But the Cat Empire struts back

VICTORIA (CUP) – Ska, funk, reggae, rock, acid-jazz, hip-hop and salsa are just a handful of genres that have been used to describe The Cat Empire. Whatever genre the band is, they’ve certainly come a long way from their humble beginnings in Melbourne, Australia.

After six years together, records that have reached multi-platinum status in their homeland and 700 shows scattered through every continent – except Antarctica – this group of cool cats will be returning to North America to demonstrate the definition of stage presence.

The band will be strutting their way through large and small venues from Victoria to New York to celebrate the success of their recent release, Live on Earth, a collection of tracks recorded live all over the world, and gives a genuine taste of the live Cat Empire experience with upbeat rhythms and spontaneous jam masterpieces, the longest of which is 25 minutes.

“The best shows we’ve ever done are the ones we didn’t rehearse,” says Felix Reibl, one of the band’s two lead singers. “Our chemistry really lets us get carried away. When you’ve got a song that people know and it goes to a place that they don’t know and we don’t even know . . . I think that’s why we’re still around.”

The Cat Empire has always been known for memorable performances. The band, with just six core members, has often been found on stage with up to 30 other musicians, playing every instrument imaginable – not to mention non-musical guests like circus performers, streaking fans, or the entire audience.

“Way back, we played in the Edinburgh Festival for three weeks, always at 3 a.m.,” Reibl says. “It was the first time we played there and there were only 20 people in the audience so we invited them all up on stage for the whole gig. By the end of the week there was a lineup down the street.”

It’s the reputation for performances like that, and touring for so many years, that has given The Cat Empire an opportunity to play shows with everyone from Snoop Dogg to the Buena Vista Social Club to the late legend James Brown.

“Yeah, I’d say Brown was one of the funkiest men I’ve ever met,” Reibl says. “The way he spoke, it was almost impossible to understand his words, but you knew what he was saying through his nature and his body language.”

The funk king gave the Cat Empire – through an impromptu translator – what turned out to be one of the hugest compliments of the band’s career.

“At one point we weren’t sure what he said, but his bandmate told us James said we were funky on stage, so that was a really big moment for us.”

Even after such high praise from respected musicians as well as global success, Reibl still has both feet on the ground.

“Honestly, when I’m not playing, I’m writing songs . . . and traveling and catching up with precious people, but those go hand in hand with writing,” he says.

And while he's writing are songs many music fans find so difficult to categorize, Reibl sums it up quite easily.

“It’s our music,” he says. “It’s Cat Empire.”

The Cat Empire perform at the Commodore Ballroom on Monday, Nov. 16th and Tuesday, Nov. 17th.

Justin Doyle

Nexus (Camosun College)

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