Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. + / HI / ZO / U / BU / TU
(Cafe Oto, Tuesday 23 October 2012. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
The humour of Acid Mothers Temple is of a particularly disarming kind, but it is also what binds together their performances – such as last week’s sold-out night at Café Oto. There are two strands to the Japanese hardcore/experimental scene, as Kawabata Makoto, the band’s founder (and self-styled ‘speed guru’) has remarked: there’s the po-faced, serious side, which cultivates mystique, as exemplified by Keiji Haino; and there are the mischievous rockers like AMT who naturally embrace parody and humour, and who are rooted in the boisterous, earthy, centuries-old traditions of Japanese popular humour such as manzai.
AMT is essentially a morphing collective of personnel, monikers and collaborations which has released scores of albums – including the recent Son of a Bitches Brew, very much a deconstruction with the flavour of the Miles original. The epithet, ‘the greatest, the most extreme trip psychedelic group in the world’ is perhaps intentionally misleading – in concert they came across more like Spinal Tap meets Sun Ra, the Grateful Dead and Hawkwind with a more than respectable smattering of improv, jazz, funk, folk and rock and roll. Chameleon-like, continually changing their musical colours throughout two sets, they mixed respect and irreverence in equal doses, and what they lacked in originality they made up for with drive and wicked wit.
Tsuyama Atsushi, bassist, spokesman and ‘cosmic joker’, in the midst of a sequence of duets and trios explained, as though to the uninitiated, that Higashi Hiroshi was playing a “very mysterious instrument … called synthesiser”, which was briefly exchanged for a harmonica in a blues harp/vocal duet that had the band in stitches. A Fairport diversion degenerated gleefully into a dancing jig and had guitarist Tabata Mitsuru, wearing Ban the Bomb spectacles, camping it up with gusto.
Guitarist Makoto abandoned high-flying guitar pyrotechnics to set about on metal industrial lampshades with AMT’s deceptively tight and focused drummer, Shimura Koji, in a spell that Han Bennink would surely have found to his liking as they used the shades as hand-held cymbals with Koji dragging and beating them mercilessly about the stage.
Atsushi threw in a dynamic Cecil Taylor-tinged piano interlude despite his repeated protestations – “I’m very sorry, we can’t play real jazz, we’re just a psychedelic rock and roll band.” Introduced as Begin the Beguine, the Tubular Bells theme was treated with a touch of love and a great deal of disrespect, its inescapable refrain transformed into crashing percussive mayhem and chordal thrash by the ensemble.
He then intoned the text from the ‘Supersilent’ flier (distributed outside the venue) in a suitably mock-grandiose poetic tone (they’d already covered mock Led Zep) before being drowned out by twin guitar interplay.
Blooping and bleeping space-jazz and space-rock found its way into the nooks and corners of their sets, put in its place by the rhetorical question, “Are we experimental?” “No!” came back the answer followed by bird whistles.
In the final numbers and the encore they wigged out at locomotive pace with a mix of anthemic rock (not many bands would get away with that at Cafe Oto!) and in Steve Hillage/Hawkwind style, with great sound balance highlighting their technical proficiency.
Earlier, performance artist Satoshi Yamada (aka / HI / ZO / U / BU / TU ) had set the tone with a combination of the serious and the absurd – he was all in black, his hair scooped round to cover his face (echoes of The Residents) and the lights were turned out, but in response to the flash photographic barrage he implored “please take my photo”. Percussive hums, cracks and feedback ensued intermittently, then a plea, “I need more beer” before the serious business of using an amplified power drill on his cello.
Not quite what it said on the tin but underneath it all, refreshingly self-deprecating all-round.
Acid Mothers Temple
Tsuyama Atsushi: bass, voice, soprano sax, cosmic joker
Shimura Koji: drums, latino cool
Higashi Hiroshi: synthesizer, dancin’ king
Tabata Mitsuru: guitar, guitar synthesizer, maratab
Kawabata Makoto: guitar, speed guru