With access to thousands upon thousands of songs of every solidly-defined or unclassified musical archetype that exists on this great planet of ours, rock music has entered a new world of sonic exploration that was only experimented with in years past. The concept of “fusion” and the blending of genres has been a staple of pushing the envelope in music, but for many years it was still almost taboo to mix certain instruments, compositional methods, or even the fans that followed these musical movements. Today, with ancient horn sections bellowing their way into foggy punk rock and string sections going toe-to-toe with electronica, it isn’t hard to understand why the Brooklyn chiptune-punk quartet Anamanaguchi is successful enough to come to the Bay Area twice in one year and sell out two of the most popular clubs in the SoMa district of San Francisco.
Bringing 8-bit electronic music into the fold has helped to open up the musical scene to a wide variety of performance types, as evidenced by the openers to Anamanaguchi’s show at Slim’s on Sunday night. Crash Faster, a Bay Area native who also opened for the New Yorkers when they came to the DNA Lounge in April, returned to kick things off for the evening, this time joined by a full band to accompany his GameBoy-driven melodies and charmingly nostalgic vocoder singing. While the audience was trickling in and warming up to the vast array of gear onstage, Crash kept the energy building with covers of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails and “Say It Ain’t So” by Weezer, in addition to his own original compositions. Knife City, the brainchild of Anamanaguchi drummer Luke Silas, kept the floor moving quickly with an explosive set that spanned across several popular electronic genres — house, dubstep, and trance were all given new life with a pair of video game consoles. The last of the openers, another New York chiptune trio called Starscream, shifted the energy into the dark and moody atmosphere that best accompanied the date (Devils’ Night), filling the packed space of Slim’s with a snarling, majestic wall of post-rock noise awash with pulses and beeps. While definitely an unusual accompaniment to the bouncy and colorful acts that filled the rest of the evening, the men of Starscream performed impressively and kept a solid level of energy and performance throughout their massive set.
After the intensity and severity that accompanied Starscream’s set, Anamanaguchi spun the tables back around with a blast of excitable major chords and pop-fused Nintendo sounds, marching out with several boxes of glowsticks that were hurled into the crowd, a shower of lights and colors raining down on the cheering onlookers like psychedelic snowflakes. Barely a moment passed after their onstage appearance before their sequenced consoles kicked off the opening notes to “Space Wax America”, and the human population within Slim’s absolutely exploded with movement. The pushing, shoving mass that packed the club like writhing sardines was mirrored in their ferocity by Anamanaguchi frontman Peter Berkman, who used every measure of their opening numbers as an opportunity to hurl himself, and his guitar, about the stage with dynamite energy. The neon pastel tones of Ary Warnaar’s guitar and James DeVito’s bass served as an excellent frame against the frenetic, pulsating form of Berkman, who thrashed about amid a flood of returning glowsticks while bathed in the shimmering hues from a full-screen projector that depicted animations as gloriously retro as the tunes that shoot the speakers onstage.
Though some may decry Anamanaguchi’s musicianship due to their song foundations as led by a sequenced set of synthesizer pulses, their playing style more than emphasizes great attention to detail and a mindful establishment of a musical presence greater than their backing tracks. Berkman, DeVito, Warnaar and drummer Luke Silas are all excellent musicians in their own right; while the synths make up the main melody of their pieces, on their own they would be devoid of the same level of white-hot intensity that accompanies the furious performances by the quartet. In addition, there was rarely a moment of pause, explanation, or even conversation; Berkman and the others simply tore through the set with barely seconds to breathe between each of the songs. The precision with which DeVito and Silas laid down the rhythm and drove each song was masterful, and served to brilliantly contrast the absolute pandemonium that was occurring in the crowd at Slim’s.
Despite having only an hour in which to perform, no doubt due to the lateness of the evening and a show that packed four acts into one almost-four-hour period, Anamanaguchi managed to crank out 13 songs and leave their onlookers begging for more. The set was definitely a collection of well-loved classics, such as “Airburshed”, “Helix Nebula”, “Mess”, and “Jetpack Blues”, and to shake things up a bit, the band threw in a cover of M83’s “Don’t Save Us from the Flames”, to the great delight of the seemingly small collection of music enthusiasts that were interspersed in the crowd of 8-bit-lovers. Rather than their April set, which had closed with the beautiful and somber “Mermaid”, however, the band blasted out “Penpal” a B-side from one of their recent singles, as the closing encore for the night. It was an early hour on Sunday night when the quartet at last departed from the stage, amid cheers and cries of admiration — as well as a continuing shower of rainbow glowsticks.
Being a lover of classic video games and mindsplittingly-fast punk rock, I have been a tremendous fan of Anamanaguchi from the moment I heard one of their songs. To experience that energy and nostalgia together, in a live show that is absolutely splitting at the seams with aural energy and visual stimulation, is one of the greatest phenomenons that one can experience in a cozy environment like those offered by Slim’s and the DNA Lounge. Each show had a collection of openers that shifted in mood and energy from act to act, and the men of Anamanaguchi definitely know how to take control of the evening and bring things back home for a gloriously wild set best experienced with long moments of reckless abandon. It therefore only remains to be seen what they will bring the next time they come to the Bay Area — and perhaps they’ll be bound for a larger, but still intimate, space, to wow an even bigger collection of fans.
- Space Wax America
- Sting Operation
- Helix Nebula
- Don’t Save Us From The Flames (M83 cover)
- Jetpack Blues
- Blackout City
- My Skateboard Will Go On
- Dawn Metropolis
- Penpal (Mermaid listed, Penpal played instead)