Japan NiteElysium, Friday, March 15
Don't let the name fool you. Kao=S banishes carnage: graceful, passionate, but controlled, fusing epic rock sensibilities with Noh theatre formality. The voice of Kaori Kawabuchi – fox-masked singer, katana-wielding dancer – weaves into Daisuke Kaminaga's flutes. Glimpse the combat boots beneath her kimono, the frontwoman back-to-back with guitarist Shuji Yamagiri like smirking Toxic Twins. Then she launches an Iron Maiden-esque soar, while Jack Tsugaru-Syamisen, his foot on the stage monitor Steve Harris-style, brings power chord instincts to his three-stringed shamisen. If Kao=S belie their name, then Jake Stone Garage embrace who they are with a cocky, too-cool-for-school sneer, all greased up with four-to-the-floor jittering rock & roll – Creem cover stars in the making. Josy could be their sorority neighbors, one horn section away from being a classic party band. Like an Animal House crush come to life, the female quartet sway and rock with Japan's full-hearted love of Sixties pop, shining with a Korg verve. Pirates Canoe are their milder, meeker little sisters. Like their home Kansai region's cherry blossoms transplanted to Lake Woebegone, their lilting harmonies are scented with charm. Abandoning their Captain Hook aesthetic for some Texas chic, their acoustic trip to the "Love Shack" promised hand-holding and gentle smiles.