Putting Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers and Acid Mothers Temple on tour together works strangely well. The hip accessibility of Shilpa Ray mixed with AMT’s gnarly, experimental noise brought together an interesting crowd of hipsters and hippies. It’s like a turkey sandwich with strawberry jelly on it. Everyone will look at you weird while you’re eating it, say that it sounds too strange to try and then will admit that it’s a legit combination after taking a bite. (Seriously though, it’s really good).
Shilpa Ray played first. While the group’s members were walking onstage and situating themselves behind their instruments, Ray turned to someone in the audience and, referring to the positioning of the members on the stage, yelled, “You noticed that we switched sides? Wow, you are a geek!” Everyone in the audience laughed, including the guy who brought up the switch. Ray then started the first song by pumping her harmonium. The harmonium kind of sounds like an organ but is played like an accordion laid on its side. The sweet, lush chords she created were quickly overtaken by the rest of the band’s bouncing distorted guitar chords and heavily thumping drums and bass. The crowd began to move around, but many were focused on Ray’s harmonium, which was seated front and center, the obvious focal point of the group’s music, though it was actually the quietest instrument on stage. Hopefully it was just a technical issue because it would be nice to believe that it is being used for keeping rhythm and melody, not just being used as a gimmicky front that helps the band stick out.
Ray’s deep baritone was the dominating force of savage energy and passion, and it deserved the attention it received. Her sweet crooning mixed with vocal chord-tattering screaming is reminiscent of Patti Smith. In between the two final songs, she looked out at the crowd and asked if her mascara was running. She then smiled at the audience, knowing full well that by this point all of her sweating and running around had caused it to leak down to her chin. The fun, kinetic performance by Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers was the perfect warmup for what was about to come.
AMT inspired much less dancing. The name Acid Mothers Temple actually refers to a “soul collective” that the members of the band are involved with back in their native Japan. The collective is about 30-people deep and consists of artists, dancers, farmers and others. The band part of Acid Mothers Temple is led by Kawabata Makoto and backed by Tsuyama Atsushi on bass and vocals, Higashi Hiroshi on synthesizer and electric guitar, and Shimura Koji on drums. Makoto has said in an interview that he formed the group because all psychedelic or “trip” music he was listening to left him unsatisfied, desiring something more extreme, and the group’s live show successfully pulled that off.
Loud and noisy is a good way to describe the group’s playing, but that description leaves out a lot. Because the members speak almost zero English, the music was all they had to communicate with the audience. There was no room for stage banter or song explanations. Each song barreled on for what seamed like hours, but it never really got tiring. Makoto made sure that the group avoided slipping into monotony with his intense, shredding guitar lines. He didn’t step out much, but when he did, the audience felt it. While convulsing during a freakout, his strap would inevitably fall off, leaving him no other choice but to hold the guitar by the whammy bar as if it were a rifle and the bar were the trigger.
Atsushi, the bass player, used time between songs to create lush throat singing/chanting soundscapes with a loop pedal, while Hiroshi made space-age squeals with the synthesizer. Despite all of this, the band stayed extremely accessible. The steady drumming from Koji had a lot to do with that, never getting too flashy or weird, and instead constantly holding together all of the noise and insanity around him.
I don’t think it would be possible to handle an opening band that was similar to AMT. The group is obviously the leader in the field of modern psychedelia, and anything else would have been completely trumped by the monster that was to follow. Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers opening for AMT made sense though because of how different the music is. Comparisons aren’t made after a show like that. Instead, the audience just assessed the two different bands for playing two separate shows.