literally ruined my life,” said Julian Stockton, a CHS alumnus.

Another concertgoer, CHS senior Aaron Willette, was equally impressed by the band. “I think it’s wild, man … it’s cool that they listen to soul stuff and R&B, even though they live in Australia where nobody does that. It’s impressive.”

While the band was packing up, I managed to talk to Alex Niemi, the auxiliary percussionist for White Bee. Niemi wasn’t extremely intimidated to be opening for such a great band, but the shock hit him after the show.

“It’s pretty crazy. I didn’t think about it so much … Just thought about, we need to play our set perfect, play well, which I think we did … personally I didn’t think about who we were opening up for so much, but afterwards definitely,” Niemi said.

Oftentimes, when seeing a band live, the musicians will either focus on creating an exaggerated concert experience or delivering genuine musicality. At this show, Hiatus was able to do both, neither sacrificing their musicianship nor leaving the audience wishing for a more spectacular performance. It is such an incredible feeling to watch Hiatus execute beautifully composed and complex songs with ease, and if you ever get the chance to see them, drop whatever plans you have that night, because there is simply no way you can beat the joy of a Hiatus Kaiyote concert.