Beyond The Past: UK (MONO + Alcest) @ Barbican Hall, London

Saturday, 14th December 2019
Review by Kira Levine

The Barbican hosted a sold-out show to almost 2,000 people at the prestigious Barbican Hall, celebrating the 20-year anniversary of Japan’s MONO. Supporting them at the Central London venue were French shoegazers Alcest, making their only appearance in the capital for 2019.

‘Kodama’ paved the way for their set to fans’ delight, prompting them singalong to the “whoa-whoa-oh-oh-oh” sections of this song.

After ‘Sapphire’ from October’s Spiritual Instinct, Alcest performed ‘Protection’, also from the new album. Following a dramatic intro for the latter song, Neige’s eerily calm but moving delivery of violent lyrics morphed into screams towards the middle of the performance, before regressing back to his softer vocal style. “Good evening, London,” the frontman addressed the audience. “We are Alcest… thank you so much,” he continued, before he was answered with polite applause.

The band then commenced to play ’Oiseaux de proie’ (Birds Of Prey), and the stage lighting shifted from red in the quieter moments to pinks and blue at more intense periods. Halfway through their segment, Neige enthused: “Thank so much. So, yeah… we are very, very happy to play here tonight. Such a beautiful venue. Thanks so much to MONO for having us, also. We are just super happy. Thank you.” to which the crowd replied with cheers and claps.

‘Délivrance’ would be Alcest’s final offering of the evening, which saw Indria, Winterhalter, and Zero exit the stage to cheers. Neige was left to finish the song, before waving to the seated audience as he left, the outro playing as the lights dimmed.

Alcest setlist:

1. Kodama
2. Sapphire
3. Protection
4. Oiseaux de proie
5. Autre temps
6. Percées de lumière
7. Là où naissent les couleurs nouvelles
8. Délivrance

The Platinum Anniversary Orchestra played the intro for ‘God Bless’ from the album Nowhere Now Here as headliners MONO gradually appeared onstage. The song grew from its tranquil start into a dynamic, full performance. Beginning with a bang, they captivated their audience, who were moved to applaud afterwards.

‘Breathe’ saw the introduction of vocals to MONO’s mostly instrumental set. Forgoing her bass, Tamaki Kunishi’s soft and breathy delivery of the lyrics balanced well with the string instruments and her playing of the synthesizer, every word she sung seeming poignant.

Aptly titled, ‘Halcyon (Beautiful Days)’ featured cellist Jo Quail. Shifting from its controlled, serene onset, ’Halcyon’ exploded into a lively number. The blinking, darting stage lights added much drama to their ninth track of the night.

Twinkling keys of the glockenspiel introduced ‘Ashes in the Snow’, stage lamps often pulsing with the beats of Dahm Majuri Cipolla’s bass drum. The guitars married especially well with the classical string instruments during this song in particular.

For the encore, A.A. Williams joined the band onstage to sing ‘Exit In Darkness’ whilst playing the piano, with Jo returning on the cello. The song made its live debut at the concert as the EP it is taken from had been released digitally the day before. Chorus lyrics “I need you to know / you make me whole / and I can’t let you be alone” had an emotive force, becoming more and more compelling with every repetition.

Quail and Willliams played a cello each throughout ‘Com(?)’, adding a sense of audible and visible serenity, both incredibly mesmerising to witness. All three standing members of MONO were very animated during the climatic last few minutes of the twelfth and final track (especially guitarist Takaakira “Taka” Goto and Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu), their movements mirroring the noisy intensity of its finale.

The presence of solely female voices during MONO’s performance contrasted with Alcest’s male vocals and it was interesting to hear tracks that featured vocals in the Japanese band’s largely instrumental performances. Each of the dozen tracks performed told its own story musically and visually (the majority not needing words to do so), and took spectators on an almost two-hour journey, without them once having to leave their seats. A truly immersive experience.

MONO setlist (with The Platinum Anniversary Orchestra):

1. God Bless
2. After You Comes the Flood
3. Breathe
4. Nowhere, Now Here
5. Death in Rebirth
6. Dream Odyssey
7. Sorrow
8. Meet Us Where the Night Ends
9. Halcyon (Beautiful Days) [with Jo Quail on cello]
10. Ashes in the Snow
11. Exit In Darkness (ft. A.A. Williams) [with Jo Quail on cello]
12. Com(?) [with Jo Quail + A.A. Williams on cello]