Playful Sets

Asobi Seksu, Dance Party And Hello Tokyo Jan. 19 At The Rock 'N' Roll Hotel

Three bands at the Rock 'N' Roll Hotel on Friday night each sounded reminiscent of music from the (not-so-distant) past and provided an enjoyable soundtrack for the evening, and headliner Asobi Seksu demonstrated again why common comparisons can't hold them back.

With every listen to Asobi Seksu's second album, "Citrus," the band sounds more and more like the classic, perfect My Bloody Valentine record "Loveless," and while that could be considered a detriment, it should be revered. The My Bloody Valentine comparison has been offered ad nauseam, and while it's never good to be pigeon-holed that way, hearing Asobi Seksu at R 'n' R begs the question: Why aren't more bands copping that sound? Certainly, many shoegaze bands of the early '90s were heavily influenced by "Loveless," but these days that album's sound seems lost, even on bands that embrace shoegaze.

Asobi Seksu's finds inspiration elsewhere as well. There is a heavy dose of the no-wave noise of other bands from Asobi Seksu's native New York, like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo. And the rhythm section is informed by post-punk bands like Gang of Four, making their brand of shoegaze noise much more danceable than My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo ever were.

On Friday, though, the shoegaze took center stage. The band seemed to deemphasize the noise, making the few moments when the guitars built up to a distorted, feedback-heavy swell all the more powerful, particularly on "New Years," a bombastic song that moves along at a high clip while alternating between soft and loud and was one of the set's highlights. The crescendo rock of "Thursday," a standout track from "Citrus," also proved some of the most moving moments of the set with its ambitious and optimistic feel.

Asobi Seksu also impresses with its full sound. It was almost overwhelming, despite not being as loud as the band is capable of playing. Lovely little Yuki Chikudate fronts the group from behind her keyboards and is a pleasure to watch as her voice soars sweet and passionate above the pleasant, distorting madness the rest of the band -- four completely unassuming indie-rock dudes -- hammers out on their instruments. And when Yuki harmonizes with guitarist James Hanna, it's reminiscent of the priceless harmonies of Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields in -- yep -- My Bloody Valentine.

As not to disappoint, the band closed the night with their signature cover of "Then He Kissed Me," a song Yuki was born to sing with a sentiment this band was born to embrace.

If you're counting, this is the fifth reference to My Bloody Valentine, a curse with which I'm sure Asobi Seksu is learning to cope. But it should be considered a strength, as Asobi Seksu may very well make all those where-have-you-gone-Kevin-Shields yearnings a thing of the past.

Kicking off the night was another New York band, Hello Tokyo, which sounds like a more dance-party-ready version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, right down to the lead singer's Karen O.-rivaling growl (one wiseacre in the crowd started singing the Yeahs' "Y Control" in the middle of the set). She alternated those macho moments with sweet singing, adding the pop to the band's power. It was an upbeat start to the evening and got the crowd moving.

Following Hello Tokyo, the Dance Party, was a frightening proposition, considering their name and the picture of "Dirty Dancing"-era Patrick Swayze at the merch table. But this wasn't an '80s cover band. This wasn't the Legwarmers (they were at the State that night). This band from College Park plays surprisingly good songs. Surprising because they are largely a joke band. While playing '80s-inspired music, the band mocks the decade with their lyrics. Exhibit A: "Lipstick," a nü wave song apparently making fun of nü wave but also saying, "We like that music, too, but we play it better than you." Exhibit B: "Daniel LaRusso Is Gonna Fight," a post-punk song with angular guitars that targets "The Karate Kid." But for a joke band, there is an impressive sound to the Dance Party -- even a touch of emo -- and their wit rivals Ween and The Frogs, meaning The Dance Party may merit serious consideration.

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