My roommate and I drove over to MilkBoy ArtHouse in College Park, Md. to see Kero Kero Bonito (KKB) perform on Saturday, Oct. 20. Kero Kero Bonito is a U.K. group consisting of singer and rapper Sarah Midori Perry and producers Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled. The London trio is typically known for their eclectic and upbeat mix of electronic dance beats, pop and rap with Japanese-pop (J-pop) influences. Their previous albums contained songs with Perry singing and rapping in both Japanese and English over catchy pop beats about such whimsical topics as parties, trampolines and animals.
After some of the members experienced what their Bandcamp describes as “life-changing upheaval, including the loss of several close family members,” KKB has shifted toward a grittier indie rock sound, with members returning to their garage band days with guitar, drums and bass. Their new 2018 album, Time ‘n’ Place, focuses on the loss of innocence, anxiety, and fear that comes with painful events and close examination of oneself and the state of the surrounding world.
After parking, we walked past the restaurant entrance and went up the stairs to the concert venue. Many people, mostly University of Maryland students, were crowded into a decently-sized venue with “MilkBoy ArtHouse” projected onto the walls. The stage was lit with blue and orange lights.
The opening band was Tanukichan, a band started by multi-instrumentalist and singer Hannah van Loon, which had three touring members alongside the band’s founder. Van Loon is from Oakland, Calif., and she brought with her the hazy and steady indie rock jams reminiscent of the Golden State: sometimes pop-sounding, sometimes moody and contemplative.
There was no drummer — a drum machine pushed strong and consistent beats through the PA system. Tanukichan’s songs mainly emphasized the steady interplay between the guitar and bass, but they occasionally placed some 8-bit synthesizer into the mix as well.
The atmosphere at the venue complemented the band’s dreamy indie rock sound. People in the crowd were generally in a good mood. They cheered Tanukichan on throughout their set and clapped along to every song.
After the opening set, the stagehands set things up for Kero Kero Bonito, placing synths and keyboards on the stage. One of the keyboards had a fake yellow budgie mounted on. Suddenly, Gus Lobban appeared onstage to massive cheering. Walking around in a black tee with white vertical stripes, he began setting up the equipment and left the stage afterward.
Then Jamie Bulled appeared to the crowd’s delight. He continued to set up the equipment, wearing navy jeans and hooded in a blue puffer jacket. The spotlights changed color from orange to blue. Then a man picked up a guitar and played some riffs, to which the crowd cheered. People were surprisingly supportive of the show.
After some quiet, both Lobban and Bulled came onstage to finish set up and to test a few light riffs. Then they began jamming, with Lobban on bass and Bulled on drums. The touring guitarist began playing along. A woman with long hair and glasses ran up to the synths and joined in. Finally, to earsplitting screams and shouting, Sarah Midori Perry, with long silver hair, ran in and grabbed the mic. They completed the raucous opening riff, and Bulled finished it off with a thundering drum solo.
“Hello everyone,” Perry said. “We’re Kero Kero Bonito! It’s good to be back.”
Then Perry held up a pink flamingo stuffed animal with a silver scarf. To massive cheers, she began rapping the beginning lines from their 2014 single, “Flamingo.” Everyone shouted along: “How many shrimps do you have to eat / before you make your skin turn pink? / Eat too much and you’ll get sick; / shrimp are pretty rich.”
The song was a harder rock version of their original electronic version, with jerky guitar riffs and a punchy bass line. Surprisingly there was crowd surfing — a security man stopped it, picking up a boy with long brown hair by grabbing him by his legs and black Converse sneakers and dropping him off the side of the stage.
KKB’s next song was “Only Acting,” from Time ‘n’ Place. Perry sang about adopting a public persona, about putting on a mask for performances. The crowd near the front of the stage was very active; the floorboards were shaking from the constant jumping.
At one point in the show, Perry turned her back to the crowd and held up a rocker sign. The crowd immediately followed, their own signs held in the air. KKB then started “You Know How It Is,” and in the middle of the song someone threw a trash bag full of balloons into the crowd.
All of KKB’s songs during their set were rock versions of their songs, which are normally heavily electronic. During the manic verse in “My Party,” Perry rapped in a mixture of Japanese and English as people began pushing and jumping in the middle and front.
In the middle of the show, the guitarist opened a can of soup and began eating out of it with a plastic spoon. After setting the can down, he picked up his guitar. Perry held up a crocodile plushie for their song, “Pocket Crocodile.”
After KKB played their last song, they left the stage to calls for an encore. Eventually, the calls turned into deafening noise as Lobban, Bulled and then Perry ran back onto the stage.
For their encore, they played one of their biggest hits, “Trampoline,” in an abrasive indie rock fashion.
I was surprised at how into the show the University of Maryland students were. I rarely saw that much enthusiasm for bands that I had heard in Baltimore. It was definitely different to hear a band in Maryland that had a unique pop/electronica sound, since most of the shows I had gone to had been for indie and DIY rock acts.
Kero Kero Bonito’s 2018 album Time ‘n’ Place is out on YouTube, Spotify, Soundcloud and Bandcamp. You should definitely give it a listen.