Very few things trump a good rock show, yet when the Riot Room opened its doors, I was driving the opposite direction, heading to a soccer match. When local opener Gemini Revolution began its set, I was strapping on shinguards and stretching my hamstrings. By the time multi-instrumentalist crackerjack Chris Brokaw took the stage, I was anxiously trailing a forward across the face of goal. And at the very moment Japan's Mono took the stage, I was sweating profusely, and picking bits of artificial turf out from my bloody knee. Although I broke a good many traffic laws driving home, and showered only well enough to join society, I didn't make it to the Riot Room until 11pm. After checking my ID, I was welcomed into the club without any thought or concern for cover charges. That's when I knew I was very, very late.
The genre of post-rock has well established rules, and the long-standing foursome of Mono play them to the letter. The band's songs are long, slow to develop, rich in texture, achingly beautiful, increasingly loud, subtly chaotic, aggressively cathartic, revelatory, expressive, and then complete. Like an Alfred Hitchcock movie where the murderer is known from the outset, Mono creates tension and intrigue in the telling of the story, rather than simply relaying its plot. Listeners don't wonder if guitarist Takaakira Goto will explode into lightning-quick strums – they know he will – instead they wonder what will trigger the explosion. And, breathlessly, we will all wait for it.
In the quietest of passages, Goto and fellow guitarist Hideki Suematsu (nicknamed Yoda), play identical roles, each picking slowly through arpeggios or plucking deliberate notes that hang pregnantly in the air. Tamaki Kunishi alternates between keyboards and bass guitar – occasionally moving from one to the other in the same song. Neither are demonstrative nor demand attention, regardless of their position in the song's timeline. Drummer Yasunori Takada, however, follows the guitars. Songs begin quite capably without him, though the addition of a slow Low-like click of a single drumstick against the rim of his snare emphasizes just how airy and empty the current passage is. It's analogous to the adage about butlers: "when [they're] in the room it should be even more empty." However, as the song begins its slow upward climb, so does Takada, until, at the song's apex, his hectic swings send tactile percussive waves into the audience.
As has been the case throughout this tour, Mono began its set with "Legend," "Nostalgia," and "Dream Odyssey" – the same three songs that begin its latest album (For My Parents, Temporary Residence, 2012). Although no member of the band addressed the audience (or even had a microphone), Goto is the band's de facto frontman – even if his interaction with the crowd was limited to polite head nods between numbers. He spent the majority of the set seated, bent over his guitar, manipulating effects pedals, with his black hair hanging to hide his face. In the most climatic moments he sprung up enough to kick his stool away, freeing him to fall to his knees, still dramatically sawing at his guitar. This was the entirety of the band's stage show. Still, a packed audience watched intently as the Mono brought its songs to life, blanketing the room with sound. After the band closed with "Everlasting Light," instruments were set down, the band waved to its fans, and the show was over.
As I packed up my camera, I quickly caught up with a few friends who provided a synopsis of all that I had missed. Heartbroken but intent on home, I headed toward the door and the revitalizing drizzle that beckoned just beyond. However, before I could reach the exit, the guilt of missing the beginning of Mono's set overwhelmed me. I was surprised to find my conscience overriding my sore muscles, and directing my body to the end of a long line at the band's merchandise table. After picking up a copy of For My Parents, with my conscience now assuaged, I was able to slip through the door, dreaming of home and a long soak in a hot tub.