Friday, January 27, 2012

Show review: Fujiya & Miyagi, YAWN at Lincoln Hall, 1/25

By Andrew Hertzberg  & Gene Wagendorf III

Anytime music borders on psychedelic, the immediate reaction of listeners/viewers tends to be to drop all sorts of acid comparisons/analogies. If The White Album is an acid trip and MGMT is an acid trip and Merriweather Post Pavilion is a fucking acid trip, fine, but then that doesn't really tell me anything. Any amateur hippie will tell you that mindset is key when making the psychedelic leap, that what you bring in to the trip will manifest in the experience. So OK, yeah, you can have a trip that smells like Roxy Music while your buddy one couch over is meandering through a Cronenberg-ian flea market with Stockard Channing and Arthur Rimbaud. That isn't YAWN. That also isn't to say that I want to strip the band of the psychedelic label that its videos do little to shrug off. Instead, I'd compare YAWN to my last mushroom trip, wherein I found myself both wanting to be swallowed by thick, warm blankets and being incapable of sitting still thanks to my body's insatiable bond with the music slipping out of my stereo.

I showed up to Lincoln Hall Wednesday night crunched in the mucusy grip of a lingering, bastard cold, hacking up orbs of phlegm in the alley just before showtime. Reeking of mentholated cough drops and suffering from a nauseating sinus headache, I was hesitant about how much live music I'd be able to enjoy. Then the woo-ing started. Wisps of auditory lollipop drifted over ripe drumming before settling/bursting into a series of dynamic whooshes and playful yodels. Already my nasal passages were clearing and the dull pound in my skull had faded. YAWN, a group of really normal looking guys, were making this blissfully offbeat music that apparently had mystical healing properties. Either that, or it just confused me into not feeling sick. The third (or twentieth?) song they played began with a series of squeaks and blurps, like an intimate conversation between two eunuch-robots in love. Interrupted by the unfolding of a twitchy bass line and lush, tropical percussion, the tune tightroped between the yammering of a chatty spaceship and an Aztec dance party. I was briefly jarred out of my trance by the brightness of a new track, whose synth swirls were sharp enough to be obnoxious, before the edge was dulled by chunks of rolling rhythm. Later, a similar rhythm propelled a clacking, clattering number that sounded like a steam engine pulling a tidal wave into The Old West. Think Neal Cassady driving the bus in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but sopping wet and wearing a conductor's hat.

The least layered song YAWN pulled out was a new one. Stripped of their trademark saccharine trippiness, it moved with a spritely jangle, but without any inspired destination. "Indigo," from the band's 2011 release Open Season, used it's marshmallow reggae to get the crowd juking. Mind you, I don't use the term juking lightly. The show being put on by a couple of front row hipsters had me wondering whether I was supposed to tip. "Keep It Up" drifted back and forth between ominous sacrament and twinkling goofball, with the hook coming courtesy of layered vocals. Do I have any idea what the hell YAWN were singing about? No, but I'll be damned if wasn't catchy. The last few songs kind of melded together, probably a combination of my sickness creeping back in and a little musical monotony that felt like the last time I was lost in a hall of mirrors: it was entertaining for a while, but eventually I found myself standing still, staring at my own reflection, going "I get it, OK?" Then came the announcement that the band had one more song, and then came the music box-from-the-future melody, and then came the manic, dancehall-ish beat. A smile slipped back across my face and my knees buckled in rhythm with the music while I watched the hipster couple make babies on the dance floor. I had another one of those transcendent psychedelic experiences where I caught a glimpse of myself twenty years from now talking to an incredulous child. "This is what your parents used to dance to."

In the end, the Psilocybin-rockers had left me just like my last boomer trip- aglow with uncommon warmth, musically gorged, and exhausted. Without YAWN's music to act as an internal harmonizer/decongestant/cough suppressant, I was forced to leave Lincoln Hall before Fujiya & Miyagi took the stage. Luckily, Windy City Rock's resident mediocre cyclist, Andrew Hertzberg, stuck around for the evening's headliner. 


Fujiya & Miyagi
Do us music writers have a tendency to overuse the adjective "infectious?" Perhaps "contagious," when describing a band meant to make you dance? Maybe especially for those bands that use repetition and have a tight rhythm section? Well, at least you’re already getting some idea of what Fujiya & Miyagi’s set was like last night. What sounds like a Japanese duo is actually a Brighton four-piece, with keys, strings (both 4 and 6) and skins. Although this appears like a conventional rock band set up, the funky group (and I mean funky with definitions both in their musical style and their quirkiness), they sound like they should have set up stage at the Mid or Debonair as opposed to Lincoln Hall.

The set kicked off with "Cat Got Your Tongue" with singer David Best affecting his best whispered kitten purrrr. As anything out of Brighton oughta be, the music is ominous and foreboding, and Best’s consistent whisper (sometimes with back up from bassist Matt Hainsby and synth-maestro Steve Lewis) only adds to the eeriness. But the weird thing is that music is also highly danceable and at times quite mischievous. I can picture English gangsters listening to this before hatching a scheme in a Guy Ritchie film. F&M certainly have a characteristic sound and those unfamiliar could say the songs, well, sound a lot alike. The whispered / emotionless vocals, unrelentingly repetitive bass lines, steady drums and keyboard leads can run together. But it is perfect for driving, running, or forgetting your public setting and dancing rather explicitly (as one couple in the front row chose to do).

"Collarbone" found itself midway through the set, the funky, single guitar lead sounding more showcased in the live setting than on 2006’s Transparent Things. It seemed most fans weren’t created after hearing last year’s Ventriloquizzing, but reacted best to the older cuts, albeit how few they were. The band kept the pace steady, barely a pause in between tracks (a stark contrasts to the silences between YAWN’s songs) and little crowd interaction. "Tinsel and Glitter" faded out to close the set, with a brief intermission before an encore of the "Nightclubbing"-esque jam (without the opiates) "Sixteen Shades of Black and Blue." A call from the balcony asked for more, and boy did we get it. Nearly another fifteen minutes fueled by "Ankle Injuries" (with accompanying music video playing on a screen overhead) with flashes of "Electro Karaoke," Best finding himself uncharacteristically assaulting his guitar. They slowed things down, faked the ending, and brought it back up with a chant of “Fujiya. Miyagi.” over and over again. Definitely one of the better and certainly unexpectedly energetic encores I’ve seen in quite some time.

-- AH

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