SXSW: Psychedelia lives!

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AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas capital has been an epicenter of psychedelic rock since Roky Erickson virtually invented the genre here in the '60s, and Thursday the sound was carried forward by bands from Japan to the Pacific Northwest.

At Hotel Vegas on the eastern outskirts of the South by Southwest Music Conference, the Cosmonauts from northern California delivered an ominous take on the '80s space rock of Spacemen 3 and the thunderous drone of the Jesus and Mary Chain. With the most minimalist of drum beats, two guitarists and a bassist split the difference between dissonance and melody, toggling back and forth between the two and sometimes blurring them together. Brooklyn's Spires aspired to a more pop, song-based style with multi-part vocal harmonies cresting atop three guitars and propulsive rhythms. Blouse, a co-ed quartet from Portland, Oregon, echoed the dreamy wash of guitar and vocals of the British shoegaze bands (specifically Lush and Slowdive) but with high-powered drumming.

Best of all was Bo Ningen, a quartet of Japanese natives who began playing together in London seven years ago. In the tradition of Japanese acid-rock bands such as Acid Mothers Temple and Ghost, the band takes its distortion-saturated arrangements to ecstatic heights. Recordings don't do the band justice, particularly because of the flowing hand gestures of vocalist-bassist Taigen Kawabe. With hair cascading down their backs, guitarists Yuki Tsujii and Kohhei Matsuda punctuated the factory-like rhythms of drummer Monchan Monna with spastic incisions and interlocking solos. Kawabe sang in a multitude of voices: a child reciting nursery rhymes, a shrieking warlock, an opera singer. The penultimate track even suggested a pop song, with a chiming guitar melody, before the quartet finished with a subway-train roar. Roky Erickson no doubt would've approved.

greg@gregkot.com
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