Manhattan Beat: Acid Mothers Temple, Uli Jon Roth, Combichrist, The Blackfires

Acid Mothers Temple/Mercury Lounge/April 22, 2019

Influenced by German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, krautrock, and progressive rock, guitarist Kawabata Makoto initially formed Acid Mothers Temple (originally using an apostrophe, Acid Mother’s Temple) in Japan in 1995. His intention was to create “extreme trip music” by editing and dubbing previous recordings. The project became a psychedelic rock band and then an experimental collective of musicians with Kawabata as the only consistent member. The collective also spawned seemingly countless offshoots and spinoffs, including Floating Flower, Nishinihon, Tsurbami, the Melting Paraiso U.F.O., and many other bands and projects. As a result, the musical output is generous; Acid Mothers Temple and its associates twice released four albums in a three-month span. In 2002, Kawabata also launched his own solo offshoot, Kawabata Makoto & the Mothers of Invasion, to create jazzier music. The collective released its newest studio recording, Hallelujah Mystic Garden Part Two, as Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. on April 26, 2019.

Acid Mothers Temple typically tours Canada and the United States every spring, and this year included a late night set at Mercury Lounge as part of the venue’s 25th anniversary series. Anchored by Kawabata Makoto’s searing guitar leads, much of the set was a series of movements, from meditative grooves to progressive rock to doom metal to a flurry of pulsating, atonal deconstructionism. The performance periodically drifted into improvisational noise and rhythms, interrupted when vocalist/guitarist Jyonson Tsu reigned the forces with a soft, calming vocal structure. The result was spellbinding. Live, Acid Mothers Temple is one of the world’s most intense psych rock bands.

Uli Jon Roth/The Gramercy Theatre/April 23, 2019

Uli Jon Roth was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, where he began performing live in 1968 at the age of 13 as lead guitarist for Blue Infinity. While attending high school in Hanover, Uli played in Dawn Road while also studying classical guitar and piano. In 1973, guitarist Michael Schenker left the Scorpions to join UFO; the two remaining Scorpions merged with the four members of Dawn Road to form a new lineup of Scorpions. In the Scorpions, Roth gained a reputation as an innovative virtuoso, as he incorporated advanced compositional elements from European classical music, such as pedal tone sequences and intricate arpeggios. Feeling increasingly stifled by the confinements of mainstream rock music, Roth left the Scorpions in 1978 and formed his own band, Electric Sun, where the classical influence dominated his playing style. After three albums with Electric Sun, Roth exited the limelight for 13 years, designing the Sky Guitar, which features an extended fingerboard, and composing four symphonies and two concertos, sometimes performing them with European symphony orchestras. Roth’s fifth and most recent solo studio album is 2015’s Scorpions Revisited. Roth currently resides near the English border in Powys, Wales.

Uli Jon Roth’s 2019 tour was announced as a triple anniversary. The shows, which included a performance at the Gramercy Theatre, celebrated his 50th anniversary of performing live, the 40-year anniversary of Tokyo Tapes, the live Scorpions album that brought him fame, and the 40th anniversary of his solo work with Electric Sun. The first set consisted mostly of Electric Sun songs, and the second set mostly of Scorpions songs; Roth had not performed the bulk of this music for over 30 years. Roth’s musical journey was on full display, as he played complex melodic arpeggio sequences on both his extra-fretted Sky guitar and, for a few songs, the white Fender Stratocaster he used in the Scorpions and Electric Sun in the mid-eighties. Roth’s neo-classical guitar technique was dazzling, as he employed major and minor pentatonic, the blues scale, phrygian, harmonic minor, diminished, and whole tone scales. For the most diehard Roth fans, the concert was a three-hour retrospective filled with majestic guitar wizardry; the rest of the audience might have been puzzled by the musical selections and the multi-media projections.

Combichrist/The Gramercy Theatre/April 24, 2019

Born in Fredrikstad, Norway, Ole Anders Olsen, known professionally as Andy LaPlegua, sang hardcore punk in My Right Choice, hip-hop in LAW, industrial in Devils into Crime (DIC), metal in Lash Out, and trance and club music in Plastic Life and Sector9. In 1997, he launched a solo project playing futurepop as Icon of Coil, but when he started adding additional musicians, the project evolved into a more aggressive aggrotech with Combichrist in 2003 and the more danceable Panzer AG in 2004. LaPlegua later also conceived the techo project Scandy and the psychobilly Scandinavian Cock. Combichrist is LaPlegua’s most successful project, largely a solo project in the studio and a band of changing musicians for live performances. Combichrist presently consist of vocalist LaPlegua, guitarist Eric13, drummer Dane White, and percussionist Will Spodnick. Combichrist’s ninth album, One Fire, will be released on June 7, 2019. Since the mid-aughts, LaPlegua and Combichrist have been based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Combichrist’s performance at the Gramercy Theatre seemed like a bit of a cheat. The newest configuration of Combichrist has no keyboardist or bassist. Where were all the layers of music originating? A lot of it must have been pre-programmed and not live. Nevertheless, LaPlegua cuttingly spat old songs and new, and engaged the audience by playing right to the lip of the stage and gesturing to the fans. Eric13 contributed the metal edge to the electro-industrial music with his sharp guitar riffs and searing leads, and the two drummers provided an explosive barrage of corrosive beats over LaPlegua’s acidic melodies. Combichrist entertained with a solid set of songs at a hard-hitting, adrenaline-charged pace, but it would have felt more genuine had all the music been performed live.

The Blackfires/Coney Island Baby/April 25, 2019

With dreams of launching a career in music, Andrey “Cheggi” Chegodaev relocated to New York City in 2011 from his native Moscow, Russia, where he had enjoyed a career in sports journalism. He had no music connections in the United States, so he colorfully posted his availability on social media to the effect of “I am a front man; whoever wants to conquer a world with me, jump on board.” He connected on social media with guitarist Anthony Mullin, who had moved to New York City from England to pursue a Ph. D. The duo had trials and errors with various local musicians before recruiting Costa Rican guitarist Hector Marin, Uruguayan bassist Grasebo Doe, and New Jersey-born drummer Joe Mitch. The Blackfires released an EP in 2012 and an album, Rock Beast, in 2017.

At Coney Island Baby, the Blackfires performed classic-styled hard rock bristling with stimulating flair, riotous gusto, and gripping passion. Chegodaev’s Motley Crue t-shirt might have given an indication as to where the band was inclined, but the set proved to be multi-focused. Chegodaev’s soulful vocals were often romantic, Mullin leaned on the blues, Marin referenced his classical training, and the rhythm section erupted like a volcano. The music had few subtleties, with everyone seemingly playing lead at the same time. If hard rock makes a comeback, the Blackfires may be on the front line.