Live Review: Kikagaku Moyo @ Scala, London, November 8th
Kikagaku Moyo's show is an exploration of their music - like the Grateful Dead, or Phish, before them, Kikagaku Moyo reveal the bones and architecture of their songs while weaving in and around and away from it all.
It's almost a full house at London's Scala as support act Faux Real take to the stage - a rare reception for an opening band. Close to 80% of Kikagaku Moyo’s fanbase, who sold out the show, are present for Faux Real’s slot.
Standing out quickly from the rest of the six-strong band, the two vocalists, dressed in almost matching outfits, jeans and a vest under a white fringed cowboy jacket, trade vocal duties and harmonies as they yelp and dance their way through the show. They play jaunty rock songs that bridge the line between pastiche and adoration, with a sense of fun that permeates the performance. There's a fair amount of hamming it up throughout, but never to the detriment of the immediately infectious songs themselves - with one track reaching sing-along status after just one pass through the chorus.
Enamoured though many in the audience may have become with Faux Real, they're already fizzling with anticipation for the headliner - nervous excitement peppers the room, not a note, a step or a movement on this stage could be missed by anyone.
Strolling onstage, the members of Kikagaku Moyo are neither shy nor arrogant. They're quietly confident, quickly and meticulously checking over the layout of the stage and their instruments. Satisfied, they nod at each other and the five of them – two guitarists, one bassist, one drummer, and one sitar player – slam at their instruments, hands blur with the speed and intensity at which each and every one of them play.
A wall of sound moves out from the stage and staggers the audience: a wall that is undulated and builds itself up to drop away before it crashes down upon the heads of those in attendance. Proficiently dynamic, the band slowly progress into the opening riff of 'Green Sugar,' a walk-around psychedelic Beatles-y riff that provides plenty of space for jamming and experimentation.
Primarily, Kikagaku Moyo's show is an exploration of their music. Like the Grateful Dead, or Phish, before them, Kikagaku Moyo reveal the bones and architecture of their songs while weaving in and around and away from it all. Complex and layered though the album tracks may be, to hear them live is to hear them reworked, revisited, and renewed.
What sets Kikagaku Moyo apart from other bands that jam and rework their songs and experiment onstage is the sheer, insane, technical ability of each of them. Solos and mid-song detours sound like they are written ahead of time and moments of experimentation and cutting loose are so technically proficient and perfectly placed that it is almost impossible to tell that the band may be straying off the beaten path.
This technical proficiency and ability allows for band members to swap instruments when necessary. Go Kurosawa spends most of his time behind the drum kit, singing as he lays out the groove of the band, but midway through the show he comes to the front of the stage and performs a gorgeous acoustic interlude, playing acoustic guitar and singing as he is accompanied by the rest of the band, Tomo Katsurada notably swapping his guitar out for a cello during the accompaniment.
It's a powerhouse display of tempering chaos with control, ebullience with restraint. Intention colours everything; the band instinctively aware of when to hold back for ten or twenty more bars before breaking into another maelstrom of intensity and power. Constantly they play with the idea of tension and release, setting up an expectation, recognized or not by the audience, that they would refuse to fulfil immediately, dancing around it to make the final recognition of the release all the more powerful and satisfying.
The band work their way through a mere ten songs but fill the time tremendously and play with constant captivation; almost as with an air of those rediscovering their own songs, getting lost in their own passages as well as those of their fellow bandmates – just as lost and captivated as the audience is for the entire performance. What a shock it is, when the end of the show comes to a close and 800 people have to snap out of their reverie and head back outside to the sounds of sirens and fights and trains and the conversations of people blissfully unaware of the amazing performance they’d missed.