“I’ve waited ten years for this!”
There were obviously many in the crowd at a surprisingly packed Electric Owl on a Monday night that thought seeing legendary Japanese post/math-rock band Toe was never going to happen. The band, who have never been to Canada before, let alone Vancouver, was talked about with hushed reverie before their performance, like a temperamental ghost or rarely-seen royalty was nearly in their midst. The latter was most certainly how they were received after their awe-inspiring performance.
Opener StarRO, also imported from Japan, warmed the crowd up with his unique take on down-tempo electronica. The project of soloist Shinya Mizoguchi, StarRO was an eastern-flavoured Caribou, equally obsessed with big beats and dance-friendly rhythms as he was with melding jazz, hip-hop, and ambient influences together into something wholly his own. Mizoguchi looked at home amping up a crowd that was solely focused on the headlining band, and even though there was a distinct lack of attention paid to StarRO at the beginning of his set, he was still extremely warmly received at the end of each song by an audience that, ultimately, was overwhelmingly happy to be there.
Not enough good can be said about Toe’s performance: that it was worth the wait was palpable from the first guitar string pluck. Comprised of Kashikura Takashi (drums), Mino Takaaki (guitar), Yamane Satoshi (bass), and Yamazaki Hirokazu (guitar), they played a set so completely original and refreshing that it could only be compared to fellow label-mates Mouse On The Keys‘ epic set as part of Next Music From Tokyo‘s Volume 7 tour.
Note the pecking order: Takashi’s drums may as well have been stage-center for their prominence, as he lead each member of the band in rapid and intimately complex tempos and time signatures. It was a testament to the band’s 15 years of activity and the prowess of the musicians behind them that anyone was able to keep up with the ever-changing rhythms.
Rarely has a group been so well-received in such a (relatively) small venue — the air of gratitude and hospitality was warm and inviting and infectious. Those in the crowd less familiar with Toe’s six albums needn’t have guessed from which era of their career each song was from: fans made sure to be extremely supportive of the classics, and their inclusion on a tour largely focused around their latest release, Hear You. Any small silences between songs were filled with concert-goers screaming their affection, in both English and Japanese, to the quartet on stage, and during one memorable monologue, Mino Takaaki reciprocated that endearment in broken but heartfelt English.
To say that Toe’s set was a fantastic display of virtuoso musicianship would be an understatement: for many attending, this was the show to see, a once-in-a-lifetime moment captured in live sound. A real, crisp, and vivid reminder that yes, music has the power to enslave and captivate the human spirit and do something really remarkable with it.