CHAI Welcomed Toronto to the Bright-Pink Future

Horseshoe Tavern, October 4

With Font

Photo: Atsuko Kobasigawa

BY Kaelen BellPublished Oct 5, 2023

"We are CHAIIIIIIIIIII!" — it's a familiar refrain for fans of the Japanese four-piece; a rallying cry, a greeting, an act of actualization. Even if you've heard it before, it's hard to describe the jolt of pink electricity that it still inspires to hear it shouted from stage, keyboardist and lead singer Mana's voice careening across the room. 

The greeting came after a choreographed opening performance of "MATCHA" from last month's self-titled album, the four members — Mana, guitarist Kana, drummer Yuna and bassist Yuuki — bounding on stage at the Horseshoe Tavern in pink, pyjama-esque silk spacesuits, complete with hanging rabbit ears and removable eye masks. The first half of the show followed this opening jolt of goofy precision, an airtight pop performance that found Yuuki and Kana largely abandoning their instruments of choice for Moog and choreography, respectively. The band tore through selections from CHAI and 2021's WINK, relying on backing tracks and presets as they bounced between positions and dance moves, coming together and pulling apart in joyfully choreographed bursts. 

"ACTION" found the foursome gathered in the centre of stage, weaving and bobbing among each other and pulling some impressively complicated moves on the restrictively tight stage set up — CHAI are made for big festival stages, though there was a strange magic in watching their boundless energy and inventive theatricality dominate such a small space. The delirious pop extravaganza of the show's first half continued with the low-riding groove of "Nobody Knows We Are Fun," the chattering "GAME" and the sensual "Driving22," but things shifted with the frenetic funk of "NEO KAWAII, K?" which saw Kana pick up her guitar and introduce the show's rollicking second half. 

Despite the slinky electronic R&B that they've been exploring in recent years, CHAI are punk shredders at heart. Songs like "Cool Cool Vision" and "Hi Hi Baby" found the band thrash and pummel with abandon, Kana sliding up and down the neck of her guitar with exhilarating force. They still made room for the pop perfection of "Donut Mind If I Do" and "END," but they closed the show on the surf-punk whirlpool of "N.E.O" before returning from their obligatory shows-over fakeout for a performance of "KARAOKE." 

Four-part outfit changes, endless affirmations, shoe sale pitches (the genuinely sick, made-to-order CHAI shoes can be yours if you've got a couple hundred bucks to spend) and more energy than you can possibly imagine mustering, CHAI's performance was a joyously new take on the punk show form, turning a 76-year-old venue into a portal to a bright pink future. 

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