Cinematic, elegiac, ethereal, glacial, fucking sonic cathedrals… It’s so hard to avoid the typical language attached to post-rock when reviewing a gig by a band like powerhouse Japanese instrumental quartet Mono, because all the usual descriptors seems a genuine reflection of their immersive live sound. Quite simply, a Mono live performance is 100% cinematic, elegiac, ethereal, glacial… all those well-worn cliches and yes, when you close your eyes and trance out to the band – as one is often wont to do during their set – you can almost visualize those darned sonic cathedrals, standing majestic, proud and tall.
Drawing inspiration from every section of the vast shoegaze/post-rock cosmos – from My Bloody Valentine’s warped guitar noise, The Cure’s reverb-laden melancholia and The Cocteau Twins’ shadowy swirliness, all the way to the quiet/loud dynamism of Mogwai and the open-tuned melodic thrash of early Sonic Youth – Mono are every bit the well-oiled machine live these days, having been on the road crushing eardrums around the world with their acclaimed, wall of sound performances. They’ve been doing it longer than most bands have been together making records – 20 years in fact, as this 20th anniversary tour reminded us. So committed are they to their cause and so monstrous is their work ethic – an average Mono tour normally lasts about 160 shows traversing the globe – that they have managed to master the art of making listeners feel their music in a kaleidoscopic way when they perform, no mean feat for an instrumental band.
On the final leg of their latest world tour, held in celebration of their latest album Nowhere Now Here released last January as well as their 20th year, Mono’s first WA sojourn since Badlands three years ago kicked off with a return show at the Rosemount Hotel. For their first show at the popular venue since 2015, the band resolutely set about their task of blowing the audience away like unwavering men – and women – on a mission, with each member more than holding their own. Guitarists Takaakira “Taka” Goto and Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu sat on drum stools stage right and left respectively, with faces obscured by a mop of black hair and an arsenal of effects pedals at their feet; vocalist/bassist/keyboardist Tamaki “Maki” Kunishi stood centre stage, swaying to the music, every inch the ice queen of the low frequencies, whilst new drummer Dahm Majuri Cipolla pummelled and steered the ship with power, precision and skill.
Mono kicked off their show by performing the first four songs from their latest album in order. The serene, synthesized tones of God Bless segued seamlessly into a pulverising version of After You Comes the Flood. The ghost-like, synth-heavy Breathe – featuring Maki’s haunting vocals as she stood and sang at a small keyboard stage side – followed before the new album, four-song section concluded with an epic version of title track Nowhere Now Here, which built gradually to its full size and intensity over the course of 10 glorious minutes. It’s all about slow builds and epic climaxes with Mono and few bands can do it as effectively or with more drama and potency.
Death In Rebirth and Dream Odyssey – from 2016’s Requiem for Hell and 2012’s For My Parents respectively – were up next, giving hardcore fans some much-welcomed, back catalogue cheer. The latter was heartbreakingly beautiful, the band in full-on soundtrack, masterpiece mode and showing off its mellower, melodic side. For this reviewer, Dream Odyssey along with another golden oldie, monumental set-closer Ashes In The Snow from 2009’s Hymn To The Immortal Snow, were the show’s standout moments. Ashes In The Snow simply stacked up the noise and ferocity until all that was left was a mind-blowing white noise assault so brutal that Kevin Shields would have been proud to call it his own creation. I think Taka assumed some Hendrix-playing-guitar-with-his-teeth poses during the furious climax, revelling in his theatrics but I can’t really be sure because by then, I was in a full-trance with eyes tightly closed.
Joining Mono for their latest run of Australian shows is British cellist and composer Jo Quail who has toured extensively with the band in the past. Quail lent her sonorous cello tones to a couple of Mono songs on the night – Halcyon (Beautiful Days), the gorgeous, Mogwai-like fan favourite from 2004 album Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined, plus lone encore track, Com(?) from 2002’s One More Step and You Die.
Quail also created serious musical alchemy as a one-woman string section during her excellent support slot, armed with only a looper, a guitar multi-FX pedal, a small mixer and a personalised electric cello. Hers was neo-classical music given an experimental and heavier twist with middle eastern flourishes. Watching her create intricate loops on the fly and perform with such poise and concentrated intensity was a sight to behold.
Also impressing on the night were local post-rock battalion Selfless Orchestra who began proceedings with a titanic set featuring selections from their acclaimed Fringe Festival show Great Barrier. Unleashed to perform at full, immersive volume, Selfless Orchestra swooped and soared, blending the haze of post-rock with shoegaze and throwing everything into the mix to create a heady brew of noise and dynamics. Playing as a six-piece with a cellist and a violinist, songs like Bleached and Fuck Adani sounded huge and were as engaging and environmental a call-to-arms as you are going to hear this side of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
As good as the support slots were, it was Mono’s night and they totally lived up to their reputation of delivering crushing live performances in every way. The loud bits were at body shuddering volume, the quiet bits were pin-drop in its hushed silence, their new lighting show is simply spectacular, and the musicianship was at a virtuoso level all night long. On this kind of incendiary form, Mono are, quite possibly, the greatest live post-rock outfit in the world.
Photos by Damien Crocker