Shapeshifter @ the Hi-Fi, Brisbane, Friday 11 September 2009
Review by: Will Alexander – Photo: Jose Eduardo Cruz
It was New Zealand night at the Hi-Fi Brisbane last Friday, and if the accents didn’t give it away then the multitude of girls walking around screaming out for their countrymen did. Irrespective of how bad (and hilarious) the Flight of the Conchords make us look though, there’s no shortage of amazing New Zealander entertainers out there and Shapeshifter are undoubtedly some of the finest. Shapeshifter has earned no small degree of fame after the release of three albums, and you get the sense listening to them that they’ve come close to perfecting an electronically heavy but still organic sound. Unmistakably a drum and bass act on their studio albums, you more often than not see them referred to as a ‘dance’ act in live reviews. This may seem like an oversimplification of their sound but in reality the rising and falling of the beats is energetic and soulful – and doesn’t come across as straight drum and bass at all.
From one song to another sometimes you feel the higher register bpm and the cool deep drones of those unmistakably drum and bass bass-lines, but for the most part Shapeshifter sound like a high energy dance show coupling slightly faster than normal melodies with snare-heavy house beats.
The stage is dominated by the three synth players Sam, Devin and Nick, singer Paora tucked away in between and a massive drum kit hiding the drummer Redford behind. With every few songs they jump across genres and atmospheres. The sweeping synths started the show with a neat hip-hop sort of mood, dropping into solid dance numbers undertowed by driving, if at times hard to hear percussion and slipping back into groovy soul. Paora’s voice has a powerful ability to soar across the melee of sound like a synth itself and in some ways was the most pervasive element gliding on top of the back drop of the drums – although for a few tracks Devin’s sax and the occasional appearance of a guitar from Sam did manage to steal the show. Each song was greeted more than enthusiastically by the crowd with all their major hits making solid appearances, most notably ‘One’ and ‘Bring Change’ which sounded relatively clear despite the acoustic constraints of the Hi-Fi. As much as I hate to bring it up, the Hi-Fi’s sound seemed to let the band down. This is the third time I’ve been to the Hi-Fi and the third time I’ve been disappointed…and not just sonically. At times the low registers of the synths just ended up competing and sounded like a bassy-soup despite the fact they had their own sound guy diligently working the boards.
All said and done though Shapeshifter were great, threading cohesive dance music out of a variety of styles and keeping the floor packed straight through to the encore. It’s club music with real energy and heart, while still being lyrically resonant. With any hope they’ll bring the orchestra back next time they’re in town, and play somewhere that can deal with such an immense low-end sound.