The Mash House in Edinburgh is a small venue, its performance space being a straight edged, low ceilinged, oblong black box about the size of a double garage room. There’s nothing superfluous about the space, nothing to hide behind, and to that end Pom Poko set the stage alive.
With a beaming, broad smile and arms cast wide to a packed room, Ragnhild Fangel enveloped the crowd. As Pom Poko’s lead singer, she never once faltered in her performance while she joyously moved from careening punk-rock chants to angelic melodies, sung at the tip of her register. She has a salt-of-the-earth presence about her which is hard not to like, and watching her hands dance; wrists twisting, fingers twirling as she sung, any air of pretence that might have been perceived, simply melted away. Wholesome is the adjective that came to mind when she first spoke to the crowd and said “We are here to play you a… concert”, her non-idiomatic phrase served only to make the Norwegian musicians come across as ever more likeable to the English speaking listeners in attendance.
Across the drums, bass, and guitar, you got the sense that these were well trained musicians. They carried off crunchy, sharp, jangling riffs, set to odd jazz time signatures, calling to mind the Japanese band Zekkei Kujira. Thinking of another Japanese influence, it became more plausible that Pom Poko could be a reference to the 1994 Studio Ghibli movie by the same title, which featured adorable Tanuki’s, often described as raccoon dogs, set out to save their land from environmental disaster. Pom Poko (the band) play with a similar zeal where on one hand they embody a carefree, joyous, and wholesome spirit, while on the other they push interesting song structures and play with an effervescent life of a young band who are hungry for more. And its wonderful.
For most of the crowd who were thrashing away in the little black box room, Pom Poko was a convincing reminder of the ecstasy of live music.