Published Jun 21, 2014Drawing a sparse but diverse crowd reflective of the adventurous Vancouver International Jazz Festival's broadly accessible yet musically challenging approach, with red, spiky cardboard bits littering the front of the stage like an origami D-day, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan delivered everything one could wish for in a great rock spectacle. From their Kabuki makeup and theatrical stage presence to their impressive musicianship, this Montreal-based "Asian, Indigenous and Diasporic Art Collective" was in it to win it.
Sound-wise, there were a few hiccups. The vocals were off for the first track or two, with feedback occasionally creeping in, and the guitar sound was often overpowering, but their visible passion carried them through the inconsistencies, and when it all came together — as it did for "Queens" from their self-titled 2011 mini-album debut and tracks like "Lamia" and "One" from their 2013 full-length UZU — there was strange, intoxicating magic in the air.
The powerful and unique voice of Ruby Kato Attwood landed somewhere between Miho Hatori (Cibo Matto) and Sierra Casady (CocoRosie), delivering her narratives with a quirky yet sweet operatic style, while Ange Loft lent pow-wow-esque vocals on backup. Attwood's presence had an air of stern drama to it, particularly when she snapped open a couple of white, red-tipped fans and fluttered them during "Whalesong," while Loft was more extroverted, working herself into a fervour as she played tambourine, hand drum and sleigh bells like they compelled her. It was difficult to take your eyes off the pair of them, though Brendan Swanson stole the spotlight several times on keys, playing pristine classical style for "Atalanta," laying down the most epic psychedelic organ this side of Doug Ingle (Iron Butterfly) on "Reverse Crystal // Murder of a Spider," and out-progging Rick Wakeman on "A Star Over Pureland."
With Alaska B holding it down on drums and John Ancheta delivering the sludge on electric guitar, who were most present on "Hall of Mirrors" when B exploded into double kicks and Ancheta unleashed his heaviest riffs, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan's Noh-wave style worked on so many levels. It worked as metal, performance art, trip-hoppy backpacker neo-psychedelia, and, considering the festival logo glowing behind them, it even worked as jazz. It felt like seeing a celestial prog-metal opera jam session between CocoRosie, A Tribe Called Red, Goat and Pelican. There was something here for everyone.