Concert Review: Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers, Acid Mothers Temple, April 8, El Mocambo

Toronto – Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers is admittedly a great band name.  It’s a name I had seen around for a bit, especially in Austin during SXSW, where Ray and her bandmates were playing several showcases, as is the standard there.  Having missed them in Austin, I was curious to see what they were all about and seeing as how they were opening for noise/psychedelia masters Acid Mothers Temple, I figured this was my chance.

There were a few things that were notable about Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers.  Firstly, Ray plays the harmonium, an unusual instrument for a rock band.  Secondly, when she sings, Ray seems to be able to open her mouth up really wide and out of that mouth comes an impressive blues/punk wail.  Thirdly, her guitarist wears track pants on stage.  And finally, her drummer is a total drum monster.  John Adamski had a pretty hard hitting style that in many ways reminded me of Levon Helm, but like Levon if he listened to lots of hardcore bands or something.  He even kind of looked like Helm.  His drumming totally drove the band’s performance.

Ray played harmonium on most of the songs and it adds a unique flavour, especially on songs like “Venus Shaver” and “Erotolepsy.”  Ray’s use of the instrument isn’t just a gimmick used to separate themselves from the pack, but an act of necessity.  Growing up, her father banned her from learning any Western instruments and so harmonium it was.  And that harmonium sounded pretty good, as did the rest of the four-piece band.  They were most effective on the more uptempo numbers, when they were given a chance to really let go. 

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers – “Erotolepsy” by terrorbird


Speaking of letting go, Acid Mothers Temple really “let go” when they play live in the sense that you never really know where their set is going to go on any given night.  There’s a lot of room for improvisation in their songs and sonically, it ran the gamut from near a capella moments to heavy, trippy riffing to trippy, ambient noodling.  I’m not really sure how much of it was improvised and how much is specifically designed to sound that way and following a preordained pattern, but I do know that it was quite often “trippy.”  I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that a whole lot of it is improvised.  One glance at their merch table revealed a ridiculous amount of CDs (they were sold out of vinyl), the sheer volume of which not only brought many a fan to dumbfounded indecision (might as well pick one at random) but also suggests that these guys record pretty much every musical idea that pops into their heads.  They were something to see live – a bunch of older, long haired Japanese dudes jamming out.  Truthfully, not all of it was all that interesting all the time.  During the more ambient passages, I tended to lose focus, and it was far less song-based than the opening act.  But by and large, it was engaging, and the idea of sonic exploration that they represent is a pretty appealing one in general.  In that sense, Acid Mother Temple are kind of like a bag of Bits and Bites – you never know what you’re gonna get. 

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Everything