Last night the 4AD record label tour touched down in Tokyo, giving alternative music fans the chance to get a live taste of two of the biggest records of 2010, Ariel Pink & Haunted Grafitti’s Before Now and Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest.
The show kicked off at 7pm and by the time we arrived about 15 minutes later, Shibuya O-East was already heaving, packed right to the front doors with a mixed crowd of local indie heads and skinny-jean clad foreigners, the occasional salaryman calling in on his way home from work standing out from the fashionably clad masses.
Ariel Pink and Haunted Grafitti were on stage as we pushed our way through to the locker rooms to dump our bags and on to the bar to exchange our drink tokens for cans of Heineken. In an array of sequined, out-there costumes and despite reported sound problems on stage, they blasted out a pretty much perfect rendition of songs from the album, with only Arial Pink himself deviating from the script, as he whooped and yelped his off-key lyrics over the poppy hooks of Bright Lit Blue Skies and lead single, Round and Round.
The crisp sound system lent a warmth to the sound that complemented these more softer tracks but it was the album’s most raucous number Butt House Blondies that really stood out live, giving the cranked up guitars a vitality than they never quite had for me on record.
Deerhunter were next on the bill and after half an hour of sound checks (and a translated message from the band’s charming and exuberant frontman – Bradford Cox – for the crowd to let rip and enjoy the show) they hit the stage to break straight into the restrained beauty of Desire Lines, one of the bands few songs fronted by Lockett Pundt, setting the tone for the rest of the evening as Cox, at stage left, played a curiously restrained role for the night.
Not that this took away from the performance. As the first song reached a head and segued into their trademark feedback, the band then proceeded to play through most of their latest album, often pitched in darkness or introspectively staring into the speakers. After the energy of the best tracks on their previous album, Microcastle, it took a while for Halcyon Digest to really click with me, but on the night it was the beauty and maturity of their latest set of tracks that shone through, as the band treated the audience to live reinterpretations of Memory Boy, Don’t Cry and Fountain Stairs, with Cox on mouth organ to simulate the original’s brass.
Mixed in were tracks from older albums, including Little Kids and the massive Nothing Ever Happened, which featured the only bit of hi-jinx from the band’s frontman as he leaped off the stage to whip up the characteristically subdued Japanese audience during his guitar solo. All credit to Cox for (more or less) keeping the solo going but unfortunately his brave attempt seemed to have little effect on the somewhat static crowd. Watching the performance, it was hard to escape the fact that although music may be universal, some chemistry is lost between the band and audience when the extent of communication is the occasional ‘arigatou’ between songs.
But that didn’t detract from the music itself, and it was Halcyon Digest’s haunting centerpiece Helicopter that, emerging from a wall of feedback, really made the night, demanding nothing of the crowd but to listen and let themselves get carried away by the depth of feeling that Deerhunter have managed to pack into their sound.