The last time we saw BO NINGEN live, it was when they were squeezed into a tiny box room in Manchester’s Hotel Salutation as part of last year’s AND (Abandon Normal Devices) Festival. Barely able to thrash around, they played an intense set to the limited number of people who were able to fit into the room with them. It was a memorable night.
We’re thrilled to catch up with the band again. This time on a full stage, albeit tight, and in the artsy environment of Screenadelica which is exhibiting eclectic music posters during the LIVERPOOL SOUND CITY festival.
Onstage, Bo Ningen (literally translated, “stick men”) are fierce and noisy, a highly talented powerhouse of rage and excitement. They have oodles of energy, seemingly always in motion, and appear to be channelling some Japanese horror movie, which they are turning into a cult noise-rock musical. If you haven’t witnessed their live set yet, you’ve really missed out. Offstage, they are humble and soft-spoken – these are some of the sweetest guys around: Taigen Kawabe is the charismatic lead singer on bass, followed by Kohhei Matsuda (guitar), Yuki Tsujii (guitar) and the ever-charming Mon-chan (drums). And they would easily win awards for most hirsute band on the circuit, with hair to die for.
We arrive to find Taigen guarding the band’s CDs, hanging in the background, waiting to go on. We have a quick chat and he’s sweetly unassuming. He’s excited to hit the stage, but also understandably a bit apprehensive – it is after all close to 2am on a Saturday night in central Liverpool, and it’s the last night of the festival. The question is whether any band can hold the attention of such merry festival-goers, but if any band can, Bo Ningen can.
As they set up, the crowds gather round the stage. They’re fascinating to watch even as the band members squat down, Japanese-style, plugging everything in carefully, reassuring each other in their native language. Because the stage is so low, we’re practically all on the same level, and as the band get poised to roll, there’s pretty much no air between crowd and band. Screaming guitars and pounding drum noise kick in from the second go, and we’re thrust into the intense “Daikaisei Part 1.” Taigen immediately appears possessed, driving away the dark spirits with his flailing arms. It’s as if the entire stage has been taken over by crazed demons rocking musical instruments.
Serious moshing is developing, and within minutes, the venue has turned into one big mosh pit. Photographers on the front line are being pretty much pummelled onto the stage head first, so make a smooth exit stage left and right, as the rest of us carry on moshing. All I can think is: “Fuck me, this is the best band of the festival! And it was well worth the wait.”
As Taigen steps onto the monitor, he’s nose to nose with his adoring followers. He’s spinning a crazy magic over this crowd, most of whom didn’t seem to even know who this band were 10 minutes ago. Waving his spindly hands over the front rows like he’s casting a new spell, the crowds just can’t get enough. As the band storm through “Henkan” (“Lost in translation from mind to words” according to the band) and “Koroshitai Kimochi” (“Desire to kill”), they’re not allowing for any breather in between tracks. I begin to feel like I’ve taken some powerful pill, and don’t quite know where I am in the midst of all this delightful lunacy.
We’re treated to a new song, premiering today, called “Are” (“that thing/person”), and new track “Slider.” This is then followed by “Shin Ichi.” It’s getting so mental out on the floor that security is keeping a good eye out, but everyone is in brilliant spirits. Girls and boys equally, people of all ages, are moshing their little hearts out.
The insane set closes to “Daikaisei Part 2” which just never ever seems to end, and we don’t want it to end. Taigen is back on the monitor, leaning closely into the crowds, teasing them with his bass which they are now fighting to touch as he continues to play with strings facing the crowd. He’s half-smiling, half-bemused by all the attention, but he’s happy to continue his wizardry ways until the very bitter end when the band finally close the track to enormous applause and incredible respect. And, much like stepping off a rollercoaster, I just want to do it all over again.
Bo Ningen smashed Liverpool Sound City with this standout performance. They knocked every single band off that lineup in one foul swoop, and demonstrated to everyone how it can be done – and that’s at 2am on a busy Liverpool night when people have many places they could be, with minimal hype and attitude. Their highly stylised performance and ability to build a positive rapport with a new crowd within such a short space of time was magical to watch. What a privilege to share that night with the band and that crowd. What an unexpected and delightful end to the festival. And what a massive high to leave on.