When Kikagaku Moyo announced that the last two dates on their farewell European tour would be in London I really felt that I had to go to both. I have been following the band ever since I first saw them, with around 30 others, at Wharfe Chambers in Leeds on what I think might only have been their second date in Europe (21/10/14, see here for a review and photos of that night). They played around half an hour that night but seemed to have something about them… the few releases they had out at that time (their self-titled EP, ’Mammatus Clouds’, and ‘Forest of the Lost Children’) suggested a band who could jam and put out nicely structured songs… something that was confirmed in spades when they released ’House in the Tall Grass’ which saw them hit new levels both live and in the studio.
I thought ’Little House in the Tall Grass’ was amazing as soon as I heard it (see original review here), but over time it has become my favourite album of recent times (see here)… and even helped me immeasurably during lockdown (see here). It was during that tour, at The Star and Garter in Manchester (27/05/16), that I saw what has, for the last six years, been my all time favourite gig. They absolutely tore a hole in the place that night and even the band themselves seemed to be amazed by what went off… the crowd was much bigger than two years previously and they very much seemed to be on their way.
I have seen them a few more times in the interim and, with another brilliant album later, ’Masana Temples’ which I liked immediately (see review here), and have since come to love almost as much as it’s predecessor over time. Live-wise I saw them play the Manchester Psych Fest (Gorilla, 04/09/21), one of the first post-lockdown events, and was not only blown away once more by their performance… but in front of a far younger crowd than I’d seen before, they really seemed to have broken through to a whole new audience, who went absolutely crazy for them.
It seemed that Kikagaku Moyo could only go one way… but then, out of the blue, they announced that they were taking an ’indefinite hiatus’… with a final album, ‘Kumoyo Island’, that was recorded with that decision in mind (see here for the review)… a set that has just grown and grown for me in the last couple of months since it was released… which kinda brings me to their last two shows of their final European tour, both in London and respectively at the Clapham Grand (26/06/22) and EartH in Hackney (27/06/22).
The first thing to say was how different these shows were with the Grand being a steep venue over three levels, and EartH and wider amphitheatre (both former cinemas); which gave the Grand more of a tight and cramped feel to it. Nevertheless as Kikagaku Moyo began there was quite a chilled down beat feel with a stretched out jam of the ’Masana Temples’ opener, ’Entrance’ which in a sense set the early tone for the gig… with the packed audience listening intently as, to my ears, the band veered into the territory of ‘Lazy Stoned Monk’ from their debut EP, and maybe even ’Pond’ from ’Mammatus Clouds’. At fifteen minutes long it was an incredible start which really did hark back to their early days, in many ways quite a simple and meditative improvisation, which really worked for me and underlined their status as a band who could still surprise.
This was followed by an initially very mellow ’Dripping Sun’ highlighting how much this band are capable of beautiful and fragile moments before they absolutely go off on an absolute freaked out frenzy at the end… in many ways a microcosm of what they are about, and just stunning to see in a live arena.
This short diversion aside though, the gig continued in a wonderfully laid back manner with ’Kogarashi’, Ryu Kurosawa‘s amazing sitar playing coming to the fore… this is one of may favourite tracks that helped me get through the lockdown and so I listened to it with all sorts of memories flooding back to me while feeling very happy to be back in a crowd and attending with some very good friends. Looking back now this was a gig in which the band seemed to really focus on their playing with other less upbeat tracks such as ’White Moon’ and ’Nazo Nazo’ both also tearing on the emotional strings for me… this was a deep set which you could just drink in…
Elsewhere I was really keen to know how the new material would sound live, and was not disappointed with a fabulously funky version of ’Dancing Blue’, a cool rendition of ’Monaka’… with fantastic crescendo at the end which was one of the highlights of the evening for me. ’Cardboard Pile’ was incredible… it was the first track to be released from the album and sounded like it would be a live banger from the start… and certainly met that expectation, and ’Yayoi, Iyayio’ which seemed to be a real favourite with what was an amazingly and gratifyingly young crowd… showing once again how much the band have broken through in the last few years.
However, while what I have already described would be an amazing gig on its own; for me it was raised even further by a massively powerful ’Gatherings’… along with main set closer ’Smoke and Mirrors’ which is such a beautiful song anyway, but somehow raised even higher here with an elongated version which again was at times fragile and tender… while at others an absolute frenzy which sent the crowd into wild ecstasy… something that was repeated with an utterly transformed ’Green Sugar’ as an encore which was probably the best I had heard it… the band absolutely tight from a long tour… really at the peak of their powers… and a fitting way to end what was a really sensational gig… all the more so when I look back on the set list and see how much of it consisted of more mellow numbers… Kikagaku Moyo somehow giving them energy without losing any of their delicate structures… a real triumph!
