Jo Quail / Mono

The Cluny, Newcastle

4 October 2018

The first time I saw Jo Quail I had never heard of her before and didn't know what to expect, and was subsequently stunned by her music. This time, after spending half a year with all of her CDs, I thought I knew what to expect.

What I had forgotten—and the CDs don't prepare you for—is the sheer power in her playing. From the opening moment of White Salt Stag, when she thumps the strings in a massive percussive blast that vibrates right through you, I was stunned all over again.

She is playing a short support set tonight (about 30 minutes in total) so there are only three pieces of music: two from Five Incantations, and one new piece that I've already forgotten the name of. Each has a completely different character, but what they all have in common is beauty and complexity. And thumping percussive power.

She builds up layer upon layer of sound, all generated by her lone cello and electronically looped back so she sounds like a whole stage full of cellists and percussionists. You really need to see her work live to even begin to understand what she's doing, and even then it boggles the mind. I tried counting layers of music and got completely lost after about eight; sometimes you're not sure whether a particular theme is something she's actually played or just a ghost harmonic echo fooling your ears. It's completely captivating.

For the second time, I am stunned by not just the power of the amplification but the skill of her composing and playing.

It's been worth coming out for even this short set, but one day I'll have to see her do a full-length headlining set.

I didn't know the other bands on the bill, but was willing to give them a chance, and if I didn't like them I could go home early and still feel I'd got my money's worth. I only came to see Jo Quail.

The second band, A Storm of Light play deafeningly loud metal and, I'll be honest, I left the room for part of their set in order to preserve my ears. Yes, I know this makes me officially "too old". I admire the skill in what they do, but it's just not my thing.

So I suspected headliners Mono would be similar, and planned to give them a couple of songs to see, and at best leave after half their set so I could get the last bus home.

And, oh my God, they are loud. Punishingly loud. They just play noise at you, and their songs typically collapse into a deafening wall of distortion and feedback. But ... but ... it's incredible. It's not all formless noise, they understand dynamics and structure, and it's complex, beautiful noise. Beautiful and inexplicably emotional. At the end of their second piece, I'm crying and I have absolutely no idea why.

Mono are extraordinary. I don't understand what they do, but I am completely in love with it.

They are a four piece band from Japan: two guitar players, bass player (occasionally keyboard player, xylophone player and vocalist) and drummer, and their music is almost entirely instrumental. One piece has vocals, but such is the level of amplification that I couldn't make out the words; I couldn't even reliably say whether they were English or Japanese. And the band makes absolutely no announcements from the stage (they barely acknowledge there's an audience there) so I have no idea what anything was called. But it doesn't matter because it was all equally phenomenally good.

And so loud. So brutally loud. At the end, the band leave the stage with their instruments still blasting out a wall of feedback, and though I can see the audience clapping I can't actually hear us. I came out feeling physically battered. But in a good way.

So, three mile walk home in the rain. I don't care. It was worth it.

Best concert I've ever seen. As well as the loudest.