Quick question, what do Vegemite, Single Malt Scotch, and Improvisational-Psych-Noise-Space-Drone-Japanese rock have in common? No, they don’t make you vomit, I mean they might, but I was looking for “they are all acquired tastes.” It’s rare that your first exposure to music is something as challenging as say Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kontakte. Often times new listeners are exposed to whatever is on the radio, a.k.a. “pop music”. For me, it was Michael Jackson, Men At Work, Van Halen, and the classics like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd that served as the bedrock on which my musical tastes were formed. I’m not about to launch into a rant about how I think today’s music is terrible and “back in my day” blah blah blah, that’s not the point I am trying to make here. I am, however, rather curious as to how one becomes a fan of Merzbow or, in this case, Acid Mothers Temple. I don’t purport to have a definitive answer, but after Monday night’s show at Cafe Nine in New Haven, CT I can say one thing was for certain, everyone left standing, after the last note was struck by the Japanese quintet, had a deep appreciation for the complexity and variety of sounds capable of being produced in ways that challenge our perceived notion of what constitutes “rock and roll”, or moreover “music”. What made the Pink Floyd’s of the music world great is not that dissimilar to what made the Jackson Pollocks of the art world great: experimentation, innovation, risk, belief in one’s own creative process, pushing the limits of the medium, embracing technology, etc. Acid Mothers Temple are no different in their approach to their craft, despite lacking the notoriety that the aforementioned achieved during their careers.
I will confess that while I know very little about gear, I do love watching bands set up. J Mascis effects pedal rig was always a fan favorite, but now that he has it in a road case and a roadie set it up for him it’s not quite the same process. There was something amazing about watching the Acid Mothers sitting in traditional tea ceremony posture with their feet tucked under them as they sat on the floor of the claustrophobic stage pulling bag from bag from bag like a set of Russian stacking dolls. Frantic phrases spoken in Japanese were often followed by smiles and laughter making the other-worldly freak out noise rockers from a distant planet more human and relatable. Once they had finished communicating through hand gestures and bits of broken English with the front of house sound engineer the barrage of sounds, loud enough to penetrate through my earplugs, commenced.
The set began with the spastic improvisational instrumentation from “In Search of Lost Divine Ark” that slowly gave way to it’s spaced outprog rock sensibility. Watching each member perform was like watching 5 solo musicians on stage at one time, right down to their outfits, and yet they formed a sonic Voltron of sorts. While fashion is not something I often comment on, I would be remiss not to do so in this case. Guitarist and founder Kawabata Makoto looked like a Japanese Jimmie Page circa mid-70’s with his flared black pants and black lace up linen shirt, and, of course, his wild long black curly hair. Higashi Hiroshi stood front and center at his Roland SH-9 alter of whirling synth sounds with his striking Gandalf-like white hair flowing with each undulation. Tsuyama Atsushi looked like a well traveled wandering Shinto monk with a clean ponytail pulled back, wearing linen pants and sandals as he confidently plucked and strummed the strings on his bass. Tabata Mitsuru was the clear winner on the red carpet with his burger and fries photo print shirt, cow print long johns, and platform black sneakers. His guitar, on the other hand, was classically beautiful with it’s British racing green paint job. Last and certainly not least was Satoshima Nani’s silk pants and sequin sleeved rayon shirt. Imagine all of these fashion styles woven together and you have the visual equivalent of their sonic fabric.
The clear crowd favorite was an epic 30-minute version of “Pink Lady Lemonade”/”OM Riff” medley. I found myself at one moment awash in the haunting and lush opening repeat of Kawabata Makoto’s looping guitar riff supplemented by Hiroshi’s cosmic synth swirls and then without warning tossed about in Kawabata’s frenetic guitar licks and Nani’s relentless drumming only to be given reprieve once again. This continued for what felt like hours but in that pleasurable runners high kind of euphoria. The set concluded with another medley, “Cometary Orbital Drive”/”Speed Guru,” and fewer survivors on the floor than stood standing at the beginning of this sonic battle. I don’t consider myself to be a terribly brave person but in this war of sounds as beautiful as they were brusque I felt like a purple heart recipient. If you’re brave enough to attend an Acid Mothers Temple show in your town, I can assure you’ll leave a believer in the avant-garde!