Stumbling into New York City’s Webster Hall last Saturday night, one might have witnessed any number of bizarre happenings. Over the course of roughly 90 minutes, the stage played host to a small girl blowing colossal bubbles of glycerin syrup with the slow, methodical wave of a hand; lithe ribbons of water and paint emanating from every direction with artful grace; a river of headlights and traffic signals flowing into a winding verse of fluorescent poetry; and a wall of mouths, mammoth and microscopic, chanting their own songs, resolutely out of sync, but somehow still united.
All of these sights were projections, of course, serving as a visual backdrop for the Cornelius Group, a Japanese quartet that marries an impressive light show with their hypnotic, genre-melding jams. Fronted by Keigo Oyamada, the curious recording artist who has produced under the Cornelius moniker since 1993, the Group’s Saturday performance of the “Sensuous Synchronized Show” was their last stateside. Though touring the world since April, it seemed their set had only strengthened from such constant repetition.
Behind the Group’s arsenal of wind chimes, talkboxes, theremins and pedals, drummer Yuko Araki and bassist Hirotaka Shimizu played in rhythmic phrases that seemed too eloquent to be improvised, yet too natural to have ever been rehearsed. The most satisfying and dynamic element in the conversation was the six-stringed interjections of Oyamada, whose fluency in noise and feedback introduced a thrillingly dangerous variable into the perfectly calculated grooves formed by his tight and meticulous backing band.
The light show proved to be no parlor trick; instead, the intensely imaginative and brilliantly realized videos felt essential to the performance, the visual and aural mediums complementing each other in a truly synchronized, symbiotic give-and-take. Every note, every cymbal crash, every stab of electricity found itself instantly mirrored on-screen. On “Wataridori,” Oyamada used his guitar to light shooting stars afire behind a flock of silhouette swallows. In between songs, he manipulated a thick swath of feedback to squeeze an egg in and out of the tiny neck of a soda bottle. Transitions in the aptly titled “Point Of View Point” inspired change of perspective beneath busy Tokyo streetlights, and lush three-part harmonies breathed scary life into the monolithic collage of mouths, which were powered by and powering faux-metal rocker “Gum.” Most impressively, not a single player looked back to check the video; they simply knew they were in perfect lockstep, both with themselves and with the tempo set by the video projection. What would have been an impossible task for any other band seemed second nature to the supernatural Cornelius Group.
Unfortunately, Oyamada and company have returned to Japan, where the “Synchronized Show” will soon be retired. Those who managed to catch them know they witnessed a truly unique show that can only be described with effusive praise and hyperbole. For the rest, consultation of YouTube is recommended, as is prayer for a DVD release.