Jackal & the Wind, Zebra and Hiding Bigfoot – Live at Railways Café

Review by Matthew Nijland

Last Saturday night, 20 August, I joined my sister and a group of friends at one of Gauteng’s coolest live music venues, Railways Café. Cape Town-based band, Jackal & the Wind, were hosted in the indoor theatre for the final night of their recent Gauteng tour, accompanied by opening acts Hiding Bigfoot and Zebra. Judging by their band names, the evening promised to be a musical menagerie of homegrown indie talent.

Hiding Bigfoot kicked off the evening with a brilliant cover of “Brazil” by Declan McKenna, which had the people sitting at the many tables bopping and singing along. This was the first time I’d ever seen the band live, though I’d been following them for quite some time on Instagram. Having played several of the popular Picnic & Thrift events and recently opening for Desmond and the Tutus at Sognage, it’s easy to see why this band continues to grow in popularity. The four members (Matt, Benji, Aidan and Hannah) have a natural musical synergy that blends well through the original feel-good indie songs they write, such as their self-titled song and their most-recent single, “Running Blind”. They played a handful of other upbeat originals (my personal favourite being a song about ghosts which they wrote for a Halloween show) and got some great crowd participation with some well-known covers of “Riptide” by Vance Joy and “As It Was” by Harry Styles, which had their female fans rush to the dancefloor.

They’re a group that enjoys doing whatever they feel, whether it’s cracking jokes with each other and the audience, bringing out a surprise cello for one of their songs, or writing a heartfelt ballad about… bread. They set an uplifting tone for the rest of the evening and received a great crowd response throughout. I look forward to what comes next for these guys!

Up next, we had the mighty vibey Zebra. Their name seems to be popping up on every local festival line-up and as openers for many major local acts, and for good reason. They never fail to bring the jol to their live shows, and always have a phenomenal ability to keep audiences engaged throughout their set. The crowd immediately flocked from their tables to the front of the stage as they launched into their anthemic opener, “Gugulethu”. The crowd were in high spirits and couldn’t get enough of the band, effortlessly grooving and shout-singing along to their stream of hits including “Taxi Love”, “Mexico” and “JD”. Having played an impressive amount of shows this year, the band performed as a very tight unit, yet kept the vibe loose, fun and carefree. The band’s additional talent as stand-up comedians had us in stitches throughout the show, such as when frontman Siphe “The Captain” Mashigo halted the band during “Gugulethu” to “teach the white people” how to sing the “woza puza name manje” chorus refrain, or co-frontman Justin “Nacho Steez” Swartz hilariously impersonating a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes commercial.

What makes Zebra such a universally appealing local band is that they take all the quintessential and most relatable elements of our various South African cultures and turn them into funny and entertaining story-songs, with simple and easy-to-sing choruses that never fail to get audiences involved even upon first listen. Additionally, the band are always fully involved and push their performances to the next level, treating their shows like a theatre production, complete with black-and-white-striped costumes, a horn section to flesh out the songs, and cleverly timed pauses to engage with and encourage the audience to “sing louder”. I foresee a very bright future for these guys and know for a fact that they will go down as one of the great South African bands.

Finally, Jackal & the Wind took to the stage for their headlining performance. The front of the stage was still packed with eager fans, who lapped up the band’s distinctly South African-sounding melodies and swayed along to their infectiously rhythmic drums and basslines. I’ll admit that I’d never seen the band live or heard any of their songs before, which made it all the more mind-blowing when all four members suddenly launched into a four-part harmony on their song “Samson and Delilah”. Their voices gelled together so beautifully, and I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a local band do that on stage before, which is something only a tightly in-sync group of musicians could pull off. I was even further impressed by the complex progressive-indie style of their music, seamlessly shifting between tender ballad moments to slow dance grooves (“Cannonball”), or from very upbeat melodic guitar lines to mid-tempo dance grooves (“The People Sing”).

Several audience members requested for the band to perform their song “Oh Katie”, much to lead singer Christopher Kruger’s surprise, as he admitted it’s actually a “very depressing” song written about his dog who died a few years ago. Coincidentally, my sister’s friend Caitlin attended the show with us, and she’s not only a fan of the song because of the similar name reference, but her dog was also sadly put down that morning. During the song, my sister typed on her phone in bold letters that “HER DOG DIED THIS MORNING” and held it up with an arrow pointing to Caitlin. This caught Christopher’s attention and, during a gap in the song, he said “I’m so sorry to hear that”, which seemed to make Caitlin’s night after a rough morning. My favourite part of their set was when they called on Zebra’s brass section to perform their closing song, “Broken Shoes”, which was originally recorded with Nomadic Orchestra. The audience responded with great enthusiasm, jumping and singing along to the trumpet melody with gusto. It was the perfect way to end a fantastic evening of live music with a well-curated line-up that complemented each other very nicely. I eagerly look forward to the next time I get to watch each of these bands!

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