Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso UFO: 12 April 2011 – New York

Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers

Even in the notoriously hipster climes of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso UFO (as is the full name of this incarnation) drew a fairly “stoner” yet wholly receptive crowd. The show was loud enough to ensure hearing damage, something that may have happened within the first few seconds, when Acid Mothers Temple founder Kawabata Makoto started things off by pulverizing his guitar strings. During set up (Acid Mothers Temple are one of those noble bands who set up their own equipment), I overheard an audience member remark, “Listening without ear plugs at something like this… it’s like sex without a condom”. This remark held painfully true, as the Acid Mothers Temple live experience is anything but safe.

The Knitting Factory originally resided on Houston Street in Manhattan, before relocating to the Tribeca area in the ’90s. An excellent space but an odd location for noise and experimental shows, the venue eventually shuttered and moved to Williamsburg in 2009, taking over the space previously occupied by another Manhattan import, the Luna Lounge. In this new space, The Knitting Factory: Williamsburg edition is like a diorama version of its former self. There is a ball of yarn stenciled on the wall behind the performers, but this reminder does nothing to dislodge the boxed in feeling of the venue. With doors clamped shut and windows revealing a sports bar enclave that faces the stage, the crowd at any given show can be made to suspect they are taking part in an experiment on the effects of noise rock on various minds, from the sober to those heavily influenced by psychotropics.

The claustrophobic nature of the space also ensured an exaggeration of the loudness unfolding on stage. In terms of a noise rock show, this had the works, vocal looping, bowed guitar playing, and songs that disappear down rabbit holes hurtling the audience into a world of cacophony. Rather than being self-indulgent however, Acid Mothers Temple’s set proved fascinating. Some of this may come down to the band’s look. Four middle-aged Japanese men with shoulder-length and longer hair, they certainly are not the most conventional looking band around. Even though their appearance is somewhat solemn, the band is unafraid of getting a little bit jokey. At one point, bassist and multi-instrumentalist Tsuyama Atsushi used a woodwind instrument that looked like a recorder with a very large bell as a water bong; afterward he gargled with the water. Plus, the novelty of Higashi Hiroshi, who looks like a wizened priest in a z-grade kung fu movie, playing synthesizers never wears off. Despite all this competitive oddness, Makoto is still the one to watch, given the amazing sounds he can wring from his guitar, and the level of abuse he’s willing to hand it. The group of earnest looking young men congregating in front of him seemed deeply enthralled throughout.

Opening for Acid Mothers Temple was Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers. While Ray’s wailing is still not for everyone, there were a couple of scrunched noses and earplugs being put to use early, the lengthy, boisterous set was a treat for the initiated. Luckily, the initiated were in abundance and there was more dancing than disgruntled looks. Although Ray’s harmonium is not as loud as the instruments played by her ragtag Hookers, it was refreshing to see a show where unconventional instruments took front and center. The set ended with Ray eating her microphone in a manner that made it seem like a daily occurence. As the band will be touring with Man Man next, and hopefully will one day go on a headline tour of its own, in Ray’s case it sort of is.

As noisy and mind-mangling as the Acid Mothers Temple set was, it was no match for the weather outside. Leaving the venue, a wind and rain storm that had been kicking about all evening erupted into a full on thundering downpour. In this way, concertgoers’ bodies were pulverized in the same way their ears had been. It was almost as if the synthesizers, guitar licks, throat singing, and vocal looping laid down by Acid Mothers Temple had somehow conjured this weather. Or maybe, the hipster gods of Williamsburg were angry that one venue laid claim to a non-passive audience on that evening.