Zazen Boys
Pianos; New York, NY

The biggest question in the wake of Zazen Boys’ astonishing set at Pianos a few weeks ago was still, evermore, infuriating: Why does this band still lack U.S. distribution? If not a permanent opening slot for Battles (perhaps their closest sonic analogues)? After three albums of jazz-inflected, increasingly heavy math-funk splitting the difference between late Don Caballero and Q And Not U, last year they dropped one of the best fusions of live-band rock aesthetics and electro/dance music to date this decade: the taut, tantalizing Zazen Boys 4, freshly drenched in lush Neptunes synth tones and Cut Copy sheen. And like Battles again, the live show careened manically and joyously from minimal to maximal, a masterfully proved theorem of arithmetical groove.

Drummer Matsushita Atsushi placidly loomed behind his kit like a sun bear, pounding the skins with a godlike blend of force and precision, thunderbolt beats skidding from 4/4 to 5/4 to 6/4, beyond and back again. In keeping with the band’s distinctly Japanese sense of humor, he had even modified the Gretsch logo on his bass drum to read “GREEEEN” to match the set’s acid-bright paint job. Paging Dr. Zeus! Yoshida Ichiro thunked away dutifully on the bass, at his best when free to drop in Prince-ly robot funk pull-offs and accents, while prime Zazen Boy Mukai Shutoku slouched around the front of the stage between mic, keyboard, and guitar with equally nerdy effacement and enthusiasm. But the most captivating by far was lead axe-murderer Yoshikane Sou: contorting his limbs as much as his strings as he rushed through breathless chromatic runs, skipping between scales and modes as quickly as Atsushi switched up time signatures, battering no-waves of single-coil skree from his Strat like a Mach 6 express warp back to the bygone days of a Lower East Side where Pianos actually sold pianos.

The set opened with “Himitsu Girl’s Top Secret” and blew through 4 highlights “Weekend,” “Asobi,” “Honnoj” and “I Don’t Wanna Be With You,” plus an R(Kelly)&B-flavored encore of “Kimochi” from way back on the original Zazen Boys. Each song was stretched out like a dance mix, and the crowd treated them that way. At least, they did as much as it’s possible for four-on-the-floor-programmed asses to get free in the club with mutant five- or six-beat measures to bump with. But who’s counting?

Photo: [inhyung]

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