Don't Call It Noise Music

Japanese metal bands summon power and energy from the '70s

We all have our generational breaking point.

Whether it's Mick Jagger's dinosaur skeleton jerking around a Super Bowl stage or the 5,000th Ameriquest commercial about managing baby boomer money in a "rock and roll" kind of way, a listener's eventually going to lose it and reset his classic-rock radio presets. Kids need to have their say: Foreign language? Novel artwork? Clever genre name? It all flies, just as long as Mom can't take credit. Reggaetón for reggae, grime for hip-hop, or, if NYC's spring concert calendar is any indication, guitar rock from Japan for guitar rock from the Jurassic.

In the next couple months, New York venues will bring kids the all-over-Japan collective Acid Mothers Temple and Tokyo- based art-rocked cinematics MONO, while March 17 through 19, Brooklyn's No Fun Fest will present Masahiko Ohno's Solmania, a two-decade-plus noise and handmade guitar project; naturalized former Japaner and DNA drummer Ikue Mori; and Astromero, a duo comprising C.C.C.C. experimental legend Hiroshi Hasegawa and American Damion Romero.

Catch MONO
photo: Human Highway Records
Catch MONO

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  • Lay down your border patrol arms, dudes. "Personally I think there isn't anything common among these bands except all of us are from the same country, and it happens to be Japan," says MONO guitarist Taka. OK, sure; but cultist Sabbath worship has a way of bringing together even the most disparate dope smokers. Newfound metal hipsters drunk on SunnO))) drumless drones, Earth hum, or blazed High on Fire riffery might initially be confused when hit with Acid Mothers psych-rock—guitar solo, what?—but will quickly wise to the fact that Japanese avants never really stopped fucking with metal. Boris, another long-running Japanese guitar trio, will release their Mot Pink on Southern Lord in April, and it may well snatch 2006's Hessian crown, suppurating amp sewage and oh-yeah vocals into one long, retro, messy air guitar movement.

    Call it "riffs without groupies," or "big stage without the backstage." Though Pink has a whiff of pelvis thrust, mostly Boris and AMT are decidedly unsexy, naked ladies aside. Starless and Bible Black Sabbath is a tribute to, well, Black Sabbath, and for this Kawabata's proggy unwashed hair is about right. The album's lead track plays with "Black Sabbath" Iommi-isms and airy Ozzy, then rips off into headspace, chasing meandering guitar colors and Higashi Hiroshi's synthesizer feedback. Acid Mothers can try your patience—most of us regret the redundant fourth or fifth album by them we picked up—but Starless, as straight-up homage, bids hard for what Kawabata calls "the power and energy that was internalized by rock prior to the mid '70s."

    Kawabata takes orthodoxy (insanely) seriously. When asked where his band fits in among his country's noise blast and sleepy long songs, he wrote me simply: "You do a grave disrespect to noise musicians by mentioning them in the same breath as heinous lower-than-shit music like post-rock. That said, I do not care for noise music, and even though my music may be noisy it is never 'noise music.' " For Acid Mothers then, it's either '70s-classic or as far-out as they are: nothing halfway.

    But as MONO's Taka puts it, "in any period of time in the history, there are good bands and not-that-good bands. I don't believe either 'rock is dead' or 'rock is reclaimed.' " Sure enough: MONO aren't rockers in the Kawabata sense. Strings and pianos (no AMT "dancin' king" or "cosmic joker" credits for these guys), plus a whitewashed crystalline sound, pretty much guarantee a trip more asleep-at-the-symphony than out-of-your-mind-on-acid. The quartet's You Are There, out in March, is as per usual both aesthetically pristine and slow-movement boring; their Slinted soft-louds are still fine, although I wish sometimes, you know, soft came after loud, or something. As the one-sheet wants it, "They're not heavy like Black Sabbath—they're heavy like Beethoven."

    That said, the guitars are a lot louder live, and so far You Are There has been great music to pass out to. It's all rock and roll, right? Acid Mothers and MONO share, at the very least, the same punchline. Says Taka: "One thing I'm quite sure is Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest bands all the time."

    Acid Mothers Temple, April 19, Knitting Factory, Main Performance Space, 74 Leonard Street, 212-219-3132; May 20, North Six, 66 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, 718-599-5103; MONO, May 9, Avalon, 662 Sixth Avenue, 212-807-7780; No Fun Fest, March 17 through 19, the Hook, 18 Commerce Street, Brooklyn, 718-797-3007


    Bettye LaVette
    March 16

    B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, 237 W 42nd, 212-997-4144

    Polished over four decades, Bettye LaVette's impromptu humor, authoritative stagecraft, and nuanced vocals prompt so electric a connection with concertgoers that her delightful Anti- Records debut may seem a tad flat by comparison. The surprise hit of Carnegie Hall's Joni Mitchell tribute, LaVette brings fresh readings and bluesy depth to distaff songwriters from Fiona Apple to Dolly Parton. Cooper


