Barbarella pop opera
Pop-art trio eX-Girl converts frog followers at the Senator
Nobody knew quite what to expect.
The headliner was a female experimental trio from Japan who had drawn comparisons to Devo and who claimed to originally hail from a frog planet called Kero! Kero! (translated “ribbit ribbit"). Most of the 75 or so people sitting in the hollow, auditorium-like hull of the Senator Theatre seemed ready for anything.
First up was a local acoustic trio performing on the dance floor. The Corn Cobs played several unplugged, campfire songs—a nice, communal way to begin the evening. Then came the four-piece local rock group Royal Crown, led by the smooth vocal tandem of keyboardist Becky Anker and guitarist Brad Nabors. This latter group played a short set of pretty and melancholy originals, mostly slower numbers in the indie-rock vein of Low (with a couple rocking exceptions) that seemed to build more fully with warm-bodied tunes as the set went on.
Finally, well past midnight, the curiosity known as eX-Girl emerged from the back dressing room for a memorable entrance.
The three women, all of them lovely enough to be Tokyo fashion models, wore carnival-like space regalia straight out of Barbarella. With pink, twisty balloons and mounds of frog puppets flowing from their headdresses, they baby-stepped down the aisle, offering greetings and making a wonderful spectacle of themselves.
As I would notice throughout the evening, eX-Girl seemed to be poking fun at the whole Pokemon/Hello Kitty “cute” stereotypes for women from their culture while still finding pleasure in some of its more cryptic playfulness. But these lady rockers were anything but submissive/mommy types.
Onstage, they scooted around mechanically like robots and removed their festive gear to reveal glittering silver space jackets, before standing center stage in vocal formation. Producer Hoppy Kamiyama followed in street clothes and a full frog mask to his place at a large floor tom behind them.
What came next was a mesmerizing opening of a cappella chants ("Zozoi” mixed English, Japanese and space gibberish and shook vigorously) rooted by Kamiyama’s tribal beat that glued the audience to its chairs—more than one jaw agape. Sounding like a Native American chant from Yma Sumac, the trio displayed strong vocal skills with sheer volume and range (bassist Kirilo and drummer Fuzuki later told me they were classically trained vocalists and it showed).
After the two tribal space chants got everyone’s attention, the girls ripped off their silvery jackets in one motion to reveal colorful, ‘60s-style go-go dresses, then grabbed their instruments—a funky orb-shaped bass and metal guitar in front, while bleached-blonde drummer Fuzuki stood stoically at her small set behind. eX-Girl proceeded to unhinge a bizarre carousel of musical styles—fuzz bass, surf and ‘60s garage rock interwoven with metal and a reoccurring ‘80s synth-pop refrain ("pop … pop music!") that wisped through their set like tendrils of blown sugar from an overturned cotton candy machine.
Three songs later, Kirilo sat on the edge of the stage with a frog puppet on her hand and began to hypnotically lure, one by one, audience members from their seats using hand gestures (basically pointing to her ass and motioning “up"). From that galvanizing moment, some 30 people stood and grooved before the stage; the minor turnout became a success for a band that had just entertained 2,000 people the night before in San Francisco, opening for Siouxie and the Banshees.
By night’s end, we had all witnessed an energetic and colorful blend of Brechtian cabaret and psychedelic rock opera that everyone seemed to enjoy—as long as you could take some bubbly pop touches now and then.
After an encore including the a cappella “Tofu” song, the group generously hung around to chat with fans (their English was rough), sell merchandise and pass out mailing list/questionnaires. I joined them later in their dressing room for a brief Q&A.
“Our music is influenced by all things in our life, not just music,” guitarist Keiko (unofficial translator) told me. “But we like King Crimson and Gentle Giant.”
Several of my questions drew blank stares or smiles—I didn’t even ask what they thought about American frogs being turned into hermaphrodites by a toxic weed-killer—but the group showed no signs of crankiness, even though they had logged about 8,000 miles in the past week, playing venues from Finland to Chicago, to L.A. and San Francisco. America was their favorite place to play, they said—they begin a tour with the Melvins next—and eX-Girl will have a new album on Mike Patton’s Ipecac label sometime soon.
“Kero Kero!—stay in touch,” Kirilo blurted with an odd hand gesture like a gang sign. “We return in September.”
Next time around, the fans made tonight will undoubtedly be off their lilies and waiting for the weirdness to begin.
“They rock me long time," said one satisfied concert-goer on his way out.