A triumph indeed, but nothing to prepare me for what I witnessed at EartH just a day later… it is now two days later as I write this and I am still processing this gig… in someway it is hard to put my experience into words because, in over forty years of gig going, it really was like nothing I have experienced before. Maybe it was it was because it was the last date in the tour, and because this was to be the last time Kikagaku Moyo were to play in London, but from the outset this felt special… and some of it was so psychologically out there for me that I cannot totally rely on my memory for what was played… but what I do know it was a completely different set from the previous night.
Let’s try to put the fragments together… only two tracks from ‘Kumoyo Island’: ‘Monaka’ and ’Dancing Blue’, both of which were every bit as good as the night before… but it was some of the older ones that really stole the show with the band on what was, for me, the form of their collective lives…
A real stand out was ’Zo No Senaka’ from their original EP… a track I’m not sure that I have even seen live before… I feel that I’ve already run out of superlatives here, but it was just enormous and, along with so much of the rest of the gig, just transported me to… well I don’t really know where… I was just totally in the moment… at one with the band… but not just here… in so many other places too.
Part of this, I have to say, was due to the sound that was absolutely spot on… with all the instruments clear and separated throughout, and with a good balance between them… this meant that when the band went off on long jams…. something they did frequently in this set… it was always incredible to be able to follow every instrument through the wonderful sonic mazes that they created… such as a ten plus minute version of ’Smoke and Mirrors’ which was so amazing that tears of joy were rolling down my face listening to it… and again remembering it now… fuck it was so good… so absolutely perfect… so wonderful just to see the band, and everyone in the place, just let themselves go… and when they came back in at the end it was like the roof was going to lift off the place… and from the same album a version of Ananda Shankar’s ’Streets of Calcutta’ which was so incredibly tight and focussed that I can still feel the power of it playing through me now…
I could go on about it, but these were not even the highlights for me… nor was an utterly incredible nigh-on twenty minute version of ’Silver Owl’ which included a clarinet solo by drummer Go Kurosawa which gradually morphed into what felt like a dream sequence… wonderful experimental and improvisational music that gradually fragmented for a moment (with bassist Kotsuguy keeping the whole thing together while Go was away from his drums) before the band clicked back into the track to take it and the main set home in an extraordinary fashion as Daoud Popal‘s guitar screamed back in again and the band absolutely roared into the end of the main set…
…but it was the encore that really marked the pinnacle of this utterly unforgettable night… after some discussion the band played a wonderfully soft and brittle version of ’Kodama’, thanks in no little part to Tomo Katsurada‘s tender vocals, which I perhaps underrate when listening to them. It was everything this track should be… and definitely a hark back to the first time I saw Kikagaku Moyo back in 2014.
After that the band powered into their last live number of the tour… a twelvish minute ’Gatherings’ which is not only my favourite live track of theirs… but here was the first time that I have really seen them improvise with it… it had all the things that made it great… but then they took it to another level with a jam that at this point I can hardly describe… like so much of this gig it was like they opened up some sort of portal into another dimension… I don’t take drugs, and had had one drink beforehand… so this was entirely on the band… they took me there and it was just, well, completely beyond description…
When I first saw Kikagaku Moyo live in 2014, they barely played half an hour, and wrote in my review:
“All I can say it that if there is any justice in this world then Kikagaku Moyo/幾何学模様 (if they wish it) should be massive, and I will be playing their music for many years to come because of its timeless, enchanting and completely authentic qualities.” [https://fragmentedflaneur.com/2014/10/23/live-kikagaku-moyo-幾何学模様-wharf-chambers-leeds-21-10-2014/]
…and here we are eight years later and they have become as big as they want to be… calling it a day at the absolute peak of their powers. At EartH they played for over two hours in contrast to those early outings, actually I think I nailed it in that first review because their music is timeless, enchanting and authentic, and so… it appears… are they. This is what shone through over these two nights, to which I’d add massively powerful and definitely psychedelic… a band of friends who appear comfortable in each other’s company and just meld together so beautifully to put out these incredibly powerful statements of live music… on the back of albums that have been integral to my own life for the last eight years or so… and will no doubt continue to be.
…and I will hold that thought as I realise that I will most likely never see them live again, but my memories of the gigs… especially that final one… will live with me and sustain me for some time to come.
Thank you so much to the best band of the last decade!
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