Last Tuesday, Neumo’s played host to an international, multi-lingual and aesthetically stunning show featuring New York indie rock group Asobi Seksu, and Yann Tiersen, the French multi-instrumentalist best known for composing the soundtrack of “Amelie.”
I have been told by two very reliable sources that Asobi Seksu is one of the loudest bands around, and frankly they did not disappoint. While I’m not usually one to enjoy intensely loud bands, Asobi Seksu was anything but a clichéd noise-rock group. While they were heavy on the grungy, overloaded guitars and driving drums, they balanced it out with lead singer Yuki Chikudate’s incredibly sweet voice and the subtle use of plinking xylophones and keyboards. Yuki’s vocals were the highlight of the show for me; despite the sometimes distracting reverb effect it was obvious to the entire audience that she is an amazingly talented singer.
Before entering Neumo’s, a friend of mine pointed out that a sign on the door read, “Warning: Strobe lights used in tonight’s show.” Asobi Seksu, it turned out, had an incredibly complex light show that seemed remarkably deliberate. During most shows the lighting is barely noticeable; it usually consists of a few color changes and some swooping movements across the stage. Asobi Seksu’s lights really added to the overall performance. The strobe lights gained momentum as the song built, and the band members did some unexpected head-banging, which in the flashing white light looked as surreal as the trancey vocals sounded. Throughout the night, Asobi Seksu must have crept up the volume, decibel by decibel, perhaps even up to 11. By their last song, I had to actually cover my ears for fear of some serious damage being done.
During Yann’s show however, nobody was closing their ears. In fact, much of the audience (including myself) was periodically closing their eyes. While Asobi Seksu was highly visual, Yann Tiersen’s performance was so enchanting that it invited us soak it in blind, creating images in our minds to match the beautiful tunes.
Although Yann Tiersen is best known for his work with “Amile,” his performance at Neumo’s was a departure from those lilting piano melodies and accordions. Instead, Yann and his band used electric guitars, flutes and melodicas. He also used a remarkable instrument called an ondes martenot; this beautiful wooden instrument made sounds just like a theremin (my personal favorite musical device); a haunting, ethereal sound that seems like a mixture between a soprano and a violin.
Yann’s music also incorporated some stunning viola solos from Mr. Tiersen himself. The passion he put into those moments was palpable, and little yellow fibers broke off from his bow as he played, waving in the backlighting like little dancers. It was so easy to fall in love with this music because it was so obvious that every member on stage was in love with what they were doing.
Not all songs Yann played had lyrics, and though it is against my usual nature, I actually preferred the ones without words. The one exception was the song sung in French; it was a magical tune and the French language’s naturally poetic sound made it that much better. The music was hypnotizing, making the set (over an hour long) fly by. Yann and his band treated us to a three song encore, and left us in a dazed state of wonder. Everyone left Neumo’s, emerging onto the quiet Capitol Hill street wishing that Yann Tiersen would make their personal life soundtrack.
(Photo: Ms Mägi Hubert)