Hearing OOIOO live is an experience akin to staring at one of those illustrated illusions, where a seemingly simple picture appears to be first one thing, then another – a duck that turns into a rabbit, or an old lady into a young girl. When the Japanese band plays, they lock into long, repetitive grooves that undergo similar transitions – you sway for a while to their tribal grooves when suddenly your focus shifts and they become an eccentric prog band, or you grin at their infectiously skewed take on girl-group pop before you’re suddenly taken aback by their raw punk energy.
Openers Buffalo Stance set a buoyant mood at Johnny Brenda’s on Monday with jubilant electronic tunes done up in day-glo colors, so the crowd was ready to move when OOIOO took the stage around 10:30. The hypnotic grooves encouraged that, even with their tendency to break down into skronky noise before organically reassembling into the next tune.
It’s tempting to preface a description of OOIOO with one of those hyphenated multi-genre descriptions, but it quickly becomes evident that it would be easier to list the things they aren’t than to enumerate all the styles they hint at. Suffice to say, when they came back onstage for their encore on Monday night at Johnny Brenda’s I noted the Caribbean influence on the piece they started playing and began to jot down my surprise at the fact that the two gamelans that are supplementing the all-female quartet for this tour sounded surprisingly like steel pans in this context. But then I realized that the gamelan players weren’t hammering their instruments…the strange sound came from a combination of a small gong and bandleader Yoshimi P-We’s bizarrely processed guitar.
That’s just one of the strange and magical juxtapositions that the band conjured on Monday during a transcendent set lasting a little more than an hour. Yoshimi is a founding member of noise-rock legends the Boredoms, and the rhythmic intensity of OOIOO’s set was at times reminiscent of the exhausting and unpredictable performances of their parent band, but with a completely different feel that was at once more accessible and more subtle.