Thrashing boys need a cool girl up front

Scurrying into the Xoyo venue in Shoreditch, tucked down an alley away from the traffic sprawl of Old Street, latecomers at this hushed Asobi Seksu gig were gifted opener Coming Up while descending a stairway with a near-aerial view of the stage.

Below, in an assault of strobe lights, singer Yuki Chikudate zoomed from the set’s first song (from new album Fluorescence) into single Trails which, for a band labelled “shoegaze”, has all the uplift of a balloon taking flight, ditching My Bloody Valentine wah-wah ballast as it goes.

Yuki, in a Westwood-style puffball mini-dress, had the cuteness of Cyndi Lauper, the coolness of Debbie Harry and the mad hair flicks of Tori Amos. She is A Star. But, as with most lines of logic in the modern popverse, this truth has been lost along a highway cobbled with autotune preset buttons.

Yes, for all the pounding signposts to early 1990s guitar fuzz, these New Yorkers cannot quit the pop habit. Strawberries, from the “hit” album Citrus and playfully labelled Raspberries on the set list (we all love a soft fruit joke), is the aural equivalent of eating Chew-Its with Loveless on the stereo. And then the drone of Sighs loops in a stadium-sized synth hook The Killers wouldn’t kick out of bed.

Yuki stopped for breath and told the small but attentive audience: “The [warm] weather weirds me out. I’m used to feeling damp. I feel like I’m in California…” A whoop of delight from the crowd sent us tumbling into new single ‘Perfectly Crystal’, which comes on like an amped-up Strawberry Switchblade. Another new song, Trance Out, could have been a J-Pop Walk Like An Egyptian before it erupted into a bonfire of strobe-lit Sonic Youth attitude.

But the biggest cheer was reserved for 2007’s epic and cloud-bound Thursday. Although a punky, spikier live version, the song’s joy-sorrow tangent felt as emotionally raw as ever. Think Saint Etienne’s Avenue set on a smouldering night in NYC when all is lost, then found, then probably lost again.

Asobi Seksu’s formula is to spatter slabs of noise – the vanguard led by guitarist James Hanna – with little snow globes of keyboard melody, topped off with octaves last visited by Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. Though perhaps more arresting live than on record, it was mesmerising and again proved that thrashing boys need a cool girl up front.

Asobi Seksu
Xoyo, Shoreditch
Tues 19 April, 2011

Anna Doble

This article first appeared in the Spectator Arts Blog, May 2011

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