erasing clouds

Live Review: The Pastels/Maher Shalal Hash Baz at the School of Art, Glasgow, Scotland, 30th October 2003

by anna battista

An improved version of The Pastels, including random members of Teenage Fanclub, Appendix Out, Maher Shalal Hash Baz and Bill Wells himself, opens what is going to be not just a great gig, but a simply incredible gig. The Pastels start their set with the theme for the movie The Last Great Wilderness and go on for almost an hour, Katrina alternating at vocals with Stephen. Their set is sweet, sad, sometimes very aggressive, thanks to particularly sonic guitars. After The Pastels' legendary set, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, a unique Japanese band of legendary fame and tonight's headliners, arrive.

On stage there are Tori Kudo, the man behind Maher, and four other members of his band, together with Katrina at the drums and Tom Crossley (Appendix Out/The Pastels) at the flute. A guy dressed like a manager fiddles with a laptop hid in a '60s leather case producing scratchy and scary sounds: for a second people in the audience fear this is going to be one of those long loud noize sets typical of avant-garde Japanese bands. Then a woman starts reading in soft-spoken tones a story about Tori playing in LA where he saw lots of, well, trees. The track "Trees" starts relieving the audience from any possible fears of being in front of an unlistenable band.

When the track is over, the woman starts reading again and through her story, interrupted by intervals of music, we follow Tori criss-crossing the States, playing in LA, Portland, Olympia, Seattle and San Francisco. Throughout this journey Tori is taking us to, we listen to some of Maher's best tracks, such as the relentless "Ethiopia" a beautiful exotic track composed in Portland by Tori after he had an Ethiopian meal; "Seagulls", inspired by Seattle, with the screeching of seagulls reproduced by a screaming guitar and the lulling sound of sea waves by a gently lulled empty cardboard box of crisps with inside a microphone; "Cold Rain", a heart-rending sing based on a Japanese poem and "Loving", what is defined as the saddest song of the universe though it's actually the most sensational jazz track in the universe.

Tori often plays his guitar with his back to the audience, looking at the rest of his band as if he were directing an orchestra, instructing them to play jazz or melodic music, rock or ethnic rhythms, extremely long and beautiful songs, or one-minute intervals of very aggressive music.

The great secret of Tori Kudo's Maher Shalal Hash Baz is that this band speaks to the heart of people, reproducing in music the shapes of our immense universe, the moods of human beings, the marvelous soundscapes hidden in our minds. Behold, tonight we witnessed a revelation: Maher Shalal Hash Baz might be a band with an unpronounceable biblical name, but they make simple stunning music.

Issue 17, November 2003

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