Five years ago, I was staring at the back of her neck and the long bleached blonde hair cascading down her neck. She was a freaking Amazon goddess, and she was dating my ex. I was finally over him, but seething with jealousy just the same. After all, she was a gorgeous punk-rock model, and she was also friends with the band we all were going to see. Also, I couldn’t stop picturing them having “playful sex” (Asobi Seksu is Tokyo slang for this). My friend and I attended the show because of the ex’s recommendation. He swore up and down that we would fall in love with Asobi Seksu. So, I was lucky enough to catch the NYC quartet in 2006, during their Citrus tour, and I was pretty blown away.
The Citrus tour was intense. Speakers were stacked high and Yuki Chikudate’s vocals were buried behind distorted paisley underground jangley guitars. It was heaven for lovers of shoegaze fans.
Last Friday, the unexpected happened. I thought I was going to see a dream-pop band, and I got more of an arty pop-rock show.
I arrived with Sun Airway finishing their last song, eager for something amazing from Asobi Seksu, who did a quick sound check. I spotted Crispin Glover on the drums—oh no, it was just Larry Gorman. Before I knew it, Yuki Chikudate took to the stage, and they were ready to start. It was odd seeing them at the 9:30 Club opening for White Lies. They are completely worthy of the venue, but I feel like they would be more at home on the Red Palace stage, where they could flood the audience with their wall of sound but also connect with the audience on a more intimate level.
As “Trails” opens the band’s set, I was a bit shocked as Chikudate’s voice was pasted over the guitars like a band-aid that I wanted to rip off, a bit too loud and unexpectedly a little garish. She angled her delightful cooing over the track, decoupaging the audience with her vocal range. “Strawberries” is noisy and delightful as expected, but this time Hanna’s guitar is ferocious, and the Sonic Youth noise influence trumps any obvious My Bloody Valentine reference I could insert into this review.
The fall out of singer Chikudate and guitarist James Hanna’s decision to replace two band members and head in a pop-friendly direction is evident on this tour… “Sooner” is not layered in the plush guitars it was five years ago during their Citrus tour, but takes on a much more Jesus and Mary Chain feel this time around. In fact, many of the songs start with more aggressive, almost grimy, Big Black-like intros. The juxtaposition of Chikudate’s vocals over the new sound is alarming, but not as interesting they could be. I have no fear of pop music, and Asobi Seksu are heading in a more accessible pop direction. I am more fond of the flowery shoegaze side of Asobie Seksu, which I didn’t get from this live performance, but they were still quite enjoyable and worth the effort of hobbling up stairs on crutches to see.
Oh, and what was with that ’80s new wave regurgitated on me in hostile retaliation, like a baby rejecting mashed peas onto an adoring mother? Yeah, that was just White Lies spitting out the thrice processed sounds of The Editors into my poor unsuspecting eardrums.