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Kora - Gig Review: Kora @ The Zoo, Brisbane Australia - 8/04/2016

11 Apr 2016 // A review by GrayVickers

There's a special aura around The Zoo. This iconic stronghold, right in the heart of Brisbane's Fortitude Valley, has always been viewed a pinnacle of the local scene. A step up from the seedy bars and dive clubs in terms of size and setup, The Zoo is where you play once you've made a name for yourself. It's a testing ground where bands get the chance to step up mark their mark on the local scene. For some reason, it's also the same for New Zealand bands. For a group of Kiwi's bringing their sound over to Australia, The Zoo is the place to make yourself heard and seen by the ever fickle and critical Australian audience. Tonight however, this wasn't about showing Australia what Kora are about – this was Kora bringing all the brothers and sisters from Aotearoa together to have one hell of an evening!

By the time we arrived at the Zoo (thanks Brisbane traffic!) The main support were just taking the stage and groups of people were filtering through the front doors. Judah (Sorry guys, I'm just going by the event sites as the band on stage didn't announce their name at any point) did what any opening band is supposed to do – they got the audience dancing. For just shy of an hour, they graced the Zoo with solid reggae grooves, soaring harmonies, blazing guitar solos and everything you'd expect from a well oiled 6 piece dub/reggae group. After half an hour, I was starting to fade and hope for a bit more diversity and dynamic in their songs, but I feel I may have been alone in that feeling as the hundred or so faithful up the front cheered, sang and danced the set away, lapping up every skanky note and laid back groove they had.

The changeover was short and sweet, as more and more rolled in through the doors. The bar started to swell, the dance floor filled up and the whistles and cheers announced that the audience was ready. By the time the stage was left bare, ready for their arrival, the front row had extended to the sound desk, and things were about to heat up.

Then Kora came on stage.

There was no announcement, no turning off of the house music, no dimming of the lights... Just the ever charismatic swagger of one Francis Kora stepping to the microphone with his hands in the air to announce “We Are Kora” as the band fell in line and exploded into their first song. After an evening of reggae and soul music mixed with the laid back atmosphere provided by the house music, I don't think anyone expected what was to come. It was F***ING heavy! The seven string guitars were out, Heavy Metal Ninjas' Richie Allan (primarily bass) and Joe Brownless (drums) joined Francis, his brother Stuart Kora (primarily guitars) and Dan McGruer (primarily decks and keys) in literally blowing the Zoo's collective minds with massive, crushing grooves all laying the foundation for Kora's trademark soulful vocals, peppered with strong harmonies. Like stunned mullets, the audience took in the aural assault through the bands opening, engaged, but in a way unsure how to act, until the band ripped into long-time classic Skankenstein and the crowd came alive. There was dancing, there was singing – there was a hell of a lot of screaming. Kora had arrived and the party had really started.

What makes Kora a remarkable machine, is their contrast between what you hear on their records, and what you hear on stage. This was something that blew me away when I first saw them live many moons ago on the NZ summer circuit. While their records are smooth, polished, pop focused, and perfect for the Kiwi summer, their live shows are djenty, powerful and physical, while still encapsulating the soul of their songs. The band casually strolled through cuts from their latest record (Light Years) and slipped in deeper cuts from their self titled debut. Mixing songs like Dream Life and Hit the Wall with Burning and On My Mind, Kora reshaped their songs away from the slick, digital production and remoulded them into exciting and engaging live renditions. There were large chunks of the audience who got it, there were some that did not. As the heavy sections of the show extended on, the dance floor started to show noticeable gaps as punters took the opportunity to hit the bar before returning to the floor when the tone stepped down and it was time to dance again.

That being said, I couldn't take my eyes off the stage. Kora are one of, if not, the most exciting bands in New Zealand at the moment. Francis' control over an audience (with and without saying anything) is undeniable, Watching Stuart, Ritchie and Dan swap instruments seamlessly and still absolutely slay is a feat attempted by many and pulled of by so few. Kora's ability to take a single groove, and just sit on it for a few minutes, letting it rise and fall until the audience is chained to it like a dog on a leash is a thing of beauty. The patience and comfort Kora show on stage is a true hallmark of how seasoned they are, and it's the constant smiles and laughter between the members that tells the tale of how much damn fun they have doing it. The band used the amazing instrumentalists on stage to a subtle perfection, with Ritchie taking guitar duties for a couple of songs to rip mind bending solo's, while Dan took over bass duties to show that he's got some pretty damn nifty finger work as well. No one expected a drum solo, but they got it and it was brilliant, not flashy, not over the top, but yet another incredible dynamic shift in the show, to give the rest of the guys a break. There was no dead air unless the band wanted it. The songs flowed to perfection and the set was well crafted to balance old and new, soft and heavy, while all the while being the completely unique experience known as a Kora show.

There was not much banter between songs, the most notable section being Francis taking pot shots at John Keys failed flag bid by holding up a massive New Zealand flag and then wrapping himself up in Tino Rangatiratanga “Sweet cape, aye?” he laughed. The political jabs continued through the show, but they weren't negative, they were of dissent – they were there to prove a point: Let's just be one and have as much fun as possible – A theme followed heavily throughout Kora's music.

While Kora slayed it on stage, the production of the show had the very real chance to away some of the massive dynamic being shown by the band. The PA struggled at times to lift the vocals high enough when the music got loud, the lights stayed stagnant through the whole show – those who've been fortunate to see Kora play an outside festival will know how incredible the light shows are. This wasn't the case though. Despite the bare bones production, Kora showed they are not ones to rest on their successful and name. They lifted their game to fill the stage as much as they could, to be engaging and connect with the audience. I wouldn't be surprised if no one noticed lights didn't move – although, I'm sure they would've noticed if they had!

As the night came to a conclusion, it was clear which song the crowd had come to see. When the soaring vocals kicked into Drop Dead Killer, the floor erupted in cheers and the masses sang along. The dance floor heaved as the audience moved as one, grooving and screaming along with the band. This was the Kora they had come to see. The night closed, as it so often does with Kora, with Flow. This brutally groovy tune was the perfect finale for the evening. The heavy grooves stomped and tempo rose and then the band froze, in their trademark poses.

The crowd had been ignited.

The band were electric.

The ending was frenetic and all consuming.

Then it was over.

The band thanked the audience, then disappeared from the stage.

Kora had proved whether it's a stadium or a club, no one does what they do better. Such distinct dynamics and stunning contrasts between songs were the foundations of a well flowing set. They engaged, they grooved, they destroyed and it was a thing of beauty.

Thank you Kora, see you next time!


About Kora

Kora started drawing attention in 2004 with the release of the Volume EP in 2004 and the band quickly developed a reputation as being one of the nation's finest live acts. Early track Politician remains the band’s biggest Spotify hit with over 5 million streams.

Kora’s acclaim only grew with the release of their two records. Their double-platinum debut album Kora entered the charts at #1 on release in October 2007 and finally left the charts 57 weeks later in March 2009. Quickly on its heels was a Kora! Kora! Kora! remix LP by Sheffield based post-punk electronic innovators Cabaret Voltaire.

The long-awaited 2012 follow up LP Light Years continued to show the band's ability to fuse a multitude of influences, from reggae to heavy metal to dirty south hip hop. This album went on to achieve platinum sales and to cement Kora as a top tier act in their home country.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Kora


Light Years
Year: 2012
Type: Album
Year: 2007
Type: Album
EP Volume
Year: 2004
Type: EP

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