Live review: Asobi Seksu at the ICA

A few years ago my brother said – as we do to each other – “Listen to this.” What he made me listen to was a song by NYC shoegazers Asobi Seksu. It was good, and I’ve picked up a few of their tracks here and there. When I saw that they were playing the tiny Institute of Contemporary Arts for less than a tenner I thought, Count me in. I’m just back from that show.

The support act was called Sennen, four lads with guitars and drums. They are, according to the NME, “Norwich’s finest noise-mongers.” (I’ll let you decide how much praise that is.) Their first and last songs were very cool, with rhythmic, droning tunes that built a feeling of intensity. Their middle songs were dull, though: same-y ringing guitars with a little too much pop harmony muddling things up (or not enough, if they’d wanted to go the other way with their sound).

Asobi Seksu were better. The band laid down some solid indie guitar rock, and the rhythm section is particularly good. Yuki Chikudate, the petite frontwoman, plays keyboards and sings, and her completely un-rock soprano voice chnges the mix into a sort of dreamy powerpop. At one point she was singing, playing keyboard with her left hand, and playing a mini glockenspiel with her right. I couldn’t help but be impressed.

The band didn’t engage with the audience much at the start. Chikudate’s vocals sometimes got buried in the guitar layers. Some of the songs also started to feel a bit undifferentiated in the middle. At that point I was thinking it would just be an OK show.

But they kicked up the excitement a bit towards the end with more song dynamics and Chikudate pounding out a kick-ass drum solo at the end of “Red Sea”. They avoided overstaying their welcome by wrapping up the show in just over an hour, finishing with “I’m Happy But You Don’t Like Me”.

Asobi Seksu

Photo from A Hermida via Creative Commons license

“I’m collectin’ vinyl”

Another big gig night: R.E.M.

After returning from a day out in Winchester, we made tracks for the Royal Albert Hall. The concert event there was in celebration of the 60th anniversary of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. There were four bands playing, and in a gorgeous setting like the Hall I wanted to be there to see them all. Luckily, I’d been able to score good seats on the lower tier.

The first act were one of the NME-buzz-bands-of-the-moment, Foals. They’ve got a hard-grooving indie rock sound, and their songs are mostly long dancey jams with a singer who sounds like he stepped right out of 1983. I liked the sound, but each song sounded too much the same to me. The crowd were polite.

The second act was my favourite rock band of the moment, The Duke Spirit. They ripped it up as normal, but the Royal Albert is a pretty cavernous place for what is essentially a garage band. The crowd seemed to like them okay. Funnily, I already had tickets to see The Duke Spirit play the following night, long before I knew they’d be at this show.

The third act was British folk rocker Robyn Hitchcock. Although I knew his name I knew nothing about Hitchcock or his career. He played several wry, catchy acoustic guitar songs, but accompanied by legendary Led Zeppelin member John Paul Jones on mandolin. For his last couple of songs, he brought out some of the members of R.E.M., with whom Hitchock has a side band called The Venus 3. Their final song, “Olé Tarantula”, was fun. There was also a fun aside when some woman up in the gallery started screaming her head off – not sure at what, and she quieted down after a few minutes.

The headliners were, of course, veteran indie-rockers R.E.M. I saw them playonce before in Hyde Park. That show was a huge, miles-away outdoor sun-fest, and I was keen to see them play in this relatively small venue (especially since their summer dates back in the UK will be as festival headliners or at the massive Twickenham rugby stadium).

The band were really good. They were relaxed: engaged, but not trying to hard. They joked and talked a bit, and seemed to have fun with the room. They tried out what sounded like the entirety of upcoming album Accelerate. That album is scheduled for release next week, but it’s leaked already and I’ve listened to it several times. The buzz around it is true: it’s a return to rockin’ (if not innovative) form for R.E.M., and it’s the best sounding thing they’ve done in some time. We were therefore lucky enough to be familiar with all those new songs, and really enjoyed hearing the band work them out live.

They also played a handful of old faves like “Electrolite”, crowd fave “Losing My Religion”, “Drive”, and big closer “Man on the Moon”. They also played “The Great Beyond” and “Imitation of Life”, although I don’t think either of those recent songs are as good as any of the tracks from Accelerate.

The crowd was certainly pleased, as the band sounded good no matter what they played, and in a venue small enough to make it a special occasion.

There are a couple of early reviews in the Independent and the Metro.

EDIT: and now one in the Guardian.