Digital, 20th March 2009
Mono are one of those bands that don’t really say much during gigs. Perhaps it’s shyness, or perhaps they prefer to let the music do the talking. The Japanese post-rock quartet say much more with their grandiose, flowing compositions than words could ever hope to. Back in Brighton to promote their latest Steve Albini-produced opus Hymn to the Immortal Wind, they have upgraded venue to Digital from last year’s Engine Rooms and clearly have the following to fill it.
As Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs drifts mournfully from the speakers I happen to look up to the balcony above and to the right of the stage and find myself locking eyes with their improbably-named guitarist Yoda. His stares down at me, his face a picture of composed sincerity. Moments later the band emerge from the now standard smoke-machine belch to take their places in front of an impressive looking set up of vintage Fender Twin amps and suitably gorgeous Gretsch drums.
For anyone not familiar with the band, they have been around for almost ten years now, steadily gaining widespread acclaim outside their homeland with each release. Their association with the aforementioned legend Mr. Albini inarguably helped bring their music to the eyes and ears of western audiences, while their dynamic songs have more in common with the subtle movements and lengthy progressions commonly found in classical music than the more accessible sound of their immediate contemporaries. One exception being the now-awol Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Built on rolling, dreamy melodies, their visceral brand of contract/release dynamism is unbelievably powerful to experience first hand, even when you know just when the drop is coming. The new material features more relaxed, piano-led pieces, with bassist Tamaki putting aside her guitar to step over to the keyboard. A new Mono album is never going to be a million miles away from what they have already done before, but its the devastating playing technique, creative use of effects pedals and willingness to let their music breathe and follow any path it needs to that marks them out as different from the crowd.
By the looks on everyone’s faces, a mixture of awestruck hypnotism and joyous release, it’s safe to say they hit the spot. From moshing metalheads, to straight-laced indie kids, greying middle-agers to your average joe, the crowd are united in their approval. Playing for just shy of ninety minutes was a gift in itself from a band at the peak of their powers and showing absolutely no signs of stopping.
Words by Jody White
Photography by Liz Chambers