Mothers on acid

Acid Mothers Temple @ Exchange, Bristol, 28/08/14

As I’ve never seen any Japanese psychedelic bands before, I really don’t have much of a reference point to try and evaluate the weirdness that is Acid Mother’s Temple. I knew very little about the band before I went to see them, although their name had often cropped up in music mags I’d read and I knew they had something of a cult following. I’d seen a slightly surreal youtube clip featuring two members of the band – which is in fact more of a shifting collective of musicians – on a record-shopping mission in San Francisco, picking out old LPs of various styles of world music, a clue to their open-minded and bizarre approach to making music.

My complete ignorance of the band was one of the things that drew me to the gig, aside from the fact that if I didn’t go, I would probably spend the evening alone, drinking rum in the kitchen and quite possibly singing to myself. Besides, I had just been paid, and reasoned that I should probably see at least one Japanese psychedelic band before I die.

When I arrived at the venue, I really had no idea what to expect, and neither, it seemed, did most of the audience, who for the most part were standing around contemplatively, as though they were at attending an art exhibition. Acid Mother’s Temple announced their arrival onstage with a contorted mess of noise and distortion; guitarist Kawabata Makoto outlined against a humungous vintage Marshall guitar amp. Slowly, the band settles into some bluesy psychedelic jams, interspersed with some virtuosic bass improvisations. At one point, bassist/vocalist Tsuyama Atsushi starts grunting indecipherably in what could either be Japanese or English, it’s hard to tell. I spend the first fifteen or so minutes glancing from the stage to the audience, who are mostly still standing motionless, wondering what the fuck is happening. The gig doesn’t really get going until said bassist switches briefly to a recorder, and starts playing ghostly melodies over the guitar riffs.

When he switches back to bass, the band start really rocking out. All the elements are there: Krautrock, 80’s synth-drones, all kinds of weird folk musics and late 60’s San Francisco acid rock. Indeed, on the surface, Acid Mother’s Temple appear guilty of some of the worst excesses of what in the 1970s would become Prog Rock: excessively long guitar solos, indulgent improvisations, and with the exception of intermittent and incomprehensible shrieking, minimal interaction with the audience. Yet the total sincerity, coupled with the musicians’ undoubted abilities allows them to get away with it. In fact, it is quite reassuring to know that such music can continue to exist and be played with such fervour four decades on from its heyday. But the real pull of the gig is that the band, all of whom are well into middle age, and at least two of whom are wearing multi-coloured leggings, are a truly fascinating spectacle to behold, not least tall silver-haired synth player Higashi Hiroshi, who spends the evening almost completely still, emitting subtle high-frequency bleeps and modulations which loop in and out of the compositions. He is so engrossed in what he is doing that at one point he seems taken by surprise by the fact that two of his band mates are singing in unison, and that he is supposed to be too.

The audience reacts to all this in a mixture of ways. The people farthest from the stage are furthest removed from the visceral strangeness of the performance and are mostly still in contemplative-art-gallery mode. With the exception, that is, of a woman in a bowler hat clutching a can of cider who has crept into a corner and seems content to bop her head vigorously. Next to her on a bench against a wall, a man is simply staring at the floor in front of him, almost as though he is asleep with his eyes open. Just to the right of the stage, a bearded fellow in an Aphex Twin t-shirt is punching the air hysterically, as if he were off his face somewhere at jungle rave. In between, there is some very dubious dancing going on, and a bloke next to me is clutching a bottle of ale, shifting uneasily from foot to foot and scratching his chin. The performance builds in intensity until the final guitar solo, which culminates in guitarist Kawabata Makoto swinging his guitar by its lead and leaving it on top of his amp. As I shuffle out with the retreating crowd, I notice the band making their way to the merchandise tables, cheerfully chatting with fans. I’m feeling slightly jangled, as though I’ve just stepped out of a time machine, but also strangely elated, like I’ve witnessed something extremely peculiar and enlightening at the same time.

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