Kikagaku Moyo (Japanese: 幾何学模様 Hepburn: Kikagaku Moyō) are a Japanese psychedelic band from Tokyo. The band’s name translates to “geometric patterns.” A friend invited me to accompany her to the March 10, 2019 show at Fernwood Tavern in Big Sur. What an unexpected and marvelous visual and auditory treat that turned out to be!
The band describes itself on their Bandcamp page as follows:
Kikagaku Moyo started in the summer of 2012 busking on the streets of Tokyo. Though the band started as a free music collective, it quickly evolved into a tight group of multi-instrumentalists. Kikagaku Moyo call their sound psychedelic because it encompasses a broad spectrum of influence. Their music incorporates elements of classical Indian music, Krautrock, Traditional Folk, and 70s Rock. Most importantly their music is about freedom of the mind and body and building a bridge between the supernatural and the present. Improvisation is a key element to their sound.
Nico Georis is a musician in Big Sur, California. His music spans from solo piano to cosmic synth, sound collage to interspecies collaborations involving plant generated music. He is also the founding member of rock ‘n’ roll community ensemble Sky Country, and plays in the band Platoon with guitarist Matt Baldwin. 2019 finds Nico performing new piano and synthesizer pieces based on evolving cloud formations. Recent shows have also been delving deeper into improvised duets with plants. Highlights of 2017-2018 included opening sets for Lee Scratch Perry, White Fence, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, White Buffalo, and the Mother Hips.
The show also included Liquid Lights by Mad Alchemy. Both shows at Fernwood sold out far in advance. The tavern was packed so I did not get a very good look at Nico’s instruments but they included some sort of synthesizer that at times sounded just like a Hammond B. I enjoyed his performance and would love to see him again.
However, I was really blown away by Kikagaku Moyo. This show, much more “psychedelic hard rock” than previous performances according to many of their fans I chatted with, ranks high on my list of best shows I’ve seen. They really rocked but they also rose and fell and rolled in all kinds of rhythms and styles. It was very impressive, intense, fun, and mind blowing.
Kikagaku Moyo has an interesting mix of styles ranging from what I would call “space folk” to country/surf tinged guitar rock to Indian sitar ragas to raging Krautrock, improvisational experimental sonic textures, to full blown hard psychedelic rock. The sitarist in the band has a really cool looking electric sitar that he utilizes to add a graphic richness to all of these styles, at times playing the sitar as a psychedelic rock guitar. Allmusic describes Kikagaku Moyo’s music as “heavy, crushing jams with softer, more contemplative moments”.
Although compared favorably with many preceding bands (Acid Mothers Temple, Ghost, Far East Family Band, and the Flower Travellin’ Band), I found their sound really unique. The technical quality of the individual musicians is excellent across the board but the virtuoso stylings of the sitarist sets this band apart and above all others of this multi-genre.
The band was formed by Go Kurosawa (drums/vocals) and Tomo Katsurada (guitar/vocals) in the summer of 2012.[ Their early days were spent busking on the streets of Tokyo as a free music collective. A more permanent lineup was reached when Daoud Popal (guitar) joined and they met Kotsuguy (bass) while he was recording vending machines for his noise project. Go’s brother Ryu (Sitar) joined upon returning to Tokyo after studying Sitar in Kolkata, India under the prestigious Manilal Nag.
The line-up for this Kikagaku Moyo performance was:
- Tomo Katsurada – vocals, guitar
- Daoud Popal – guitar
- Ryu Kurosawa – sitar
- Kotsuguy – bass
- Go Kurosawa – drums, vocals
During the intermission we were able to wiggle our way up to the front. Everybody there acted like they were our best friends – apparently Kikagaku Moyo fans, or maybe Big Sur residents, are the friendliest people in the world. Quite a few beautiful young women danced playfully with me – a few handsome healthy men also felt comfortable dancing with me. Everybody was having a really great time. Maybe we were all high – I was.
One of the more captivating aspects of this performance was the intensity of focus of the band members and the welcoming comfortable way they engaged with the audience. Especially lead singer and guitarist Tomo Katsurada whose penetrating gaze seemed to simultaneously energize and question, as if he were looking to us for direction or inspiration or comfort and taking that, weaving it into the song, and feeding it back to us.
