Kero Kero Bonito thrill cult following with a genre-bending experience

Kero Kero Bonito and Negative Gemini at the Rickshaw Theatre, 10/25/19 

 

It was already difficult to categorize Kero Kero Bonito’s music, but their live shows make it even harder.

The UK band broke out onto the scene with cheerful J-pop inspired tunes, but have gone through some darker sonic evolutions resembling lo-fi noise rock. The turn was supposedly inspired by a feeling of loss of innocence after frontwoman Sarah Bonito’s childhood home in Japan was demolished.

They now sit at a perfect mix between the two sounds, but that doesn’t make it any less hilariously disorienting to see a bunch of sweaty bros moshing and singing along to hard rock versions of adorable, meme-worthy music about believing in yourself.

After opener Negative Gemini warmed up the crowd with some atmospheric and ambient experimental indie-rock, Sarah walked out in an oversized puffy silver jacket and started playing the opening synth keyboard riffs of anti-war song “Battle Lines,” closing the song by waving a giant white flag.

Not as familiar with the lyrically dense newer material just yet, the crowd exploded for “Lipslap,” the first taste of their breakout album Bonito Generation. The band’s other members, DJs and multi-instrumentalists Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled, replaced all of the computerized tones of their earlier work with live drums and guitar.

With a knowing glance at the crowd, Sarah picked up a plush flamingo and the audience immediately screamed, knowing the band’s biggest hit, aptly titled “Flamingo,” was about to be played.

She held the flamingo in the air like an idol and the fans followed suit, showing their reverence by yelling every word at a volume that made it sound like a sports arena. They even made an effort to awkwardly attempt the Japanese lyrics for a line or two before trailing off.

It was the tracks that blended KKB’s two distinct styles that got the crowd most riled up, however. During pop-rock blends like “Only Acting” and “My Party,” you could see members of the audience running the full length of the room back and forth in the mosh pit.

Sarah Bonito knew what she was doing on stage, whipping her hair and jumping around so hard she disconnected her mic cable twice. She was certainly her unusual self, offering irreverent quotes all night.

“The last time we were driving in the van, Jamie saw some aliens,” she said without context, like it was nothing, before playing “Make Believe.”

After Lobban and Bulled showed off their mixing skills by chopping up the Harry Potter theme, Sarah sauntered up to the mic, said “you’re a wizard,” seemingly paused to think about it, and added “Harry.”

There was an odd focus on transit, as Lobban dedicated an unrelated song to the SkyTrain, which he called “a great piece of transportation infrastructure for Vancouver,” and Sarah lamented the windstorm-induced B.C. Ferries cancellations preventing her friend on Vancouver Island from making it to the show.

Near the show’s conclusion, Sarah picked up a conductor’s baton and proclaimed “you have to listen to me now. This is the Vancouver and KKB choir,” launching into the campfire song-esque “Sometimes.”

Sarah legitimately conducted the crowd as their arms swayed from side to side, Bulled holding his fist in a “nailed it” pose when Sarah hit the song’s climactic note.

“If anyone had a bad day, I want you to remember this moment,” she concluded cheerfully.
The wholesome energy didn’t last long, as the band returned for a high-octane encore where Sarah tested out some of her best throaty black metal screams on “Trampoline.”
Nobody was quite certain what they saw on Friday night, but it was certainly a good time.