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Miho Hatori: (a)live and kicking

Miho Hatori: (a)live and kicking

Hot off her acclaimed solo debut Ecdysis, former Cibo Matto and Gorillaz star Miho Hatori makes a splash onstage in L.A.

By Rowena Aquino

The Troubadour in West Hollywood is one of those great, intimate bar/music venues that seems to not have changed much since it opened in the late fifties. A little bit bigger than the Hotel Café or the Roxy but much more manageable and unassuming than the House of Blues on Sunset, there couldn't have been a better choice to house Miho Hatori's first Southern California gig in a while as a solo artist. Hatori's music on her recent first debut album, Ecdysis, can also be described as more manageable and unassuming than what she made with her former group Cibo Matto, and on record it does seem that way. However, both the Troubadour and Hatori, despite their similarly benign appearances by day, mean serious, live performance business, equaled by the packed crowd on Feb. 9.

Shortly after opening band Los Abandoned finished their set, Hatori herself and her fellow band members got up on stage – not to start the set, but rather to arrange/tune their instruments (and laptop) for everyone's viewing. Teased by this bit of behaviour, the crowd waited more impatiently for Hatori and company to start the set. When they finally did, opening with "Sweet Samsara I," the crowd -- ranging from a baby wearing baby-blue hard-core earphones to prevent deafness, to young to mid-adults -- slowly got its electronic bossa nova groove on. Following the opening song were other ones from Hatori's debut album, including "Barracuda," "In Your Arms," and "The Spirit of Juliet."

As to the last song, Hatori introduced it as a response to an issue that's been preoccupying her, namely, the difference between a robot and a cyborg in terms of their actual makeup, leading to the profound experience of human feeling as both pleasure and pain. Certainly not your run-of-the-mill "this is (blank) and I wrote it when I was feeling really down/happy" introduction. In fact, the kind of monologue Hatori performed aside from the songs was just as appealing as it also showcased her personality in a raw way. In some instances, the introduction to the song was almost as long as some of the songs performed -- the performance being part of a larger process of songwriting, performing, communicating and living that was just as refreshing to see and hear. I think particularly of one of the new songs unveiled during the set, "Misinformation." Taking literally the performance-as-process idea, she rushed offstage before the start of the song when she realised she forgot the lyrics written on pieces of paper. As in a recording studio, she proceeded to hold the papers in her hand as she sang. Another standout introduction was for another new song, "A Moving Well," which told of a girl's mother being eaten by a well (to which the crowd responded quite energetically).

Hatori's tour band consisted of Mauro Refosco on percussion (who also performed on her album), composer-pianist Shoko Nagai on keyboards and Masa Shimizu on guitar/bass. I can't stress enough how the intense delivery of the songs would not have been possible without them -- although I have to single out Refosco, who provided the energetic backbone to the entire set. Hatori matched her band's energy by proving the strength of her vocal delivery; I was more than pleased that Hatori could also growl her way through a song, as in "A Moving Well" and marvelous knockout electric versions of "Sweet Samsara II" and "A Song for Kids" (the only song in Japanese on the album and set).

The point of performing live is not to give carbon copies of the album recordings; it's to give the songs a different rhythmic breath of life and to try out new material as it interacts with the audience. Hatori and her band do exactly this, going from serving up "Barracuda" a second time with a higher voltage, to mellower acoustic fare like "Today Is Like That" and the exquisite "Amazona" for the encore, only to return to ever higher amp levels with yet another new song, "Yellow Cab" (on which Nagai fully rocked out on the keyboards and demonstrated her own ability).


The opening act Los Abandoned is a Van Nuys-based band, and there was a palpable following among the majority of Hatori fans. Their Spanish-English bilingual rock is reminiscent of good, solid eighties post-punk rock like The Muffs, exemplified by a song like "Heavy Acoustic," and their live energy is contagious enough to not be obnoxious. Lead singer Lady P performed with the look and vitality right out of the classic Pat Benatar music video "Love is a Battlefield -- and I don't mean that pejoratively. Their debut album is Mix Tape (2006).


Check out the official website for more information and soundbytes:

Miho Hatori:
Los Abandoned:

Of course, we can't forget a YouTube link, so here's one of a live performance by Hatori and her band.

Asia Pacific Arts