Tuesday nights are rarely the most exciting of evenings, and usually the only highlight is finding something worthwhile on the telly to kill a few hours. It’s why the presence of Kawabata Makoto in Glasgow is such an absolute treat, but the low turnout shows that not everyone got the memo. In lieu of support, the run-up to his set is soundtracked by DJ sets from Squish Kabosh and Golden Teacher’s Richard McMaster and while both have their charms, the former’s being an eclectic mix of house and ear-scouring noise and McMaster’s being the possession of an encyclopaedic range of world music that spans continents and states of mind, both just seem a painfully over-long reminder that Kawabata isn’t doing his thing already.
His ‘thing’ tonight, when it is happening, is a million miles from what I might have expected, a sit-down exploration of the outer reaches of his mental nebulae and a channelling of the forces that guide him. There are no hurried fret-manglings, no fireworks or wanton violence, but instead a moving journeying through six strings, a handful of pedals and a few choice tools, which he makes great use of tonight; a metal dish, which he slips behind the strings and slides, manipulates, taps, pulls and scratches, giving a deep resonance which echoes temple bells chiming in the abyss; a heavy-set bow which elicits the most unsettling moments of the evening, gently but firmly drawn to pull weary moans from his instrument; his trusty sai, summoning perhaps the most familiar of Kawabata’s more otherworldly tones, the cosmic ringing a sharp and, in a perversely synesthetic way, tangy emanation that brings back warm memories of Gong and other like-minded travellers.
There are few moments where the speed guru directly manipulates his guitar and when he does, he employs that similarly instinctual fashion of playing, the melodies elusive and effervescent, but this has always been his approach. He makes no secret of his nature, that he acts as a vessel for the sounds that already exists at any time in the universe and are brought to life through his presence, and it’s the reason that every one of his shows are distinctive creations that could never be repeated, even if he wanted to. When he reverts to a pre-recorded loop of an 8-bar melody, rendered in oddly magnetic fingerpicked acoustica, it still maintains a spontaneous, electric edge as he buries it under sheets of drone and elongated sound, occasionally picking up speed only to die down as quickly as it came.
There may be precious few people here but of the twenty or so that have bothered to turn up and stick around, they sit rapt as he works his spells, a six-string wizard with hair to match. He’s focused, unsmiling and constantly engaged in each component of his work, and in the end it’s the gentle whine of a singing bowl which brings it all to a close. The loop dies, then so does the distorted buzz of the old WEM amp in the corner, and then there is nothing but that circular tone, growing fainter until he finally allows himself to smile, say thanks and pack up for the night.
Sure, Tuesday nights are pretty shite at the best of times, but sometimes they can be better than that. Sometimes, they can even be special and performances like this help make them that way.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes