Tues June 1, Crocodile, 9 pm, $10.
Kawabata Makoto--guitarist and leader of Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. --looks exactly how you'd expect the guru of a mystical, musical cult to appear: wise visage, garish robe, unkempt mass of curls, and bushy beard. But instead of sending his charges on killing sprees or ordering mass suicide, Kawabata coaxes them to manifest the kaleidoscope of sounds he constantly hears in his head.
His ever-shifting collective--which lives in communal bliss in rural Japan--has been gathering disciples across North America and Europe (but, oddly, few in Japan) with its brain-bombing brand of "trip music." (Kawabata rejects the term "psychedelic.") Count Kinski guitarist Chris Martin, whose band has toured twice with Acid Mothers Temple, as a true believer. He proselytizes about AMT's phenomenal performances.
"It was pretty amazing on the U.S. tour to see their live show get more and more intense as the dates went on," he recounts. "They were basically playing the same songs, but finding new avenues to pursue within the structures, with one show in Philadelphia being particularly memorable. It bordered on the levitational."
Before launching AMT in 1996, Kawabata--who plays everything from viola to sarangi to harmonium--apprenticed in bands like Toho Sara, Mainliner, and Musica Transonic, all of which foreshadowed his interstellar-overdriven methods in AMT. Since 1997, AMT has been prolifically issuing some of the planet's most expansive, soul-stirring head music. No matter where you dip into the collective's voluminous canon, you're struck by sounds as hypnotic as mandalas and as explosive as the MC5 and Hawkwind in a cyclotron.
The latest addition to AMT's back catalog and the ostensible reason for this tour, Mantra of Love (Alien8), is relatively restrained compared to others in the band's repertoire. While most AMT releases feature a balanced yin/yang of chaotic cosmic rock/free jazz and shower-of-flower-petals ballads, Mantra revels in Kawabata's love of medieval folk songs from the French region of Occitania.
"I don't think there is anything unique about this album," Kawabata asserts. "If you listen to our third album, Troubadours from Another Heavenly World, you should spot that this is another fuzzless, quiet album. Many people have an image of chaos in relation to AMT, probably linked to our live performances. But we try not to be constrained by styles."
No matter what style AMT does deploy--be it soul-inflating drones à la Terry Riley or Tony Conrad, freewheeling, Ash Ra Tempel-esque space rock, or courtly love ballads--the group brings an intense, otherworldly power to it. What draws Acid Mothers Temple--and many other Japanese bands, for that matter--to extreme, excessive forms of musical expression?
"Japanese musicians are in the unique position of being able to follow their own desires and interests regarding music, regardless of the social and historical background of that music," Kawabata says. "I think there are a couple of reasons for this: one, because of the fact that Japanese excel in the compression of sensory and intellectual data; and two, because of the fact that not just Western rock music but all kinds of culture are imported into Japan."
One listen to even a few minutes of AMT and you assume heroic dosages of hallucinogens have gone into the creation of tracks that dwarf even the fieriest efforts by Jimi Hendrix, Sonny Sharrock, and Blue Cheer. Do AMT, as Spacemen 3 claimed to do, take drugs to make music to take drugs to?
"Who are Spacemen 3?" Kawabata surprisingly asks. (I doubt he's joking, either.) "I tried all kinds of drugs when I was younger, mainly because I wanted to know what they could show you. I have absolutely no need for them anymore. Drugs can provide you with a clue, but to find the 'answer' you need to progress through them to the next stage. As long as you keep on using drugs, you will never find that answer."
That's debatable, but with Acid Mothers' music commandeering your brain, drugs become superfluous. We can thank transmissions of mysterious origins for this happy occurrence. "I constantly hear sounds in my head," Kawabata claims. "I don't know whether they come from the cosmos or somewhere else, but I have heard them constantly since I was a child. All I do is become a human radio tuner in order to make these sounds audible to other people. So as long as I keep hearing these sounds, I will keep on making releases."