@ Digress Cocktail Bar, Saturday July 28
It could have been considered a most unusual event, if it weren't for the fact that each of its elements were so distinctively at odds, so completely non-germane to each other, that it seemed the only explanation could be that the force of some higher, interventionist power was responsible for bringing together such a mismatched concoction. On a clear and still bitterly cold Saturday night in Canberra, a cocktail lounge which shares its space with an Indian/Italian fusion restaurant hosted a producer/MC/multi-instrumentalist group self-described as 'soulful guerilla hip hop'. Bordered above and on all sides by the dark, empty offices which, for five days a week, are home to various Government departments, punters sipped frosty mojitos while a long-haired trumpeter waxed lyrical about the Zapatistas and then complimented the venue for its 'awesome' Tandoori Prawn Arrabbiata. So it was that Pataphysics' show at Digress Cocktail Bar was, in fact, an event seemingly appropriate for the varied, experimental style of the group in question.
To back up, the night began with a poetry slam featuring a number of local participants. Although your otherwise-occupied author missed these early performances, from all accounts it was a great display of Canberra's burgeoning poetry/spoken word scene.
Hosting the evening's ceremonies was Canberra-based MC BRB, who preceded Pataphysics' performance with a set of his original material showcasing his various influences and abilities. Originally from New Jersey, the rhythms of Run-DMC and Beastie Boys underscore much of his music, although its driving force was the engaging, sometimes complex and often involved narrative he weaved over his breaks. His direct, honest messages may have been inspired by contemporary social or political issues, but were just as often taken from his own worldly experiences, whether they be his gaol time for drug dealing, near-misses with death, or most recently his battle with cancer which he only just survived. His beats were infectious, however BRB's appeal was in his wisdom, his avuncular story-telling and his stark earnestness that made his performances so immersive.
The night's stars – Melbourne's Pataphysics – are a group who would rarely come across as unpolished. Across two lengthy sets, they first soothed, then charmed, then energised and finally incited the audience with their understated mix of soft jazz, spoken word, downtempo electronica and hip hop; all generated by the multi-instrumentalist, multi-lingual Pat Marks, his trumpet and his band, consisting of a guitarist and one laptop-armed beat-master.
The group used their first set to gently warm up. Much of the crowd remained seated in the shadows while Marks dabbled in some subdued trumpet and sultry rapping over understated, ambient trip-hop beats. Alongside Marks' often politically-focused yet grounded lyrics, they exuded Thievery Corporation's sense of ultra-cool rebellion, sans the pretence.
The boys gradually increased the tempo and the boldness of their music, announcing a break between sets just as the audience was starting to fill the dance floor. Thankfully, the break between sets enthused the crowd rather than leaving them flat, and for the entirety of the second set Pataphysics had almost the entire venue – bar staff included – on the dance floor as they gave an ecstatic display of their jazz, funk and hip hop credentials. The intimacy of the venue was well-suited to Marks' charismatic and sincere crowd engagement, with the absence of the usual demarcations between crowd/stage/band creating a warm, fuzzy sense of connectedness between crowd and performers. But then, Marks seems like he could bring out the best in a crowd in any setting – even without the mojitos and Tandoori Prawn Arrabbiata.