There are two kinds of bands: those made up of smart, serious musicians, and those who are strictly performers. The former usually don't make for the most energetic live acts (read: lethargic shoegazers), while the latter often lack substance, substituting staged theatrics for musicianship (i.e., anyone who employs more choreographers than Riverdance). Enter Cibo Matto, the best of both worlds. Imagine hanging with a scientist who can dance (and dance well), and you know the pure delight of a Cibo Matto performance. Smart and fun. Not only do the ever-cute Japanese-American team of Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda pump out the jams, but they do so with wit and verve. On the official Cibo Matto Web site (www.cibomatto.com), the band even solicits its fans to "conceive and build a cool stage design for their live shows." And they may invite the audience to participate in karaoke and then teach them to dance, but they never succumb to tired, performance-by-numbers shows.
Cibo Matto made their splash on New York's underground music scene in 1994, and two years later, the then-duo of Honda and Hatori had recorded their debut album, VIVA! La Woman, produced by Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom. VIVA! was a promise of good things to come -- a funky, flip-of-the-bird effort that was soft and hard in all the right places. Hatori cooed a lot and rapped a little, while Honda demonstrated her deftness at the mixing board.
Yet the band's sophomore LP, Stereotype A, is a finer testament to the mature excellence of lyricist-singer-rapper Hatori and samplist-composer-organist Honda. Stereotype A establishes them as gifted songwriters, savvy producers, and genre-contorting mixers. VIVA! certainly has its punchy charm, yet Stereotype A is a more focused and fluid stab at R&B and hip-hop funkiness. VIVA! contained more food references than a grocery list, but Stereotype A practically starves, showing off the group's new grown-up intent. The album is to Cibo Matto what Odelay is to Beck: a breakthrough album, a breakdown of all genre barriers, and a hearty embrace of all that is catchy, danceable, and smart about music. It can't hurt that Honda and Hatori hooked up with Sean Lennon (as Honda's boyfriend and the band's bassist), who provides soulful backing vocals to Hatori's girly vox. Timo Ellis plays drums with the band on the album and on tour, playing like an inbred animal on some bad crack (a good thing), especially during Cibo's uncharacteristically hardcore "Blue Train."
More than anything else, Stereotype A is a radio-friendly record too good for radio. With its fluttering, loopy samples and hiccup percussion, the album's opener, "Working for Vacation," should be a hit single on the pop charts. "Moonchild," meanwhile, could be burning up the R&B charts with its delicate Spanish guitar flourishes, smooth-as-Vaseline bass line, and exotic percussion. And can anyone tell me why "Sci-Fi Wasabi" never gained the popularity of the Beastie Boys' "Intergalactic?" "Sci-Fi" showcases Hatori's definite maturation as a rapper: "I'm Miho Hatori straight outta purgatory...Obi Wan Kenobi told me in the lobby/Technically I'm free and I can find the key." Stereotype samples everything from bossa nova ("Stone") to computer-goth weirdness ("Mortming"), yet one never gets the feeling of listening to a CD sampler. The transition between forms is so smooth, it's virtually invisible.
The same couldn't be said for this bill. Cibo Matto opening for Live is another one of those strange, inexplicable tour pairings. What's next -- Portishead with Garth Brooks? Belle & Sebastian opening for Pantera? Nevertheless, wear your dancing shoes, enjoy the Cibo Matto performance, then get the heck outta there before Ed Kowalczyk and company launch into "Lightning Crashes."