The “spirit” of MONO

Just recently I attended a Japanese festival in my town with my wife and two young children. My wife was born here in the US but her family emigrated from Japan and so we are always trying to expose our children to Japanese traditions and cultures beyond eating at Hibachi restaurants, buying them Hello Kitty swag, and watching Hayao Miyazaki films (Spirited Away, Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle, etc.). While I would have loved to have taken my 7 year old daughter to Acid Mothers Temple last month to teach her about the long history of Japanese Psych/Noise/Improv music, listening to the Flower Travellin’ Band, Merzbow, and the Boredoms on the radio all the while teaching her the ins and outs of this complex ethnomusicology, alas it wasn’t an all ages show. My son, who just turned 5 and loves local band Violent Mae along with the closely aligned sound of M83 (look he likes what he likes) wanted to come hear MONO who “come from where Baba and Jiji were born” but it was a bit past his bedtime, which is what I had to explain to him, but I digress. So we attended this Japanese cultural event just two days after the MONO show and we caught an absolutely inspiring performance by a taiko drumming ensemble from Montreal, Canada by the name of Arashi Daiko. I’ve seen taiko drumming a few times and I recall enjoying it, but this was captivating and engaging on a whole nother level. After performing a couple of pieces the elder took to the mic and spoke in the most wonderful Canadian-Japanese you could imagine, and yes it was that great! His name was Mikio Owaki and he was introducing the next piece, which he himself had composed and he said something interesting, which I honestly had never really thought of before. He was describing the spirit with which he wanted us all to participate during a sort of call and response portion of the music. He described it as the “spirit of the music” which was “inside of you”. He then went on to define precisely right down to the centimeter where this spirit could be located; down to your belly button and in about a couple of inches (he kindly converted it for us as any Canadian would). Soul. Spirit. Of course. There is a long tradition shared amongst Shinto and Buddhism that speaks of this spirit that I rarely equated with music for some odd reason. But, of course, why not music since this spirit of sorts is applied to everything from the art of flower arrangement to ceramics to music to theater. While it’s not the “blues”, it is derived from the “soul”, and upon reflecting on what I’d seen and heard from MONO just nights before, that was precisely what I had witnessed, “spee-dit”.

In a word, this show was beautiful. I know, cheesy right? Well, I don’t know…is it cheesy to characterize music as “beautiful” in today’s increasingly cynical world? Perhaps, but I will attest that their music was not cheesy; no not at all. Honest and perhaps better put earnest, yes, but not at all tacky, cheap, tawdry, or trite. If honest music is cheesy then sign me up because to be honest I am tired of living in a cynical world ruled by intentionally deflated and under valued pitchfork ratings aimed simply at inflating their own status as the tastemakers of the indie world. For instance, how honest and wonderful is this post to their Instagram:

Starting from Philadelphia, passing through New York, and now Connecticut show. America is really big. For example, if it was a UK tour, it would be like going over 5 cities per country, but for America, we'd be easily going over 20 cities. This is such an amazing experience and for some reason, feels like this is our origin and home. Without losing any originality, our sounds are really solid. It's almost like growing to our perfect form, and this feeling ignites fire in our souls as musicians. There is Rock in this country. There is a reason why Rock was born here. It's a place where people from all over the world can come and tackle each other just honestly as musicians. We're all really excited and happy right now. Every night, we get to share some quality time with our fans and this feels special. We will run through this moment together with this reality full speed. We think people were born to experience. Experiences and adventures are simply the most amazing and irreplaceable things. World is big, and the land is filled with experiences. We want our fellow Japanese to experience this as well, and wish we could share how beautiful the world is with them. フィラデルフィアからNYを通り抜けて、コネチカットのshow。 アメリカは広くて大きい、例えばUKツアーでは5カ所で廻れるところがアメリカだと簡単に20カ所を越える都市を廻る事になる。これがまた最高な経験で、何故だか僕たちの原点・故郷のような感覚もある。音は力強く、美しく個性を損なう事なく完全な形へと導かれるような、とても特別な空気感が、音楽家の僕たちのソウルに火をつける、Rockがこの国にはある、ロックが生まれた理由がある、理屈抜きに音楽での世界中の人々との真剣勝負だ。とても楽しい、そしてとてもHappyに感じる、毎晩とてもスペシャルな夜をファンの人達と過ごせてる今を、リアリティーと共に全力で駆け抜ける。 人は経験するために生まれてきたと言う。経験/冒険は何より素晴らしく尊い。世界は広い、経験の大地だ。日本の人にも是非体験して欲しい、そして世界がどれほどに美しいのかをシェア出来たら素敵だな、ってそう願っている。

A photo posted by MONO (Japan) (@monoofjapan) on

I’m thinking I’ve probably lost most of my readership by now so I will tell you how the show was. The crowd was modest, in both size and persona, which I think worked better in this instance than most. It made for an intimate affair and was beneficial for both band and audience. The venue was a lumen or two shy of total darkness, which once again worked for the event, just not for the photography, apologies. With no words spoken until they exited stage left, the quartet made up of lead guitarist Takaakira “Taka” Goto, guitarist Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu, bassist and keyboardist Tamaki Kunishi, and drummer/percussionist Yasunori Takada remained true to their “The Last Dawn/Rays of Darkness” 2CD and book set, with the single omission of Halcyon (Beautiful Days). In the event that you are reading this before they play in your area, do yourself a favor and bring some cash to support these amazing musicians. Their vinyl was priced at $15 each and even the book and 2CD set was reasonably priced. I don’t think I’ve ever shilled for a band but I am happy to do so in this case. A must attend show if they’re coming to a town near you.

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