Gig Reviews

Hilltop Hoods – Sydney, Hordern Pavilion 24/10/14

For those of you familiar with Australian hip hop, you’ll know that it is, generally, far from the homogenous, sexist, and frankly boring stereotype of the genre. Instead it is, usually, lighthearted, evocative and witty, all supported by rhythmic and creative music. This Hilltop Hoods show displayed exactly that.

The evening started with K21, who, although young, demonstrated great potential. Compared to earlier songs, his most recent single displayed an increasing maturity in both lyrics and music. After the first set, DJ Morgs kept the energy up as more fans streamed in. Then, a strong bass and trumpet intro hailed the Thundamentals onto the stage.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performance so full of love and positivity. The highlight of the set was the cover of Matt Corby’s Brother which they performed for triple j’s Like a Version. This had the whole crowd singing along. They closed out with Something I Said with Thom Crawford.

And then came Hilltop Hoods. To thunderous applause, the set opened with the live band, consisting of a horn section and their regular drummer Plutonic Lab, as well as DJ Debris. In the background was video of the familiar hooded figure with skull make-up that air-drummed, danced and sang along to the opening as well as a few other tracks.

This was interspersed with live shots of the band and the audience for most of the evening, projected onto three screens as well as the DJ booth. The first song was Chase That Feeling, which amped up the energy of the heaving crowd.

What struck me between many of the tracks was the blackout or semi-blackout and silence. It made the set seem somewhat disjointed. There were also ongoing sound issues throughout the set, the speakers struggling with what was being pushed through them, distorting the sound.

The set list moved to a couple of their earlier songs, Recapturing the Vibe and Still Standing. The first song from their most recent album, Walking Under Stars, was Art of the Handshake, a track that epitomises the laid-back yet eloquent and musically diverse sound of Aussie hip hop.

This was followed up by The Hard Road, which worked as segue to the beautiful song Through the Dark. This song, which almost induced tears, is a powerful tribute written by MC Pressure during his son’s diagnosis and treatment for cancer. I’m so glad that they performed the song, although it must be difficult to do so, (for those wondering, Pressure’s son is in remission).

The only possible song that could follow was Won’t Let You Down, a positive and uplifting track about, you guessed it, not letting loved ones down.

Photos: Hilltop Hoods – Sydney, Hordern Pavilion 24/10/14 / Photos by Liam Cameron

With the audience all full of love, the Hoods continued with their love song to the audience, their breakout track from 2003, The Nosebleed Section, again to rapturous applause. They deliberately slowed it down to Live and Let Go from their new album before ramping it up to Speaking in Tongues, aided by the tremendous live horns.

What happened next was simply incredible. MC Suffa delighted the audience with an a cappella rap for five or so minutes, deftly covering a range of historical and cultural references with his impressive vocabulary. If there are still people out there who think that hip hop is for idiots, they should just hear this.

It’s worth noting that Suffa changed the lyric about Cee Lo Green – thanks for standing up against sexual assault, Suffa. For a genre that is often tainted with sexism, it’s great to see acts following the lead of the Beastie Boys in Sure Shot.

The Hoods slowed it down with I’m a Ghost, again from their new album, before bringing K21 and Thundamentals on to perform Cosby Sweater, which was an epic penultimate song. They finished the set with Rattling the Keys to the Kingdom, getting the audience to wave an item of clothing in the air for the final minutes of the show.

What a great night! The audience was impressively diverse, showing just how the Hilltop Hoods speak (or rap) to so many parts of the Australian community with their energetic and thought-provoking sound. The live band really added complexity to the songs and, as always, MC Pressure and MC Suffa never let the energy wane.

Hilltop Hoods’ national tour continues in Canberra this Thursday, 30th October. See the rest of their tour dates here.

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