Cat Empire busy dancing with ‘Two Shoes’ 

Borrowing from virtually every musical tradition under the sun — ska, rock, jump blues, hip-hop and salsa, to name a few — the Australian band The Cat Empire wields a richly diverse sound that swirls into a frenetic world beat.

To call it eclectic would be a serious understatement. All of the tunes on the band’s records are wildly different in style and delivery. It’s a curiously diverse sound for six young white men from Australia.

They blame their Aussie roots.

"Well, in Melbourne, where we grew up, there are people from all over the world who live there, and they bring their music with them," says bassist Ryan Munro. "You can go out nearly any night of the week, and hear any kind of music you can think of.

"So growing up in a town like that, and wanting to be musicians, we just sort of got into all this music from everywhere. And then, we somehow ended up in a band where we could let it all come out."

Bay Area music fans can discover the band’s diverse, danceable sound for themselves tonight at San Francisco’s Grand Ballroom. Having sold out the Independent in January, The Cat Empire is back in town at the bigger 1,500-seat venue.

The band has already appeared on David Letterman and Craig Ferguson’s shows, and, this week, on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Still, compared with the success in its native country, The Cat Empire is still only beginning to catch on in the United States.

The band’s album "Two Shoes" was only recently released in the United States, despite having been recorded more than two years ago. To achieve its signature live sound, the band traveled all the way to Cuba to record.

"One of the crazy reasons we went to Cuba to make that album was we liked the sound of that room (Egrem Studios in Havana), and having everyone play in it at once," says Munro. "A lot of recordings we’d really gotten into were recorded there, like Buena Vista Social Club, and Afro-Cuban All-Stars ... But also, playing in a big wooden room with all the instruments at once leads to some technical difficulties."

Technical difficulties weren’t the only hardships they encountered in Cuba. One night while recording, everyone in the band was struck with a bout of food poisoning.

Munro recalls, "We all got it on the same night, at around about the same time, and I remember — I was so sick I can’t even remember who it was — one of the guys just called up and said ‘Are you sick, too?’ and it turned out everybody was."

There you have it: The Cat Empire is a band that does everything together. It’s an important quality for a group that relies heavily on the power of cohesion.

"It makes every gig we do an individual, special thing," says Munro of the band’s ability to function as a collective. "Which is good, because we do a hell of a lot of gigs."

The Cat Empire

Where: The Grand at the Regency Center, 1300 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today

Tickets: $22.50

Contact: (415) 421-8497 or www.ticketmaster.com

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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