Kikagaku Moyo | Shacklewell Arms | 25 September 2016
When Tomo Katsurada announces that Kikagaku Moyo are about to play their last song, the audience who’ve packed out the Shacklewell Arms on a Sunday night are less than pleased. And with good reason – the five-piece from Tokyo have transformed the sold-out North East London venue into an otherworldly dreamspace nobody wants to leave.
Which is exactly the point. With their freewheeling blend of ‘70s rock, traditional folk, Krautrock, and classical Indian music, the Japanese musicians create what they describe as “scenic images”.
Take the woozy ‘Green Sugar’ from their latest album ‘House In The Tall Grass’. Inspired by a morning walk, says drummer/singer Go Kurosawa, it variously represents a blizzard, a gentle stroll in the woods, and a descent into a bottomless cave. Like all the songs tonight, the 10-minute epic is performed faster and with more dynamism than the studio version, introducing the interplay between Kurosowa, guitarist/singer Katsurada, guitarist Daoud Popal, bassist Kotsu Guy, and sitar player Ryu Kurosawa.
That musical telepathy is an integral part to their live performances, with the five men huddled on the too-small stage deftly navigating the sudden tempo and intensity changes of their repertoire. ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, from 2014’s ‘Forest Of Lost Children’, swings frequently between laidback meandering, characterised by a sitar twang, and summery Hendrix guitar psychedelia, all underpinned by Kurosawa’s fluid drumming and Guy’s throbbing basslines.
Built around a hypnotic guitar riff, the galloping ‘Kodama’ is more straightforward – apart from the sitar solo – and adds the soft harmonies of the two vocalists to the lush instrumental mix. But it’s the escalating ‘Trad’ that best encapsulates the quintet’s ability to balance chaos and order as its quiet introspection makes way for an eruption of feedback, distortion, and guitar heroics that, understandably, leaves the audience wanting more.