May 02

[live report] La’Mule – My '90s Visual Kei Fantasy Realized

If a magical visual kei genie appeared before me right now, granting me one wish, I know exactly what I would want: to travel back in time to the mid-90s. I can give up the instant intellectual gratification of Wikipedia and the oversharing aspect of Facebook for a couple of days just to do a massive concert hop of all the bands that were either at their prime then or have since vanished into the annals of obscure Japanese pop culture history.

La’Mule would be one of those bands.

I got my wish, brief as it may have been, on April 6th in Tokyo’s Shibuya REX. La’Mule was always one of those bands whose name you might come across in passing as part of that last-blast band boom that occurred in the late ’90s. Those bands always boasted hair that was unnaturally borrowing from different colors of the rainbow, the vocalists sang like angry goats, and music was more punk – and somehow more honest for it. These were the bands that were more directly influenced by some of my favorites (Kuroyume, to be more specific), and were untainted by the overexposure today’s internet produces. Looks were important, but it was more about the theatricality. Plus, there was no autotune back then.

The venue was tiny, but packed to the gills with surprisingly youngish fans sporting the cyberpunk gothic fashions popular in the late 90s. When the screen rose to reveal vocalist Kon tied in bloody rags to each side of the stage, the compact throng rushed forward. I hovered in the back, afraid to touch this scene out of my ’90s visual kei fantasy, for fear of tampering with it and somehow changing the course of history. You know, the whole time travel cliché. I had to remind myself that it is in fact 2012, and I needn’t worry.

Kon started out clean and clear, bringing a slightly nasal but solid tenor melody that took me by surprise. The La’Mule recordings I’d heard made him sound wane and with the occasional signature goat-bleat, but live, he was an entirely different beast. He ripped himself out of his binds and moved about the somewhat limiting stage like a mad, wounded bird. Beneath the shock of unnaturally red hair, he maintained good eye contact with the audience, which was probably hard not to do in a venue this small.

The instruments, on the other hand, were more or less what I expected. Static and shallow drum beats like a stick on cinderblocks kept the rhythm in the background, allowing the simple but tight guitars to take the lead. This is definitely not a bad thing, as any extra frills might have overcomplicated the music, making the fast-paced beats sloppy and hard to follow. La’Mule is skilled at the style they do, and I wouldn’t ask for much more.

Some songs did manage to surprise me as the guitars played Dorian scales (a.k.a. “that Middle Eastern kind of sound thingy”), adding a little flavor to the music. The tempo slowed down, allowing the audience to sway back and forth. Just as we were lulled into a hypnotic trance by Kon-monologueing, the mood flipped on the crazy switch. The guitars went wild as Kon chucked feathers at the audience like a mental patient ripping apart down pillows. This number was followed by the audience repeating, “Mienakutemo… Todokanakutemo…” (“If we can’t see it…If it can’t reach us…”), covering their eyes with the backs of their hands for the first part, and reaching out toward the stage for the second. It was creepy, but that was the mood they were going for.

The show ended with the band untying the dozens of bloody rags from the stage and rather unsuccessfully tossing them into the audience. The members were crying, embracing each other, and delaying the inevitable: pretty soon, we would all have to go back to the 21st century, with our smart phones and our Lady Gaga. But it was fun to live ’90s visual kei for a couple hours.

Official La’Mule website – http://lamule-official.com/