Big band fans pay heed: Australian rockers The Cat Empire are at it again. Live On Earth, a two-disc, 22-song behemoth of a live album showcases the band’s blend of jazz, pop, Latin, rock, ska, and swing revival. It’s the latest offering in a long line of releases, which over the past decade has included a live EP, a live DVD, and four studio albums. And if the two plus hours on Live On Earth weren’t enough for fans, there’s a simultaneous DVD release called Live At The Bowl.
The Cat Empire certainly have enough material to justify a double-disc release. The 22 songs span their entire career (with only a notable lack of songs from their offbeat 2006 release, Cities), and the diversity of sounds make up for the long playing time. The opening rendition of Fishies recalls the ’90s swing revival movement: with a feel similar to The Brian Setzer Orchestra, a trumpet riff wails over a quickly paced rock beat while lead singer Felix Riebl spins a cool melody. The Car Song follows with a funky, frenetic beat, and it’s immediately clear that The Cat Empire are more than just a one trick pony.
The rest of the live offerings paint the same diverse picture. There’s a loose, lively feel in the band’s performances, but the rhythm section is executed tightly throughout the album, showing that the band have learned a thing or two over a decade of being together (though there have been a considerable number of rotating horn and string members playing with the band). Lonely Moon reveals that The Cat Empire can do a soulful midtempo ballad as effortlessly as they can a driving latin beat like that found in How To Explain?, and it’s comforting to know that some bands are still expanding their sound through different styles of playing.
With four songs hovering near 10 minutes long, there’s a real danger here for everything to take on too much of a jam band feel. But the stop and start arrangement of The Wine Song, which functions mostly as a Russian dance type of song, and the distinct changes in the longest song, In My Pocket (which goes from dance to reggae to ’70s progressive rock and finally to Latin), fight against this negative “jam band” classification. The Cat Empire are simply too diverse in their arrangements to make a fuss over their preference for longer songs.
In the end, The Cat Empire serve up a wonderful live album. They make their performances sound effortless: the mix is great, and any perceivable mistakes in the playing are drowned out by the immense energy they put into their performances. A number of interesting arrangements and a range of instruments – from standard rock guitars, drums, and bass to strings, horns, and organs – keep things interesting across the whole playing time of Live On Earth.