It’s kinda funny when you reflect back on such a great show and the thing you remember the most is the eyes of the singer. Haha! Well, he’s also got stunningly great hair, beard, & mustache. All of the members of this band have great stage presence, talent, long beautiful hair, a colorful wardrobe, and a great spontaneous camaraderie with the audience.
I was not able to get a setlist for this show (I’ll update this posting later when I do) but to give you some idea of the content of this tour, the show two nights earlier at Harlow’s in Sacramento featured the following:
- Green Sugar
- Smoke and Mirrors
- Old Snow, White Sun
- Cardigan Song
- Smoke and Mirrors
- Dripping Sun
- Streets of Calcutta
Go & Tomo run their own record label Guruguru Brain currently based in Amsterdam. Guruguru Brain has released about 10 artists from Asia since 2014 including Kikagaku Moyo. Vinyl Me, Please has an interesting interview with this Japanese Psych Rock record label.
Thus far the band has released 4 studio albums and 2 EPs:
- Kikagaku Moyo (2013, Cosmic Eye/Sound effect)
- Forest of Lost Children (2014, Beyond Beyond is Beyond)
- House in the Tall Grass (2016, Guruguru Brain)
- Masana Temples (2018, Guruguru Brain)
- Mammatus Clouds (2014, Sky Lantern/Captcha/Cardinal Fuzz)
- Stone Garden (2017, Guruguru Brain)
Their latest release, “Masana Temples”, is by far my favorite and illustrates the band’s evolution from long improvisational raga jams to sharply sculpted sonic landscapes and precisely delivered virtuoso performance. I do love their earlier work as well, it’s just that I’m more of a psychedelic rock fan than an improvisational space cloud raga fan. I have found that the earlier moodier music of Kikagaku Moyo makes for a really nice sonic background to the rain. Maybe they are a Folk Nature band 🙂
Plate O’ Shrimp
The “Plate O’ Shrimp” for this review is the fact that this tour of the Central Coast of California was accompanied by a tremendous downpouring of rain and a thick blanket of clouds. The opening act, Nico Georis, performed new piano and synthesizer pieces based on evolving cloud formations. Kikagaku Moyo released a 2014 EP entitled “Mammatus Clouds”. And the other truly remarkable event of the week – 5 days earlier I had received a letter from Tom Robbins in reply to my letter to him. Robbins included his “business” card which includes “Admirer of Clouds” as one of his “occupations”. So, there was a cloud theme to my week culminating in a really head-in-the-clouds experience in Big Sur.
Actually, there was a second Plate O’ Shrimp for this show. After the show we went out onto the back deck to cool off and have a couple of the excellent pint sized Margaritas. We sat at one of the couch circles with a table fire in the middle. As we got to talking to the others at this fire we gradually realized that all of us live on the Westside of Santa Cruz. Except for one guy from New Jersey who is a writer for Rolling Stone.
Fernwood Tavern is a great place to see a show. The sound system was excellent, the venue is really small, there’s a full bar & general store, an expansive deck with redwoods, tables, fires, and interesting people scattered about. Camp sites, tent cabins, and a motel onsite are available for those who want to get blitzed, enjoy the show, and sleep it off by the river. Big Sur is fantastic – check out the Henry Miller Memorial Library or grab some appetizers and drinks overlooking the magnificent coast at Nepenthe.
One tip for shows at Fernwood Tavern – the performance stage is only elevated about a foot above the dance floor making it impossible to see the band from the outer area next to the bar. Either get there early to grab a spot up front or politely squeeze toward the front during an intermission. One guy I saw had a pretty good technique – buy two beers and then act like you are delivering one to your buddy up front. Everybody seems to move aside for a beer delivery!
Finally, I would also like to call out (((folkYEAH!))) Presents, the Northern California based boutique music and events curator and presenter who produced this and many other great shows here in Santa Cruz and the surrounding area. Thanks (((folkYEAH!)))!!! Bring Kikagaku Moyo back!
Thanks Page! Thanks Kikagaku Moyo! Let’s do that again.