Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
Back in the day, and by ‘day’ I mean mid ’90s, the frontwomen of cheeky Japanese electro punks Cibo Matto showed their new bassist (and multi-instrumentalist/producer Yuka Honda’s eventual boyfriend) Sean Lennon the ropes of the modern rock life. “I learned a lot of things on the road with Cibo Matto,” Lennon said suggestively onstage the other night. Lennon’s current band with his current girlfriend (band = Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, girlfriend = model Charlotte Kemp Muhl) was opening for the recently reunited Cibo Matto at New York’s Bowery Ballroom. “We’ve been in very strange situations together. We’ve seen a lot of gas stations.” Wearing giant heart-shaped shades, Miho Hatori, Cibo Matto’s singer confirmed this through giggles and added in English just as charmingly imperfect as it was ten years ago, “There were a lot of Doritos. Cool ranch.” You become an expert in roadside dining when you’re on tour, she later explained. “The best thing at gas stations is when they have local crafty stuff. We also enjoy truck stop fashion –Lizzy the airbrushed wild wolves art scene/trend has not changed since the mid ’90s.”
Based on the sounds and sights of this evening’s event, nothing at all has changed since the those days. As I entered the Bowery’s downstairs bar, I ran smack into Muhl (who was, oh, 11 in 1998) in a giant sunhat with a feather in it, her mouth painted a very ’90s inky-berry color. She was dashing around, greeting people with air kisses, preparing to go onstage. The bar downstairs was packed with people who looked like extras from Clueless: girls with ample back tattoos wearing frumpy calf-length skirts, docs, and tiny tank tops, boys in skateboarder clothes, a few heads of hennaed hair, a multitude of backpacks (did everyone rollerblade here)?
Upstairs, as Air’s Moon Safari played on the stereo, Ghost Of a Sabre Tooth Tiger took the stage. I’ve always been impressed by Lennon’s songwriting (dude knows what he’s doing) but at the same time never cared about any of his songs, if that makes sense. They always seemed a little sentimentally bohemian, but something has changed. The band is working on a new album and the new songs have an epic stoner jam band vibe that’s oddly mesmerizing. Electrified, the old tunes (always gorgeous, but somehow toothless) sounded suddenly wild and sexy and fun. I don’t know if the couple just discovered weed (“This music is really good to be stoned to, which I am” Muhl volunteered during a break between songs) or what, but the whole show had the feel of a lost weekend at some rich and famous hippie’s wood-paneled upstate retreat where everyone dresses like Dylan on the cover of Desire.
And that was before we got to the off-the-hook (it’s ok, to say that, it’s still the ’90s) skittering dance party that was the Cibo show. Much-adored past hits like “Birthday Cake” and “Sugar Water” had the crowd apoplectically pogo-ing, but remarkably, the band also unveiled some new and crazy-awesome songs. This was unexpected, as the reunion initially came about as part of a smattering of post-Japanese-tsunami benefit shows and it seemed like that was as far as it would go. “We felt an alive chemistry when we both ordered seventeen-dollar pad thai at the sports bar Wild Goose near the Toronto airport,” the girls told me post show. “If only one person orders the most expensive pad thai, that person might be crazy, but if two of us are ordering it, that’s serendipity.”
This conversation made me really hungry. And even though I was afraid to leave the fold of the Bowery’s cozy 90s time warp, it had to be done. Out there is oppressive summer heat, a gridlocked government, an ailing planet, and a deflated music industry. In here there’s badass AC, cheap beer, the illusion of a promising new millennium on the horizon, and a pack of quirky, whipsmart musicians making insanely good music people still pay for. But the pad thai hasn’t changed. The pad thai is still just as noodly and spicy and vodka-absorbing at 3am as it was in the ’90s.