Published Jun 23, 2011At first glance, it's hard not to look at Cibo Matto as little more than a musical curiosity from the long-gone '90s. Officially disbanding in 2001, the duo of Japanese expats Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori only released two albums in their short and modestly successful career, most notably their food-obsessed, dub-inflected 1996 debut Viva! La Woman. Sure, the pair scored some minor college radio hits, but of all the '90s acts the modern music world has been dying to reunite, Cibo Matto weren't exactly high on the list.
Still, their resume is nothing to scoff at. Honda has gone on to work with the likes of Jim O'Rourke, Vincent Gallo, John Zorn and Mike Watt, while Hatori has collaborated with everyone from Stephin Merritt to Beastie Boys, and, perhaps most famously, was the first singer to voice Gorillaz member Noodle. So, with the pair recently reuniting for what they're calling the "Yeah Basically Cibo Matto" tour and an as-yet-unannounced new album, it was hard not to be, well, curious.
Taking Vancouver's Fortune Sound Club stage as a bare-bones duo, Cibo Matto gave the eager crowd exactly what they wanted right off the bat, delivering the triple Viva! threat of "Beef Jerky," "Le Pain Perdu" and the stellar "Sugar Water." It quickly became apparent that while the duo have packed on the years, it's had little impact on their delivery. Hatori's vocals were in top form as she repeatedly jumped from gorgeous croons to rhyme-slinging raps to wailing rock-vocal catharsis. And in classic Cibo fashion, Honda's sample-heavy electronics were just as eclectic, becoming a musical melting pot where jazz, hip-hop and rock rubbed against kawaii pop and maxin'-and- relaxin' dub.
Helping add to the sonic gumbo were a live bass player and drummer, who joined the duo by song four. As Honda and the crack rhythm section stoically laid out the instrumental backing, Hatori was left with the duty of playing the charismatic frontwoman, offering banter about carrot juice, the Orgasmatron (aka Science World) and Vancity's "funky" Chinatown. If anything, there was too much onstage talk, which by the concert's tail end became little more than repeated thank-yous and killed the set's momentum.
And while the show very much became a greatest-hits set, the appreciative crowd got two new tracks, "Tenth Floor Ghost Girl" and "Check In." However, if you were hoping Honda and Hatori would rip up the Cibo Matto rule book and head in some brave, new, more modern-sounding direction, you may be sadly disappointed. Both songs stuck close to the group's old ways, sounding almost like leftovers from 1999's Stereo Type A -- something that came across as a bit of a bummer.
But that hardly mattered to those fans in the crowd, who were in full-on dance-party mode by the "Sci-Fi Wasabi" and the set-closing Birthday Cake," which found many in the audience singing along to the song word for word and waving those old-school hands like they just don't care.
If anything, Cibo Matto proved that they remain as much a musical curiosity today as they were over a decade ago. And as countless uninspired and by-the-number groups have proved, that's not exactly the easiest thing to achieve, no matter the era.