Psychedelic legends Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. are touching down in Iowa City

Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. w/ My Education and Shining Realm

Gabe’s, Iowa City, 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 2, $16-20

Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. — courtesy of the artists

If you ask a random stranger on the street about psychedelic music, they might name Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, or mumble something about sitars, samplers and LSD. “Psychedelic” is often regarded as a trippy, hippie, countercultural vibe—a phase music went through in the ’60s before arena rock.

But fans know psychedelic has its own place among musical genres and, like any genre, it means a lot of different things. It could be the culty art collectives of Amon Düül II, or maybe the math-driven beats of Can. Maybe you like the spaced-out sci-fi stylings of British band Hawkwind, or the electric jug of Austin garage rock groups The Golden Dawn and 13th Floor Elevators. Psychedelic music intersects with early proto-metal, not to mention its influence on pop, hip hop and R&B.

Maybe it is trite to reminisce, but I, like many kids, dreamed of getting out of my small town, of finding other worlds and experiences beyond the tradition of marrying the high school sweetheart and starting a nuclear family. It took effort in the early ’90s to search for things outside of classic rock radio or the manufactured twang of country music stations.

When finally, I did move away, my like-minded friends and I couldn’t get enough of all the music and art we had only suspected existed. Thankfully, the ’90s were full of comps and re-releases of all sorts. Suddenly, the music landscape was flooded with “forgotten” bands and records. Every newfound release was a small revelation, like discovering a knowledge that had been suppressed.

This was when I found myself gravitating towards psychedelic sounds. My tastes were, and in large part still are, vast, but those were the records I returned to most often. This led me to the sounds coming out of Japan. There was White Heaven, High Rise, Ghost (for Google purposes, “Japan Ghost band”) or the bootlegged reissue of Flower Travellin’ Band, among many others.

One band, however, became kind of legendary. One with an audacious name; one that, unlike many hailing from Japan, toured the U.S. frequently; one that played Iowa City a decade ago, and will return on May 2 for a show at Gabe’s — Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O.

The term “psychedelic” was coined by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond while researching hallucinogens in the 1950s. The meaning in Greek equates to “mind manifesting.”

The band’s name alone is psychedelic, in that it’s enough to conjure the sound and imagery associated with the band. But it’s hard to describe the Acid Mothers Temple’s otherworldly sound as anything other than psychedelic.

Formed in 1995 by Japanese guitarist Kawabata Makoto (alongside Koizumi Hajime, Suhara Keizo and Cotton Casino) Acid Mothers Temple began touring outside of Japan in 1998. Soon after the group added synth/theremin player Higashi Hiroshi, whose distinct frequency whistles and squeaks have become synonymous with the Acid Mothers Temple sound. Since then, members have come and gone, most leaving to pursue their own bands, but Kawabata and Higashi remain.

The current lineup features two members that have been around since 2018. First is drummer Satoshima Nani, formerly of Zuinoshin and Bogulta, as well as having played with Kawabata in an improvisational duo called Human Shower. The other is vocalist/bouzouki player Jysonon Tsu. Tsu, whose solo work is a progressive mix of medieval balladeer and theatrics, plays both guitar and bouzouki (a member of the lute family popular in Greece), and sings in an ethereal made-up language I can only describe as evocative of Elven or Fae.

To listen to the band on vinyl or streaming is one thing, but where Acid Mothers Temple really thrives is on stage. This year marks the band’s 25th year of touring and is also the first time in four years that Acid Mothers Temple has been able to play in the U.S.

Like many bands, 2020 was a tough year for Kawabata and company. Their North American tour was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mandates and precautions that forced music venues to close in the early days of the pandemic lasted long enough to make it impossible to schedule a tour in 2021. In 2022 the threat of a COVID resurgence also meant there was no U.S. tour that year.

Despite those setbacks, the band was anything but inactive. They hosted and played a Tokyo Olympics parody festival, and performed a blistering set for the online version of 2021’s Levitation Festival (formerly Austin Psych Fest).

An Acid Mothers Temple show is as eclectic as its members. They may start with doomy riffs (“Dark Star Blues”) that transform into a disco bounce (a la “Pink Lady Lemonade”), before changing again into a thunderstorm of feedback and synth squeals.

It’s more about the journey than the where and why. Kawabata has previously said that, more than being influenced by any particular band, he is influenced by the static on the radio, or the chants of Buddhist monks or even trying to imitate the sounds in nature. He wants to create music that is truly psychedelic, of and for the mind. It’s a definition that seems to align with Osmond’s original intention, and one that Acid Mothers Temple lives up to.

Christopher Burns lives in a state of uncertainty between Iowa City and the Quantum Realm. In between fluctuations he writes weird stories and plays music with the Shining Realm. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 317.