Friday night at Emo’s felt like the hottest concert on earth, and it’s barely springtime in the Texas capital. While both bands gave the audience stellar live shows, not even their performances could be hotter than the inside of the venue itself. Still, the insane humidity and heat couldn’t keep the packed house from getting their money’s worth. In what was a rare opportunity, both Austin’s own Balmorhea (pictured left) and Japan ambient post-rockers Mono shared the bill at a soldout show on April 30. Both complimented each other’s style while being different enough to offer audiences something unique.
In what was a half-hour delay from schedule, the six members of Balmorhea took the stage at 11 p.m. at what felt like peak heat. After hearing people around me try and talk about them and butcher their name (for the record, it is pronounced like Bal-mor-ray), I was curious to see the type of response they would get from a group of front-row hardcore Mono fans.
Once Balmorhea started playing, it was what I expected. I have seen Balmorhea before in different settings, each with different crowds. Most were intrigued at what they were seeing, as it’s not everyday that a large of group of 20-somethings, some even younger, see a six-piece indie orchestra. When I mean orchestra, I mean orchestra: a violinist, a cellist and a double bass player to compliment the pianos and guitars. On occasion, Balmorhea will break out the banjo. Their new drummer completed the sextet to give Balmorhea the full, personal sound you can only experience live.
The first songs came from their latest release, Constellations. An almost all-instrumental act, watching Balmorhea live feels like it should yield the silence of a symphony audience. At Emo’s Friday night, people all around me were talking, some even shushing others. At a rock concert at Emo’s, people talk all the time. Perhaps they saw Balmorhea as just another indie band and felt talking during their set was no big deal. Others looked frustrated by those around them who wanted a quiet crowd. Regardless of which behavior they chose, everyone clapped and cheered as each song concluded.
The night’s headliner, Mono (pictured left), took the stage right around midnight to a packed house—geeky music types of all ages, backgrounds and races. Touring to support their new live album, Mono played a long nine-song set that included my personal favorites, “Ashes In The Snow,” “Sabbath” and “Halcyon (Beautiful Days).” The only thing better than hearing those songs pumping loud through my headphones in the wee hours of the night is being up front at Emo’s hearing them live.
The Japanese four-piece may be the best live post-rock band in the world, thanks largely to having two of the best guitar players on the planet. Lead guitarist Takaakira Goto is a master of ambient riffs and pedal effects. As Goto was flinging hair and sweat around stage, he would lose himself in every note as if it were his last, only to occasionally look to his right at Yoda (rhythm guitarist). After a couple of songs, both guitarists took to sitting in stools while playing and still rocked harder than most guitarists on two feet that I’ve seen play there. As I stood in front of Yoda and watched him go through pick after pick, I couldn’t help but notice I’d forgotten about the excruciating heat.
The crowd didn’t forget, as sweat hit them from Yoda and Goto all night. Bassist and pianist, Yamaki Kunishi, stood front and center between the guys, completely unengaged with anything but her bass and her bandmates. Perhaps the heat was getting to her, or maybe it was her shyness, seeing how all the nerdy little post-rock kids up front could not take their eyes off her in that dress and heels. Drummer Yasunori Takada was hidden behind Kunishi throughout the whole set except for when Kunishi put her bass down to play the piano set on the right side of the stage. It was funny to see only his long black hair flailing around from where I was standing and nothing else.
Mono concluded the show with “Everlasting Light.” The packed house cheered for more, but the post-rock Gods did not return for an encore, and the cheers died quickly. It was just too much to endure more heat after standing in that oven of a venue. Not a single person left unimpressed or dissatisfied with what they just saw from either band. In fact, the only thing that could have made this a better concert would have been to see Mono play one of their famous orchestra-backed shows. Maybe one day soon, but for now I’ll be reliving the memory of the best post-rock band alive for a long time to come.