Live: Melbourne Ska Orchestra @ The Hi-Fi Bar – 15/03/14


‘Orchestra’ seems too stifling a term to describe the 26-piece Melbourne Ska Orchestra; even ‘band’ is too restrictive, because these guys are clearly in a league of their own. After a killer 2013, which saw the release of their debut self-titled album, MSO have been taking their ‘Get Smart’ tour around Australia to celebrate the launch of their new single, and it was at Melbourne’s Hi-Fi Bar that we were reminded of what an unmissable live act they are.From the outset, as the band members made their way through the excitable sold-out crowd and across the dancefloor, horns to lips, megaphone murmuring and purple MSO-emblazoned flags waving overhead, it was clear that this would not be a regular gig. Once all assembled on stage, the group unleashed, the tension and expectation that had been building during their procession relieved as the sound built and the elements came together. A crowd that had listened to the opening act, El Moth, with fairly restrained appreciation only an hour before, began to dance, any previous hesitations abandoned in response to the energy projected from the stage by MSO’s 18 piece horn section, rhythm section, percussionist, organist, keys and singers.The energy didn’t waiver as we were led on a musical tour around the world, starting in Melbourne with ‘Lygon Street Meltdown’, through Mexico with ‘Dean Went To Mexico’ and then, of course, to Cairo. Orchestra leader, Nicky Bomba proved a charismatic guide in his fedora and suit, loyally supported by his gang of mobsters. Not content to just lead the horn section, Bomba also took to conducting the crowd, the horns and voices mimicking each other between numbers. This level of interaction only increased as the set continued – trombone players moved down from the stage onto the dance floor and Bomba encouraged the crowd to dance harder than they’d ever danced before. A song was even  brought to a startling halt when a girl in the crowd was spotted taking a photo. In response to Bomba’s cry, ‘Look, she’s taking a photo!’, the band abandoned their playing and piled into the centre of the stage to pose.Their showmanship asserted, Melbourne Ska Orchestra also had their musical talents on full display, showcasing the individual mastery of many of their musicians. Highlights included the longest jaw-dropping single note ever played, at the end of clarinet player, Tony Hick’s solo, and Bomba’s breathless drum solo that had him using every inch of the kit. Guest singer, Rebecca Ari injected a bit of pop flavour to proceedings with her rendition of ‘Learn to Love Again’, followed by what seemed to be an on-the-fly addition of ‘My Boy Lollipop’. ‘Get Smart’, a ska-treated, big-band version of the Mel Brooks’ TV show theme was a crowd favourite, as was ‘Night Boat to Cairo’, which brought the house down with its catchy beat and energetic musicians’ antics.The musicians’ clear passion for ska proved infectious, and their encore – a building of all the elements of the ska sound – was the perfect end to what had been a surprising and thoroughly entertaining night. If you have the chance to see them, Melbourne Ska Orchestra are not to be missed. 5 out of 5 starsReview by Laura James

March 28th 2014
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