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“Happy Kat” McDowell: Songs, Smiles, and Cheers

Patrick O'Heffernan: Born in Japan, raised mostly in New Zealand, with many parts of both cultures inside her, Kat McDowell makes music in both English and Japanese that make you sit up and take notice, or just let you happily tap your feet.

[dc]“H[/dc]appy Kat” is not really Kat McDowell’s nickname, but after seeing her live at the Witzend Saturday night, that is what I am going to call her because that is what she does – make people happy. And Saturday night she made a packed house, standing room only cheering crowd very, very happy. Not bad for his first major live performance in her adopted LA home.

Kat McDowell

Born in Japan, raised mostly in New Zealand, with many parts of both cultures inside her, Kat McDowell makes music in both English and Japanese that make you sit up and take notice, or just let you happily tap your feet. She combines, pop, J-Pop, calypso, rock, Hawaiian and a positive musical attitude in a mixture that is like sunshine to listen to. She built a successful career in Japan as a gaijun - a non-Japanese, even though she is a native – and that’s a serious challenge . But after many albums, singles, gigs, shows, TV commercials and studio sessions, she was a success there so now she is taking on the largest and most competitive music city in the world. And from what I saw Saturday night, she is taking it by storm.

Starting the 11 song set list with “Hopeful”, the lead song on the album she released Saturday, “Rise Above”, she gets us moving right away with a lively western/pop acoustic guitar strum beat and the lyrics that tell us that although it is Just us against the world…we’ll rise above again…and we are hopeful. She picks us the energy with Diana with strong guitar riffs powdered with a fast-paced kick drum that stays steady as she pushes even higher and faster, propelling one guest to get up and dance to the side of the stage – much to Kat’s encouraging amusement.

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After introducing herself and the band Peter Chalmers on guitar, Pablo Motta on drums Masaki Kusumori on bass and telling us about the new album, “Rise Above” she downshifts the energy and smoothed out the beat out with “Where Are you love:’ from her You and Me album, a perfect prelude to her kicking back and starting a personal conversation with the audience, telling us about starting the piano at 6 years old and wanting to learn more, but being intimidated by a 4-year old boy prodigy in her class. However, when she moved to the piano, kicked off her shoes, and demonstrated her prowess on the keys on two songs, including the “Still Learning How to Start” accented by an electrifying guitar riff and “Lovely Day”, written with her brother.

Putting her shoes back on and flashing her 100-megawatt smile, Kat returned to center stage, pulled up a stool and asked us if she minded her sitting down for a while. We didn’t and were rewarded with the ukulele-led “ Human” , 3.11 from her Hope in You album, and “Everywhere I go’ and the island-hopping “Goodbye” with Kat’s signature happy beats and not so-happy lyrics blending into addictive music. Then she did something I have never seen a singer do – she gave us her phone number – actually, she brought out a large banner with her number on it (310-846-8416) and told us to text it for a free download. Phones came out and the sound of fingers tapping filled the room (it worked – I got my download).

Kat McDowell

Rolling down to the finish line, Kat held up a hand-designed towel with her name on it and told us they would available with CD’s. Then she balled up the towel, threw into the audience – almost as good as a t-shirt gun at the ball game. While the towel was being passed around the back rows, she kicked off “Final Win” telling us You have never heard her roar and then really roared in “Break Free” from her You and Me album. But best of all, she finished with “A Little Rain”, charging it with the best energy of the night, engaging the audience in call and response and even demonstrating her trilling skills.

The audience was deliriously happy and clearly wanted now, and the Witzend widely gave her time for an encore even though the clock said it now Sunday morning. Kat McDowell had accomplished what she set out to do, release an album with a band and make people happy. From now on, she is “Happy Kat” to me.

patrick-oheffernan

Patrick O’Heffernan. Host Music FridayLive!