Concert Review: Keiji Haino / Sala Rossa / Montreal

A row of amps hummed with dead air when Keiji Haino walked on stage near midnight. Dressed all in black, trademark sunglasses that never leave the face, and long hair now grey, he had a presence that drew respectful silence. During soundcheck we heard jarring squalls of analog synth noise and sporadic stabs of a drum machine kick.

Haino opened with an atonal guitar drone piece, carving out giant slabs of distorted sound. His guitar was to have this highly overdriven tone for much of the set, largely achieved from the sheer volume and drive of his long row of amplifiers—often so distorted as to conceal any discernible melody. Intensity would pick up and he would violently raise his guitar into the air to bring a chord crashing brutally down, hair flying. A particularly powerful moment came with his exploration of vast dynamic range, tearing at his strings with enormous power and immediately muting them for near-silence.

After this most brutal guitar work of the night, he began to sing very softly into one of his mics. This was looped as he sang a higher melody over top, then higher still, building into a hovering choir of perfectly meshed voices until he began to sing something low, still very soft when he attacked the other mic with blood curdling screams. This mic screeched and distorted with the intensity; then a return to the hovering choir, now accompanied by the looping ghostly, distorted screams. Then another searing attack.

One of the more memorable moments of the night was when he approached the two curious domes sitting forbiddingly on his cluttered tabletop. These were to control squalls of synthetic distortion. He moved his hands about them as though controlling the very elements, sometimes altering the squall from several feet away. He would then stand motionless, palms rested heavily, like a Japanese thunder god just basking in blistering noise.

This spell was broken when he dove at the drum machine, hitting a scattered, off-kilter rhythm which was then looped—the most adept use of a loop pedal this writer has witnessed—into jazz timing with industrial power. He approached the mics to sing softly once more, while plucking an ethereal wash on the guitar. He was singing us a lullaby, hailing both from Japan and elsewhere altogether otherworldly. This was sheer night music, pitch black, and segued into a gorgeous chord progression; the first tonal, melodic moment of the set.

Haino returned to a guitar drone, something of a reprise of the first piece, when something happened to his power. His guitar had been cut off. The thunder god was disarmed, and screamed instead into his mics. Approaching his mass of amplifiers, he brought the guitar back to life for a short time until he abruptly stopped and left the stage. There was enthusiastic applause that quickly dissipated. It was quiet when a small Japanese woman peered out a door offstage. There would be no encore.

Unforgettably bleak, pitch-black, nihilistic night music.

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