I was stoked at the opportunity to catch Kayo Dot playing Choirs of the Eye in its entirety for the 20th anniversary. The band was invited to play the Complexity Festival in The Netherlands and also a gig in London as far as I remember. Thankfully, a number of other stops were added, one being in Belgrade, Serbia at the Elektropionir Club where I traveled to see them. Quite a low key tour for a release which has influenced multiple bands and brought something new and unique to the table when released. However, Kayo Dot have always preferred taking the independent route, despite all the inconveniences it caused along the way. The main one would be a lack of agressive publicity amid an insane time for touring. Bands struggle to find open slots in clubs now that playing live is an option again everywhere and I am sure mastermind Toby Driver has had a hard time booking even these 9 gigs. He openly discussed the hardships faced as an independent musician, but this has been a key to remaining true to himself over the years. His music constantly pushes boundaries and for the better of it, there are too many safe musicians trying to capture the mainstream with standard, safe stuff.
For the 20th anniversary of Choirs of the Eye, Toby assembled a seven piece band that includes the Maudlin of the Well members too. This was reportedly the bare minimum required to present the album as close as possible to the recordings. It wasn’t an easy job to do, as Timba Harris, Jeff Tobias and Terran Olson switched constantly during the set between brass instruments to violin, bass and keyboards, respectively. Toby was also busy playing guitar and bass where needed. Meanwhile, guitarists Greg Massi and Matthew Serra, alongside drummer Sam Gutterman maintained the core rhythms throughout. Few parts required powerful guitars and pounding drums, so there was a considerable amount of clean picking and leads, with occasional freak outs. Sam sounded really crisp in the mix and heavy when needed, also some patterns played were simply mesmerizing. The focus, however, were the build-ups tunes like “Marathon”, “The Manifold Curiosity” or “The Antique” boasted. Seven musicians playing such delicate bits only to switch to harsh, dissonant and noisy ones wasn’t easy to control on a relatively small stage. Luckily, things ran smooth and the performance ended up quite transcendental. You couldn’t help but get drawn into that elegiac universe. I must admit I am a bigger fan of post-Hubardo material, yet this marked a perfect occasion to revisit more attentively the first few Kayo Dot records. In a way, I find Choirs of the Eye foreshadowed most of what Toby envisioned later on, moving from avant-garde chamber music to post metal, black metal, progressive rock and goth recently. Somehow, it felt like a summary of the band’s career so far.
Of the three aforementioned tracks, “The Antique” was perhaps my favorite, as it featured more heavy parts overall. Also, the gorgeous coda remained a performance highlight for me. Maybe it had a better impact due to the clearer switch between loud and soft, still, I loved it. The guitars should have been higher in the mix to hit harder, but at least the bass volume covered some of that. Meanwhile, “A Pitcher of Summer” was a beautiful ditty among these epics and the parts of “Wayfarer” where the guitars and brass leads intertwined were again lovely. I was happy the audience respected these subtle moments, remaining silent not to ruin the atmosphere. The people were very appreciative though, making the guys feel comfortable and happy throughout. Toby even stopped for a couple of minutes after “The Manifold Curiosity” to thank everyone for the strong support and assaulting the merch table too. The person taking care of the sales and most likely, Jason Byron, who was present during the other dates, were apparently in a different car and were not allowed in the country. It was a bit of a letdown as he performed on the Maudlin of the Well cover of “Birth Pains of Astral Projection” from what I saw.
Anyway, I was excited for the encore, ready to hear “Void in Virgo (The Nature of Sacrifice)”, one of my favorite tracks off Kayo Dot’s latest LP, Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike. The performance was perfect, Toby singing easier in a lower register (compared to the Choirs era). Plus, the violin leads and the fact that seven people were playing it clearly enriched the tune’s sound. Next was “Crown-in-the-Muck” off Hubardo, bringing back the heavier side after the opening, wandering guitar noodling. The impressive switches in tempo and grooves during the second half were mesmerizing, especially when seeing how effortlessly everyone cruised through them. Then, as the audience kept asking for more, the guys agreed to play a “wacky one” in Driver’s words. So, they ended the set with a live rarity, “Ocellated God” from Gamma Knife. To be honest, that album is one of their works I return to just for the vibe and insanity that happens in it. Hearing it live brought clarity to the structure (a tad muddy on the album), despite enhancement from effects on the guitars, keyboards and vocals. It definitely made everything else they played before feel a bit tame. It kind of stole the show for me and part of the audience as well from what it seemed. I hope this will encourage them to play more material from Gamma Knife in the future. “Get Out of the Tower” off Moss… was another option from what I saw on setlist.fm. Although I enjoy it, I am content they chose “Ocellated God”, it was a crazy end to the set.
All in all, everyone was happy and enjoyed themselves at the gig. I hope more dates will be added to this tour and hopefully some festival appearances where it makes sense to play. Choirs of the Eye is a special album and will always deserve more exposure, it’s a timeless experience. The way it managed to draw me in, despite not being truly accustomed to it as I am to other Kayo Dot LPs, was something else. At the same time, I hope other eras will return to the spotlight and of course, new material. Unfortunately, my position in the audience was not really suitable for sexy photos or videos, but I am sure they will appear on the internet from other sources. It was an excellent concert and I can’t wait to catch them again. Choirs of the Eye CDs were sighted at the merch table, however, they disappeared until I returned to it after the set. Without hesitation, I happily grabbed Blasphemy and Moss.