    The Pogues
    March 16–19

    Nokia Theatre Times Square, 1515 Bway, 212-930-1950

    Mealymouthed, tub-thumping sinner Shane McGowan and his rowdy seven-piece gang bring their folk-punk, boot-stomping hootenanny to NYC for four dates in March, the first time they've toured the U.S. since 1991. Lucky for us Yanks, the Irish crew plays St. Paddy's Day. Classic shout-alongs like "Fairytale of New York" and "Fiesta" are sure shots, and if they play "Danny Boy," better bust out the tissues for the beer tears. O'Donnell


    Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins
    March 18

    Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Pl, 212-777-6800

    Rilo Kiley's frontlady may sound mellower with all the country she's added to her rock, not to mention the cooing, mildly creepy twins backing her up, but her neuroses have been thoroughly honed. Told in her perpetually blossoming voice, they're profound feeling. Catucci


    Animal Collective
    March 23

    Webster Hall, 125 E 11th, 212-353-1600

    That they're no longer grouped in Brooklyn means you should see them while you can; that their protean performances sound more like celebrations of their recorded output than reproductions of it means you should see them at every opportunity. But if their avowed unselfconsciousness strikes a sour note for you, come expecting cacophony. Catucci


    Arctic Monkeys
    March 25

    Webster Hall, 125 E 11th, 212-353-1600

    Can you hear the music for the hype? It's a challenge that should pay off for most Brit-friendly fans of indigenous indie. Leader Alex Turner dwells on Northern England nightlife dramas so obsessively and with such great lyrical detail that you can practically smell the stink of stale beer, chips, piss, sweat, and spunk on dirty provincial dancefloors. Walters


    Rakim
    March 27

    B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, 237 W 42nd, 212-997-4144

    Rakim made his grand return to NY stages after years of absence less than a month ago, so consider this the encore. If his January B.B. King's set is any indication, don't expect transcendence; the stage will be too crowded with hangers-on, the hypeman way too loud and obnoxious. But time hasn't ravaged Ra's charisma or his miles-deep baritone. The classics still sound great, the new songs have promise, and the enormous goodwill between audience and performer is something to behold. Maybe this time he'll do "Mahogany." Breihan


    Cesaria Evora
    March 30

    Beacon Theatre, 2124 Bway, 212-496-7070

    The pleasure lies mainly in the consistency of this 64-year-old international crooner from Cape Verde. Evora sings an island version of Portuguese fado in her local creole dialect accompanied by her longtime band, a lilting string-driven combo that combines African rhythms, jazz, and French cabaret styles into an easygoing vehicle for sad and beautiful songs. Gehr


    Franz Ferdinand+Death Cab for Cutie
    April 13 & 14

    Hammerstein Ballroom, 311 W 34th, 212-485-1534

    Intelligent indie gods unite! Both of these top-draw guitar-pop titans last year released follow-ups that fell slightly below previous peaks, but even their B sides still outsmart and outcraft most of their peers' A's. Prepare yourself for the best in both bands: Franz Ferdinand rocks hard enough live to light a fire under cuddly Cutie butts. Walters


    Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
    April 14

    Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey, 212-533-2111

    In one year this Brooklyn indie-rock band's moved from stints at Pianos to sellouts at Irving and elsewhere and made a case for label-less distribution deals, and guess what, their new songs are pretty OK—jumpier than before, more whimsical and ramshackle. If New York doesn't lose the band in the usual spring buzz shitstorm, this could be their year again. Sylvester


    Ralph Stanley
    April 14

    Town Hall, 123 W 43rd, 212-840-2824

    Dr. Ralph is never caught wincing when new fans he's gathered in late-life stardom suggest that he's so moving because he's old as the hills; he was singing "O Death" just as strikingly 30 years ago. In the bluegrass way, his shows are as much about the band as about its leader, and the band is in fine shape. Mazor


    B.B. King
    April 17 & 18

    B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, 237 W 42nd, 212-997-4144

    At 80, the greatest bluesman sitting husbands his resources. After a 15-minute set by his elderly band he talks more than ever and sings less than you'd like. But the voice remains smooth and strong, always as powerful as the uncompromising material requires. His solos risk a weirdness startling in an octogenarian, so fluent you wonder whether arthritis ever crosses his mind. He's even developed sit-down moves—funky shoulder roll, splayed hands folded over enormous heart. Christgau


    R. Kelly
    April 18

    Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Ave, 212-247-4777

    You cannot stop him, and apparently you cannot hope to detain him. There will, of course, be good behavior on display—sublime step numbers and odes to Mama and the occasional desire to fade into someone bigger than he. But mostly, he prefers them small, all the better for receiving and tolerating the inevitable bad behavior—the gauche, sticky come-ons that inspire collective sweat thick enough to obscure the higher moral senses. Caramanica

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