Live Review: Asobi Seksu @ the Middle East, Cambridge, 3/30/09

With this review, extrawack! welcomes new Boston correspondent Anna Kramer…

Asobi Seksu at the Middle East, Cambridge, March 30, 2009

Last night’s show began with an unexpected twist: A last-minute move from the 500-person capacity Middle East Downstairs club to the much smaller Upstairs section of the venue. But whatever this shift may have meant for Asobi Seksu, they didn’t seem to mind. “This show got a lot more intimate, but that’s okay,” said vocalist/keyboardist Yuki Chikudate. “Now we’re a whole lot closer together.”

Asobi Seksu’s music has always been about balance, especially on 2007’s stunning Citrus, which cut sweet vocals with all-out shoegaze guitars. With their latest album, Hush, Yuki and guitarist James Hanna turned the noise down a bit, resulting in melodies so ethereal they sometimes threaten to dissolve and float away completely.

Last night, though, the band set out to prove they were firmly anchored on earth. Armed with a bassist and drummer—and lit eerily by blue and pink Christmas lights—they opened with a pounding, percussive version of “Sing Tomorrow’s Praise” that set the tone for a noise-drenched, epic set. New songs like “Meh No Mae” and “In the Sky” took on added depth and resonance with a more prominent rhythm section, while Yuki’s vocals soared high and pure above the sonic assault, especially on the more melodic “Blind Little Rain.”

Citrus was well represented too, with the angular “Strawberries” and my personal favorite, “Thursday,” with its Slowdive-esque male-female vocals. But it was the combination of “Pink Cloud Tracing Paper” and “Red Sea” that brought the show to a climax. Strobe lights stuttered, James flailed his guitar madly, and Yuki even took a turn on drums as the last song veered into a ten-minute-plus monumental drone that still has my ears ringing the next day.

Despite a few seeming omissions from the set list—No “Me & Mary”? No songs from their self-titled debut?—I left feeling like I had experienced something unexpectedly special: The chance to see a very big-sounding band on a very, very small stage.

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