Bo Ningen

Bo Ningen


I’m late getting to the venue tonight – yet another title winners celebration in central Manchester – and only catch the end of the opening set by The Scenes.  First impressions are, there are a lot of them: A six piece crammed on the stage, leaving little room for manoeuvre for their front man, who offers up a string of classic post-punk stage-moves – Think Billy Idol.   Their music is not immediately memorable, and my impression is of a band setting out, and still to find their feet.  However they put on a show despite the small crowd, and offer a lot of energy despite the early stage time.

Younghusband, a 4 piece band hailing from London, come across as earnest and introspective, reminiscent of a number of late 80’s bands, falling somewhere between the musing of Felt and the more classic sound of Echo & the Bunnymen.  This is most apparent on the stand-out track tonight ‘Silver Sister’ which marries low-key melodies to an epic spaced feel:  A friend describes it as ideal soundtrack material for a documentary about empty mills, factories and desolate industrial spaces.  There is some nice interplay between the band, and they are at their best when singer Euan Hinshelwood is backed up on vocals by their drummer. I like atmospheric, 80’s style music but wish they would cut loose more, and push their sound further, as they appear to be settled in a middle ground rather than turning the dial up sonically along the lines of My Bloody Valentine.  Interesting but not essential.

By the time Bo Ningen arrive, fresh from a 6 Music session, the room is filling nicely but I reflect this is a small crowd for a band with such a strong live reputation.  I confess I’m not familiar with Bo Ningen’s catalogue, and have come to see them based on personal recommendations and their growing live reputation.  I’m already excited to see them, and the anticipation grows through the sound-check.   Coming on stage dressed in a full length kimonos, this is almost performance art as singer/bassist Taigen Kawabe engages in what appears to be religious chanting, which reverbs and echoes around the room, while gazing out into the room. This is happening to a backdrop of guitarists Kohhei Matsuda & Yuki Tsujii tuning up while constantly pointing upwards to demand more volume through the monitors – I’m starting to wonder what will unfold.

When they begin to play, the reason for the hype is immediate.  Clearly highly talented musicians, they concoct a sound that is simultaneously regressive and progressive, and deliver songs which are endlessly engaging:  The influences are many and varied but at no point do I feel this is band who sounds like, or want to be, anyone else.   The sound careers from classic hard rock (Sabbath) through R.H.C.P. style funk to slabs of classic hardcore, often within a few seconds.  The twin guitars and merciless drumming of Mon-Chan bring the chaos, but this is underpinned by Taigens bass-playing:  Incredibly percussive, it shapes and structures their sprawling workouts, like the aural equivalent of the nail in the centre of a catherine wheel.  Contrasts are all over, as they jump from freeform jazz-influenced improvisations to some of the most focussed and taut playing I have heard for some time.  I get the feeling this is a band with a shared vision, and yet the flexibility to express themselves fully as individuals and musicians.

Tempo maps thrown out the window, multi-layered guitars laden with effects, song-structures that are constantly reinvented, and a singer who throw shapes like a acid drenched Mr Tumble:  It should be a mess, but this is one of the best live performances I have seen.  Bo Ningen are re-inventing many wheels, beating some of them into curious shapes, and producing a wholly unique and engrossing sound.  Music is the better for this type of progressive/regressive reinvention: They should be massive.

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