The London-based trio played happy-go-lucky pop with only the slightest hint of existential dread at their recent stop in New Orleans.
British band Kero Kero Bonito took to Republic last Saturday, swaying between the ecstatic and the existential. In one moment, they evoked a children’s music concert; in the next, psychedelic rock, and in another, teen rage punk. KKB navigated unexpected turns between diverse musical styles, channeling Avril Lavigne, Bjork, and Animal Planet all at once. On paper, that sounds like a jumbled, even incoherent amalgam. But during their performance, KKB pulled off a delightful foray into childlike wonder and uninhibited adult joy, exuding an ethos of musical freedom and playfulness that few other acts can pull off.
Kero Kero Bonito stopped in New Orleans on the North American leg of their tour to promote their new EP, Civilzation I, their follow-up to last October's breakthrough, Time ’n’ Place. The London-based band, abbreviated as KKB, consists of lead singer Sarah Midori Perry and multi-instrumentalists Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled. Perry grew up in Japan and the U.K. and sings and raps in both Japanese and English. KKB’s visual aesthetic can be easily traced to kawaii, Japan’s pastel-drenched “cute culture” which exported Hello Kitty and encompasses an entire range kooky and colorful art and fashion trends. At least a dozen audience members showed up in blue wigs, taking inspiration from Perry’s pop fashion that draws heavily on anime's color palate.
The band’s set took unexpected turns, traversing between the distorted guitar in “Only Acting”, the more airy “Time Today,” and euphoric dance tracks like “Lipslap” and “Trampoline.” They leaned heavily on sound effects, at times both goofy and otherworldly in their effect. They prefaced the song “Waking Up” with the default iPhone alarm bell, which hilariously triggered the whole crowd awake. On other songs, the band laid on synths from outer space to the effect of a dreamy fuzziness. Nothing felt more Kero Kero Bonito than prefacing a song with: “Who here has ever loved anything in any way? This song is for you.”
KKB doused themselves in a heaping of ferociously self-aware irony. Perry’s head-banging throughout the show felt like a parody of masculine hard rock, even as she openly embraced it. During the song “Sometime,” Perry used a drumstick to conduct the audience like an orchestra as they sang along to the campy lyrics: “Sometimes, life gets you down but you can turn it all around, the raindrops keep falling, you’re soaking to the bone and you can’t see for the clouds.”
KKB is obsessed with animals--another tribute to kawaii culture. They have consistently brought animals into their discography with songs titled “Cat Vs Dog”, “Fish Bowl,” “Pocket Crocodile” and “Flamingo,” whose refrain begins: “How many shrimps do you have to eat before you make your skin turn pink?” On stage, they took a flamingo toy and stuffed crocodile as props to wave around and dance with.
While KKB’s joyful, animated pop soothed the audience into a sweet, euphoric dream, they didn’t forget to remind us of the pressing and urgent problems of the real world. They occasionally hinted at something deeper lurking underneath, like when they dedicated their song “Fish Bowl,” “to the fishes, especially those living in a fish farm.” At one point, Perry told the crowd about a dream she had in which she solved global warming. The band weaves a cryptic social consciousness into the most hopeful music you’ve ever heard. It’s almost funny when they invoke existential dread, since their music is the farthest thing from it. Yet, they’ve already begun leaning into heavier material. Their apocalyptic new single, “When The Fires Come,” is about the merciless wildfires ravaging our planet from California to Brazil.
Kero Kero Bonito miraculously pulled off their eclectic, off-beat spirit, which hinted at heavier political material only in small, fleeting doses. The crowd followed their every move like Simon Says: they sang along, fist-pumped, jumped up and down, and even mosh-pitted. The substance behind the music is there, but Kero Kero Bonito won’t force it unless you want it.