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Asobi Seksu Live at the Rock N Roll Hotel, 3/28/09

March 30, 2009

As I write this, my legs feel like Jell-O. Actually, my brain feels like Jell-O too, mostly because I am extremely tired. I have been a tour guide for three days. I never thought being a tour guide could be so fun or rewarding. I saw Asobi Seksu play at the Rock N Roll Hotel two nights ago. There are big Xs on my hands, still. Faded but still present.

The Rock N Roll hotel is, apparently, way far off from any Metro stations. The closest was the Union Station stop. From there I had to walk East about fifteen blocks on H St., into a seedy neighborhood. Both on the way there and back, the landscape of the damp, foggy streets were almost devoid of any other people, making the walk that much more eerie, and also that much easier for me to be able to stop and take some nice photos.

As it turns out, the Rock N Roll Hotel is a hole in the wall. Granted, it is a pretty cozy hole in the wall, and not an unenjoyable place to see a concert. It is just about the tiniest of clubs. I’m used to there being a division between the audience and the performers at the concerts I go to, but at the Hotel, there was none. It goes from floor to stage immediately. You could probably lean on the amps and no one would stop you. I didn’t have to show up early to end up being ten feet from lead singer Yuki Chikudate, and that was really nice. You get the feeling that you are connected to the artist the closer you are to them. Of course, I never really feel the need to be way up close for concerts, but for some reason, it felt important to me last night that I was able to be close.

The opening acts were good. The first act was local band Detox Retox, and while disco emo just isn’t my thing, they played well, did a pretty faithful version of Transmission by Joy Division (nothing wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeves), and came out into the audience afterward to say hi to everybody and really they were just the nicest guys.

Aw, shucks.

Three-piece Detroit punk band Tyvek are the opening act that is touring with Asobi Seksu. They are Wire sound-alikes, but they are actually pretty great sound-alikes. Their stage presence is odd. The lead singer is frenetic and fast moving, the drummer plays standing up and seems to run through drumsticks every song, and the bass player almost catatonically calm. “Can you drive a Honda like I can drive a Honda?”

Then Asobi Seksu got up on stage to set up their gear, and after some sound issues got resolved, they started to play.

I hesitate to say that it was the loudest show I’ve ever been to, but now, two days later, my ears are still ringing. My ears haven’t rang for this long in a year, the last comparable time being when I attended the Hives’ show in Chicago, during which I and my group of friends allocated ourselves directly in front of the amps in the front row. That is a show we still refer to as “stupid loud.” Our ears rang for about a week after that.

Asobi Seksu may have been louder. It’s hard to tell, because I am pretty sure I got permanent ear damage from the aforementioned show, and therefore my hearing is now different. In any case, Asobi Seksu were really loud, but not “stupid loud.” The impression that I got from the Hives was that an extremely loud concert had to be “stupid loud.” But what really captured me about Asobi Seksu’s volume was how little it got in the way of the sonic detail which Asobi Seksu incorporate into their albums. At one time I thought incredible volume and that detail were mutually exclusive.

But Asobi Seksu are really all about detail. James Hannah and Yuki Chikudate, the core members of the band, make up the majority of the wall of sound that one hears at their show, with guitars and keyboards. It is just as astounding live as on record, specifically their second record, Citrus. When I reviewed the band’s new album, Hush, a couple weeks ago, my biggest complaint was that the presentation of the songs wasn’t quite as strong as on Citrus. The live show brought out the best of the new songs, which are melodically quite strong but didn’t really benefit from the production change on Hush. This might be because a lot of the new songs are slower and more gentle, so the toned down production might make them seem meandering.

The band’s live sound, however, features the bold, sweeping sound quality of Citrus, the true gem of their discography. The band played some of the gentler new songs, such as “In the Sky,” “Transparence,” and “Sing Tomorrow’s Praise” with the vivacity of that shoegaze sound quality, which was surprising because I wouldn’t have expected the fidelity to be that good in such a small, confined venue. They also tore through many of their Citrus-era classics, such as “Strawberries,” “New Years,” and of course “Thursday,” which got a big response from the audience.

Their stage presence was very lively. The amps and mics were adorned with Christmas lights, and in conjunction with the lights in the back, the stage took on a colorful glow (although you can’t really tell that from my pictures). The band weren’t all smiles, but really it would be wrong of me to demand for them to be. However, I found that many times, specifically when the strobelights on the stage started flashing, everyone on the stage was moving around and doing a lot of headbanging. To me, that was important to the show. It is important to see that the band are excited to be making music in order for the audience to be excited about hearing it. Chikudate brought up the front with her breathy vocals, keyboard and xylophone, while James Hannah had some really cool guitar heroics going on on stage right. After the resounding coda of “Strawberries,” Chikudate took her leather jacket off and every straight male in the audience needed to change their shorts.

But the really exciting part, as I expected, came with possibly the band’s greatest sound achievement, the blistering “Red Sea,” off of Citrus. By the time the epic, beautiful noise freakout started, everyone on stage was going crazy. What-seemed-like-eight-foot-tall bassist Billy Pavone was headbanging off the the right as drummer Larry Gorman crawled off of the kit and went somewhere, maybe off to where James Hannah was. But from where I was standing, Hannah was simply gone, perhaps on the ground furiously adding to the cacophony on his guitar. Yuki Chikudate proceeded to take to the drum kit herself, and produced a percussive onslaught that just about tore the place apart. Pretty much one of the most metal things I’ve ever seen. The band left the stage with the sound still resounding at a ludicrous volume which continued on with the strobe lights. The encore was equally as impressive as well as nuanced, with one of my personal favorite Asobi Seksu songs, “Strings,” a perfect song to round off the set.

The set ended up being twelves songs and clocking in at just over an hour, which would be my biggest complaint with the show, that is, that it was too short. The audience was probably about ready to take at least an hour more of the awesome din, and the band definitely have the catalogue of songs to fulfill that wish. I was shocked that they did not play their popular new single, “Me & Mary.” They also didn’t play any obscurities, let alone anything at all from their charming self-titled debut album, which has a lot of great but simple songs that I would imagine would also benefit from their live production. So in the end, the set was all too short, but quite sweet, split half and half between Citrus and Hush, a sensible move, despite the fact that I would have loved to have heard even more from Citrus; they played nothing from the album’s latter half, which is just as strong as the first.

For $15, a full night of entertainment like I got was a steal, and I would definitely pay to see Asobi Seksu any other time they are in my area. I have wanted to see Asobi Seksu for years, and they were just as good as I was hoping they would be. I walked away happy to have ringing ears; as focal to the band’s identity as their nectarous melodies is the vitality of their sound, and it comes out best when you really crank their albums. Their live show sees them at the height of that power, in their own musical nirvana, and is a show not to miss.

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