It would be a tough to pinpoint a specific climax of this show, but a true high point of feeling for the band -- and probably the crowd -- came with the last number of the set when Kawabata Makoto used some kind of white, plastic object that looked like some kind of ladle that emitted albatross-like noises á la Pink Floyd's Echoes when held to the guitar pick-ups, at which point the whole band then kicked in and Kawabata went wild yet again.
Instead of unleashing just whirlwinds of feedback-drenched guitar fire, though, his guitar sounded like it was out of control as well and making the kind of noises a computer on the blink would make in a 1950s science fiction movie. Kawabata himself was seemingly tugged back and forth against his will by the dictates of the music he and the band were making together. At the end, he pushed the head of the guitar into some space in the ceiling where he left it to hang. Full stop, goodbyes and that would have been the end.
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For this tour of Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso UFO, the line-up was expanded to five. Higashi Hiroshi was playing synth and an odd/theremin-like device exclusively and Tabata Mitsuru (known for stints in Zeni Geva and Acid Mothers Temple Cosmic Inferno) played guitar. For the opener, it looked like Tsuyama Atsushi, the bass player, let go with some gutsy blasts off what looked like a kind of clarinet but may have been a tárogató. From jump, it was space rock, blues-jazz psychedelia played by people who are short neither on technique or imagination.
The music and presentation was reminiscent of Gong and Hawkwind but without the costumes and other sartorial excesses. During one song, the riffing between Kawabata and Tabata had such an odd but interesting intersection of sounds and rhythm that it sounded a bit like that weird solo in the middle-end of "Infant Tango" by the Residents.
Tsuyama's bass playing was like getting to see one of the masters of jazz bass going all over the fret board in creating dynamics to drive a song but without it seeming like he was trying to show off. Tsuyama didn't seem to suffer from a lack of nervous energy in need of channeling either. His fluid yet relentless flow of notes from the bass is what drove that music. Kawabata may be the fiery, guitar mad genius of the band, but Tsuyama and his partner in crime, drummer Shimura Koji, are doing what propels the music forward -- one with his irrepressible energy, the other with his knack for texture and tightly controlled pacing.
Roughly half way into the show, the band went into a chant-like intro that signaled the beginning of selections from IAO Chant From the Cosmic Inferno. A few people in the audience knew the chant and vocalized along. Toward the end of that, Kawabata ripped a warping, heavy sound through the dense, building melody, slathering the whole line of music in wah to guide the tones in unexpected directions.
The sixth song of the set found Kawabata applying what looked like a round file of some kind to his guitar strings to create a hollow tone. Then the familiar strains of one of the band's best, most beloved songs began as Kawabata passed from ambient noise into "Pink Lady Lemonade." For countless seconds, the intro repeated hypnotically with no accompaniment, then the rest of the instrumentation came in slowly with Tabata ultimately taking over the duties of playing the main riff, and Kawabata seemed to rip notes from the guitar as though exposing its soul.
At one point, the band went into a quieter interlude section of the longer, more than an hour-long, piece. But then the familiar riff came back in and the whole band seemed to kick on some kind of higher volume state for the music, and Kawabata pivoted and held his guitar to the amp and created swells of feedback to burn the heavens.
After the main part of the set ended, the crowd hadn't had nearly enough, and the Acid Mothers came back. Except Tabata took up bass and Tsuyama didn't play any instruments. Instead, he lived up to one of his nicknames of "cosmic joker" by singing in a voice that was like a cartoon character and a swagger like a send-up of Mick Jagger. Normally Higashi is the "dancin' king" (and he performed his fair share of wizardly dance moves), but this was a time for Tsuyama to shine in that department and otherwise goof off as the band closed its set, and the night, with "Chinese Flying Saucer." Ninety minutes never went by so quickly.
Page down for Critic's Notebook and more on Tjutjuna and the Phantom Family Halo's sets.
Opening the show was Denver's own Tjutjuna. Original members Brian Marcus and Robert Ballentyne were on stage joined by another member on synths and samples, along with two guest drummers in Night of Joy's Fernando Guzman and Eston Lathrop, formerly of Woodsman. It was the perfect addition, and Guzman and Lathrop played off each other and strengthened each others' beats in a way that actually helped to expand the core Tjutjuna sound.
Brian Marcus, even before he ever saw Kawabata Makoto, had some stage mannerisms as a guitarist and the same elemental ability to make the soul of the instrument express itself. Tonight made the parallel obvious. But it was also something impressive to see as Marcus has the same facility with writing spazzy, expansive and powerful guitar leads as Kawabata. Amid the band's most sonically effervescent moments, Ballentyne's fuzzy bass nudged things into a channel that boosted the focus and impact of the sound even as it seemed to go off the rails at the hands of Marcus.
But even at the end, when it looked like Marcus was trying to figure out what was wrong with his pedal chain, he got the guitar to sound like it was changing radio stations and losing signal at the same time -- which was interesting in the way that only a complete mistake or uncontrollable situation could be. At the end, Marcus set down his guitar, and the sounds sputtered out like a sparkler.
The Phantom Family Halo came as an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. Guitarist William Benton, who was wearing what turned out to be an original Prince 1999 t-shirt, played a signature J. Mascis Jazzmaster. Dominic Cipolla often had a look in his eye like he was staring off into some other universe. Projected behind the six-piece band were images from relatively obscure TV shows and movies, including Fantastic Planet.
Musically, it was like these guys figured out a viable way to bring together the emotional versatility of R&B, along with the rhythms, psychedelia and space rock. At times, these guys were reminiscent of Roxy Music at its most bombastic. Other times, like Trust, if that band had gone the route of psych instead of metal.
The sixth song of the set sounded like "White Hot Gun" from When I Fall Out with its bouncy, yet jagged, bassline. The second to last song was Zeppelin-esque in its stretchy guitar tone in various parts of the song but more dirty and fuzzy. The final song of Phantom Family's set saw Herman Munster on the screen with an eruptive rhythm as part of the soundtrack. People who like The Men from Brooklyn should check out The Phantom Family Halo because the same force of music exists even if sonically the two bands are very different.
Personal Bias: Been a fan of AMT since New Geocentric World of Acid Mothers Temple came out.
Random Detail: There was a double LP of Pink Lady Lemonade on yellow vinyl limited to 500 copies available at the show. It was released by Alien8 Recordings in 2011.
By the Way: The Phantom Family Halo has a new album out on Knitting Factory Records called When I Fall Out.
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