Mono @ The Urban Lounge

Posted May 18, 2010 in
The Urban Lounge

Taking the stage during the height of Zofia Kilanowicz's angelic lament on Henryk Gˇrecki's Symphony For Sorrowful Songs, the Japanese quartet filed onto Urban Lounge's tiny stage like a silent army. Dressed in all black with nary a discernable expression of emotion on their face, guitarists Takaakira Goto and Yoda took seats on opposite sides of the stage from each other and, without a word, began the tremolo picked upswell from 2009's Hymn to the Immortal Wind. This reverence and austerity, punctuated with moments of pure cathartic and caustic release, would define not only the hour-and-a-half long performance, but the audience's awed hush.

Keep in mind, this took place at the Urban LoungeŚnot exactly Abravanel Hall when it comes to watching a band known for performing with full orchestras and packing New York City concert halls. Getting an audience to shut up, or getting that drunk girl to stop screaming over the music into her cell phone, is usually a battle lost before it is begun. Notwithstanding the usual trappings of performing at a bar/venue, Friday night's crowd was as respectful and quiet as I have ever seen. At one point during one of Mono's lengthy diminuendos, there was something I have never heard before at any venue: silence, pure awe-inspired silence.

I don't think there could have been a better venue to experience Mono's elegant/devastating guitar-driven compositions than inches away from the stage, literally hearing Goto's guitar strings resonate from his furious picking. Mono effortlessly unpacked their latest album Hymn to the Immortal Wind, recorded with a 28 piece orchestra, as well as classic cuts from You Are There and One More Step and You Die, either translating their epic long-players into literal recreations of studio work or spinning them into expressionistic noise-laden climaxes of throat-tightening revelry.

There is something of an emotional transference between musician and instrument played out in the journey through Mono's vast emotional landscape. Mono hit the lowest of lows when, hunched over their guitars, Goto and Yoda traded weeping lines of world-weary lament, Kurosawa humanist sorrow, 21st century burden of guilt. Goto seemed to be pouring all of this into his guitar, wringing out every last drop of it in delicate finger-picked lines or washes of orchestral tremolo picked swells. Then, almost mid-sentence, he releases everything in a sell-all crescendo. The climactic blasts of noise seemed to possess Goto as he began writhing on the floor, leaving his guitar bleeding and gasping for breath, sputtering out shrapnel covered bursts of feedback, while he pawed and pounded the stage, trying to conjure as much noise as possible This included: the floor, his dying guitar, and no input tonal volume swells that were the loudest I have ever heard (and I have seen A Place To Bury Strangers twice).

There was something wholly Japanese about the performance. A sense of prevailing calm, tranquility, and a powerful sense of proficiency and professionalism. Keeping my eyes primarily on Goto for the entire performance, I witnessed a moment during their finale in which Goto, Yoda, bassist Tamaki Kunishi (basically a Japanese Kim Gordon) and drummer Yasunori Takada (who was playing impossibly fast triplets) turned, as if on cue, towards each other during the last crescendo of the night. While I realize that three out of the four band members performing a 180 degree turn isn't exactly Stadium of Fire type grandstanding, there was this quasi-spiritual worship of noise that spoke volumes to their relationship as band mates.

And with that it, it was over. They bowed politely and exited the stage, leaving the crowd with ringing ears as a corporeal mark of what they had just witnessed, an hour and a half of wordless music.