Mono / The Twilight Sad Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC May 12

Mono / The Twilight Sad Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC May 12
An up-and-coming buzz band opening for an established touring act is a time-tested formula, but in this case, the openers outdrew the main attraction. Glaswegians the Twilight Sad commanded a large, enthusiastic audience, which had dwindled considerably by the time Japanese instrumental rock heroes Mono took the stage.

There were a number of reasons for this: the openers have more straight-ahead pop appeal, and it was their first time in Vancouver, while Mono seems to play here every year or two. But it's a shame, because while the Twilight Sad delivered a competent performance, led by James Graham's histrionic vocals (delivered in a rrrrrroll-up-the-rim Scottish brogue) and incorporating their hummable 2007 single "That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy," Mono's set was characteristically transcendent.

Opening with a canned operatic aria, drummer Yasunori Takada gradually took over on xylophone, eventually joined by guitarists Takaakira Goto and Yoda and bassist Tamaki Kunishi, building to one of Mono's trademark ear-shattering climaxes. Their music tends toward the overly grandiose at times, but they just take it so god damn seriously that you can't really help but get caught up in it.

Mono inspire rapt, beard-stroking reverence in their true believers, who shushed chattier audience members during the quiet parts. The band have often identified themselves with modern classical music (as opposed to the post-rock tradition), and many of their softer sections do take cues from the Reich/Glass school of minimalism. But it's the loud parts that really set them apart from run-of-the-mill instrumental rock, the roaring, pulsating crescendos owing more to Glenn Branca than Mogwai.

Recent years have seen Mono incorporate more quasi-classical elements to their recorded output (2009's Steve Albini-produced Hymn to the Immortal Wind includes a full orchestra), but touring as a four-piece, what remains is the core of their appeal: commanding dynamic range and song structure, and the ability to tear your head off with nothing more than guitars, drums and a shitload of pedals.