Concert: Takenobu at The Earl

Last weekend I went on a “blind concert.” I had no idea who I was seeing, what style of music it was, or even what the venue would be. All I knew was that I was going out with my fiance and some friends to see a show that they had chosen. And I’m glad I did, because the entire experience was really refreshing.

The show was at The Earl, located in East Atlanta. We got there an hour early to grab some food, but we had to sit outside to eat since there weren’t any tables available inside. We ate and had a couple drinks, and then went inside for the show. The stage is located in  a separate room off the back of the main bar, down a dark hallway littered with fliers from past concerts. After checking in at the door we entered the stage room just as the first warm up band, Iron Jayne, was going on.

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Iron Jayne, while clearly an amateur band, had an interesting sound. Playful and whimsical, almost psychedelic at times, while still maintaining a rock edge. The singer, Emily Kempf, was light on her feet and jumped freely around the stage, clearly enjoying performing and exhibiting a flare for showmanship, even though there were times I was afraid she was going to collide with the other members of the band. Her energy almost single-handedly kept the standing room only audience engaged.

Next up was Sealions, and they might have stolen the show. They put on a wonderfully tight performance while Kempf from Iron Jayne bopped through the crowd as they played, showing her support. With a strong ’80s vibe, they rocked the house. Their sound was reminiscent of INXS, but somehow didn’t feel dated. Their two singers took turns on lead vocals, and sometimes established a nice harmony over the cool groove of guitars and synthesizer. However, the best instrumentalist in the band was clearly the drummer. He kept time perfectly with the synth and kept the whole band in line with his commanding beats without overwhelming the rest of the sound, and he even filled in for the next band, too. Hopefully, these guys will be headlining in the near future.

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Then came the main attraction, Takenobu. I was totally unfamiliar with his music, and I had never seen a performance quite like this. Nick Takenobu Ogawa, who performs under his middle name, is an electric cellist and vocalist. He played along side a violinist, a female backup singer, and the drummer from Sealions. Since the show I’ve heard several of his studio tracks, most of which are very mellow and focus primarily on the instrumental with minimal percussion. The live act, however, was definitely a rock show.

Considering how low key his recorded work is, in hindsight I’m very impressed with how his songs translated to an edgier arrangement. The only downside to the rocked up format was that the percussion drowned out the backing vocals, which in this arrangement seemed unnecessary.

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All the performers wore red pants, and considering the classical roots of the sound they played in a stationary position, but despite this it was an extremely engaging show simply due to the intricacy of the musicianship. Takenobu’s voice was delicate, yet it soared out above the music with an eerie confidence, and though there were perhaps only 150 people in the crowd, the energy in the room was that of respect and attention. That’s certainly how I felt, and I’m hoping his career blossoms into wider mainstream appeal. The music industry could use more bands that make accessible music with instruments outside the rock standards of guitar, bass, and drums.

Takenobu closed out the show with the Radiohead cover “Idioteque,” which translated exceptionally well to string instruments, and his voice was perfect for Thom Yorke’s lyrics. After the show, we filed out the door after picking up a card for a free download of his new album, and I left very satisfied with my first blind concert. If you get a chance to see Takenobu perform, jump on the opportunity, and the same goes for Sealions.