Katalyst @ The Prince of Wales (16/11/2007)

It’s been a while since Katalyst’s debut record, 2002’s Manipulating Agent, and while the Sydney based producer may have taken a while to get his second album out he hasn’t exactly been quiet. There was the remix compilation Agent Manipulated and the DJ mix record Dusted which was unavoidable at most bars and house party’s in the summer of 2005. But most of his work was behind the scenes running the Invada record label – home to Fdel and Dynamo Productions ARIA winners Koolism. He also produced Ru C.L’s Straight Down the Line and remixed Ugly Duckling and the Beautiful Girls. But the long awaited new Katlyst album, What’s Happening, features a guest list that suggests that his most successful project seems to have been filling his address book with page after page of high class collaborators.

Working with J-Live, McKay, Steve Specek is one thing, but luring them from the other side of the world for the album launch is sure to grab the attention. So lured out by the more than impressive line up Melbourne’s punters filled the Prince bandroom for this surely never to be repeated gig. With a long list of guests and an album inspired by and riffling on the themes of the Marvin Gaye classic –  “What’s Going On’ the expectations are high. Perhaps too high.

The entertainment opened with local MC and former 1200 Techniques leadman N’fa equipped with live drums and Australian hip-hops most redundant side-man. While the beats and basslines rumbled ears and stomachs N’fa performed tracks from last years debut record and some from an up coming EP while ignoring his more successful 1200 Tech past. Despite being mirrored by a second MC, N’fa’s lyrics were mostly blurred in the mix, but they never stray far too from straight party rhymes. He – and sideboy – resorts to throwing in a few lyrics lifted from Lil John and a chorus pinched from –  “The Message’ to get the crowd hyped. Taking the hip-hop clichíƒÆ’í‚© literally – a few hands were waved in the air, but they just didn’t care.

With the long list of talent hidden backstage there’s a frustratingly long wait for the main event as the DJ shifts the cross fade back and forth for an hour. It was a solid selection of classic soul and hip-hop but presented with all the energy of an ipod shuffle. Eventually Katalyst and the first of his gang of guest vocalists take to the stage. The first MC to tell the crowd –  “what’s happening’ is local reggae MC Ru C.L and it appears that he’s been hanging out in name dropped Melbourne clubs and watching a bit of TV news for a dash of social comment. N’fa also returns to add his piece and prove that he should never be allowed to –  “freestyle’ as all he ever manages to produce –  “straight from the dome, as he rocks the microphone’ is a series of shout outs and the perennial –  “wave your hands in the air’ routine. Melbourne is also represented on stage in an odd and brief turn from Magic Dirt’s Adalita, who appears amid the soul and hip-hop to offer What’s Happening’s foray into rock –  “Bladewalker’. Despite their best intentions the dark tune jars with the (admittedly stilted) flow of the evening and Katalyst turns to the reliable –  “Showtime’, from Manipulating Agent, to raise the dance tempo again.

The true star of the night was McKay who hit the stage to an unexpectedly huge response and proceeded to prove why that response was well deserved. Opening with –  “Take Me Over’ – featured on the Dusted mix – McKay waists no time ensuring that people all over the place are up-rocking. She follows up with the current single from What’s Happening, –  “Say What You Feel’, and returns later to show off her soulful vocals with tracks that will appear on her upcoming album. It’s too a brief an appearance from the Brooklyn based performer, but hopefully it won’t be long before she makes a return trip. The crowd reaction certainly warrants a full solo tour.

Steve Spacek also dazzles with a brief appearance that truly brings Katalyst’s Marvin Gaye inspiration to the stage. Spacek shows just why he’s been championed by the like of Giles Peterson and Mos Def, though his silk soft vocals are occasionally overpowered by interjections from various MCs. –  “Dollar’, produced by the late great J Dilla, has been described as –  “what Curtis Mayfield would be doing today’ and it’s hard to disagree – but imagine bringing Curtis out to Australia to play just a handful of tunes and you’ll understand the disappointment when Spacek leaves the stage.

The third international guest on the bill is New York MC J-Live, who pops up to deliver a few tracks, though –  “Satisfied’ – another highlight from Dusted – fails to feature. Again his appearance feels like a missed opportunity. Sure, the point of the night is to showcase and push the new Katalyst album but it’s hard not to feel a little shot changed by the fleeting appearances’ of the guests. With the ever rotating cast the gig never manages to settle into a rhythm as it jumps between vocalists.

As Katalyst has been happy to acknowledge the inspiration the album takes from Marvin Gaye’s classic What’s Going On album, it seems a missed opportunity to combine all the evenings guests into a closing the evening with a cover of –  “Inner City Blues’, or even the –  “What’s Going On’. But that’s the feeling the gig leaves as the crowd wanders off – a missed opportunity.