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Shimmering streamers quickly masked the cool evening air last Friday as I ventured upstairs to Manila Bar’s live room and noticed the glittered décor to my right. The seldom-quiet atmosphere of the city quickly met its reflection in the soft ambience of the evening’s foundation as Diamond Thug began their opening performance in wistful and dreamlike strides.
They transition seamlessly after each track, floating in a manner between old and new releases as ‘Long Way,’ ‘Cosmic Dreamer,’ and a crowd-approved cover of Mac DeMarco’s ‘Blue Boy’ are sung. Lead vocalist Chantel Van T intrinsically channels each arrangement as she sways and dances about the keyboard, fully immersed in the sonic tugs emanated in each refrain. A few technical tricks on stage assist in crafting a greater symphonic sound that filters harmonies and additional instrumentation into the shifting motions Diamond Thug so fluently deliver.
In due time Cape Town’s Johannesburg-hailing favourites Sol Gems grace the red and blue-lit platform. Those in attendance quickly multiply as their set begins, promptly dancing along to the energetic psychedelic haze now tangible in the rhythmic expanse of each composition played. Shoulders brush up against one another as songs from the group’s latest release “Lapis Lazuli” are sung. Each member has a collection of gems across their cheeks, sparkling each time the light falls on their faces as their heads nod in unison to the rhythms hosted.
Bassist Pano Ladas moves in line with the groove of the bass, almost catching the notes instead of plainly playing a phrase as it consistently leaps across the fretboard. Their presence on stage remains concentrated, each member entirely absorbed in their contribution to the sound garnered as its colour-drenched layers unfold. ‘Over The Shoulder’ echoes forth as Sol Gems’ farewell, releasing their escapist aura as the final few seconds of their performance motivates hands and heads to dance in an elated direction.
A dynamic shift is starkly encountered as Hellcats blaze upon the stage in an unapologetic and abrasive rock ‘n’ roll entry. Their live ethic from start to finish redefines the conventional limitations of a two-piece rock band by informing, rather than persuading, their audiences precisely what one may sonically accomplish when enough passion is rendered alongside a harsh accumulation of noise.
“You guys are fucking rad,” drummer Alessandro Benigno and guitarist Warwick Rautenbach declare to the gathered mass ahead as their opening track meets applause. Rautenbach teases the stage with his feet, constantly swirling from one corner to the next as he embodies each spiralling riff with ceaseless physical antics.
Behind the kit Benigno sustains control, mastering the duality of his role in the group as both drummer and vocalist by howling without restriction whilst landing every fill and selected set of crashes. Rautenbach jolts into the crowd in a raucous and thrilling instant that contradicts the evening’s preceding dreamy range of sound, yet in an equally welcoming manner. Hellcats inspire dancing that quickly levels into headbanging as the duo moves through fast-paced and broken down progressions, sharing an unfettered chemistry as they play off one another’s energy and force throughout their set.
A gritty ending to an event characterised by an amalgamation of tones.
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