When Kikagaku Moyo took the stage at the Starline Social Club on Wednesday, the band members began facing inward, turned away from the audience. In this formation, they began to riff off of one another, building up between the drums, guitars and sitar that make up their signature psych-rock sound. The effect was immersive, each note building off the next in a lush collage of sound, so that when they finally did turn to the audience, all were fully entranced.
The evening had begun with a set from Dire Wolves, a five-piece outfit based in San Francisco. The group’s sound was spacy, but with a consistent thump of percussion that kept it from disappearing into the haze. With a violinist and a flutist/saxophonist at the front, the band stirred the pot of trippier tones that would be built upon by the headliner.
And when Kikagaku Moyo started its set, there was an immediate dive into a layered psychedelia. The band’s name translates to “geometric patterns,” which pairs nicely with the designation of psych rock as kaleidoscopic and trippy — music to be heard through a daze of fog, heads slowly bobbing side to side.
Many of the band’s songs are without vocals, and when there are lyrics, they are largely nonsensical, transcending the need for lyrical meaning. The songs then end up giving off more of a feeling than a literal meaning. The vocals humanize the tracks but leave any interpretation up to a listener.
Starline Social Club provided a perfect blank canvas for the band. The stage is set in a corner of the room, the rest of which is fairly sparse — all white walls and only a few windows letting in orangey light from the street.
True to the tradition of psychedelia and within the essentially bare space, an important element of the show came to be the lights accompanying each song. Every light set was different, warm tones accompanying the more high-tempo riffs and darker greens and blues following the band’s tonally deeper, meatier songs.
Because of the setup of the stage, the lights were also often placed in such a way that guitarist Daoud Popal’s shadow would be projected onto the adjacent wall, reflecting a larger-than-life figure. This provided a distinct backdrop that emphasized the band’s rock ’n’ roll presence. Though there was little banter between performers and the audience, moments like these added an excitement and a connection between the stage and the pit.
The entire show rested on an expert balance between higher-energy and vibier tracks. “Orange Peel,” off of the band’s latest release, Masana Temples, is mellow and grounded with percussive elements such as a marimba and a guiro weaving in and out of the song. “Dripping Sun” balanced out the other side of the psych rock spectrum, beginning and ending with heavy guitar riffs and solos. Many of the band’s tracks have moments of calm midsong, which would often result in premature claps from the audience before the band would dive back into a harried, intricate guitar or sitar solo.
Beginning the final song, Kikagaku Moyo turned inward again, building up each instrument’s role with notes bouncing off one another in a jammy circle. In the final bars, the notes rang out like bells in a perfect high of harmony to close out the night. The group, of course, returned for a final encore, only briefly leaving in the wake of the audience’s applause. To the final note, all were entranced by the unique vision of psychedelia given by the band.