Ichiko Aoba: Nothing Short of a Breathtaking Performance at Théâtre Beanfield

Critically acclaimed Japanese indie folk artist Ichiko Aoba performed here in Montreal this Friday, February 23rd at Théâtre Beanfield. Known for her minimalistic pastel album covers, the singer-songwriter released her debut album entitled Kamisori Otome in 2010. Ichiko’s music is predominantly melodic, mostly guitar and piano-based, and takes heavy inspiration from the original soundtracks of classic Studio Ghibli films. You can see this influence on Ichiko’s most recently released LP, Windswept Adan. The album, which is sung entirely in Japanese, stands out from the rest of her discography by illustrating a world using dramatic instrumentals, stunning vocal performances, and recordings of the wilderness which ties together a thematically consistent and truly unique record. I would encourage everyone reading to give the LP a listen, any language barrier which may present itself does not take away from the masterclass storytelling present in Windswept Adan. Throughout many tracks, the sound of windchimes and waves crashing against the coast can be heard, but I find them most prevalent in “ohayashi,” which demonstrates perfectly how Aoba uses musical motifs in her storytelling. “Chi no Kaze” is a track off this album that more closely resembles her original style of music as well as her live performances, if you want to get a vibe of what her music might sound like in person.

Opening for Ichiko Aoba, Skullcrusher, a New York State-based indie folk artist. She sang mostly songs from her recently released LP Quiet the Room, and started the show off with a comforting atmosphere. The audience was seated for the entirety of both shows, and besides between the Skullcrusher and Aoba sets, there was no intermission. This concert was the perfect place to have seats, as it gave the audience more opportunity to focus solely on the performance and to be truly enthralled by the show at hand.

As soon as Aoba walked from the backstage, you could tell it was going to be an amazing performance. As she walked to her microphone and set up her guitar, cheers roared from the audience, she hummed to herself so quietly that the mics almost couldn’t pick it up. Plugging in her guitar, an extremely loud reverb erupted the venue, and without even flinching, she continued to hum and set up her space. Her demeanour captured the audience’s full attention, and after a few minutes had passed, she began to sing. Throughout the show, she would mimic the sounds of birds and waves with only her voice. At some points, I had to squint to see if she had started to play the flute, but alas, it was her voice. Despite only being herself and a guitar for most of the show, every song sounds distinct from the last. She used her six strings as a drum, a bass, and a normal guitar all at once at some points. Even when taking a break to drink some water, she couldn’t resist making a beat by clanging the lid against her bottle. Aoba’s stage presence was unlike anything else I had ever seen, her bone-chilling vocals as well as her utter instrumental talent somehow paled in comparison to her oozing confidence, humour, and pure joy she conveyed the rest of the night. It truly seemed like there was nowhere she’d rather be. At one point, she stated in between songs “Let the treasures in your heart always protect you.” I found the entire performance a beautiful reflection of how her childhood has influenced her artistry today, especially that quote. And I found myself in a very nostalgic state throughout the entirety of the show, without having ever heard of Ichiko Aoba before this week. 

If you haven’t heard of Ichiko Aoba already, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t listen to her music. It was an amazing opportunity to see her live, and if you ever get the opportunity to see her yourself, take it! Alternatively, her next city on this tour is Singapore, and I’d argue it might be worth the money on plane tickets for a second viewing.