KODO One Earth Tour 2023: Tsuzumi To Los Angeles REVIEW: KODO at Walt Disney Concert Hall 1/31/2023
LOS ANGELES- Walking into Disney Hall to see Kodo perform, I anticipated a night of serious and somber traditional drumming. Instead, it was one of the most joyous performances I’ve ever seen. Comic scenes took place throughout the show, and the musicians radiated positive energy. The overarching feeling was that the performers were enjoying every moment of the evening, and this cynical reviewer walked away in the end feeling warm inside.
Hailing from Sado Island in Japan, Kodo celebrates traditional Japanese drumming (taiko). The group has developed a devoted following around the world, filling concert halls on multiple continents. While I’ve wanted to see them for years, this was the first time the stars aligned to make it happen.
My prior exposure to taiko was largely in the context of performances by teenagers at schools and by community members during festivals at shrines, so I wondered how the art would translate to this type of extended stage show. Partway through the evening, I turned to my companion and said, “I’m not quite sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this.” No – it was better. The entire performance felt like a love letter to the drums.
A few words of warning: in an enclosed space like Disney Hall, taiko can be LOUD. However loud you are imagining, there were times that it was louder than that. While there was an incredible range of volumes and dynamics, they had a few climactic moments when the drumming made my organs vibrate and I had to cover my ears as the pulsing of the drums resonated throughout the space. The only time I’ve ever felt like that before was at a Jay-Z show, if that gives you a point of reference. Word to the wise: think of it like going to a rock concert and bring a pair of earplugs, just in case. I realized too late that I’d made a tactical error and had left mine at home.
Additionally, the performers wear a variety of traditional outfits throughout the evening. That includes fundoshi (traditional loincloths) during the final number. While it’s not remotely sexualized, if seeing a male drummer’s butt is going to bother you, this isn’t the show for you.
The performance was a feat of athleticism merged with music as the performers grouped and regrouped for each number, alternating between soft, quiet moments and dramatic leaps onto higher platforms. At one point, they tapped out the rhythm with their fingertips, creating a sound reminiscent of Japanese summer cicadas. The men and women of Kodo moved seamlessly between drums, which ranged from small, hand-held instruments to the massive o-daiko (large drum).
A Kodo performance goes beyond drumming. Throughout the evening, they also incorporated flutes, stringed instruments, fans, vocals, and even dance. At its heart, however, were the drums. It turns out that the name Kodo can be read several ways, one of which means “heartbeat.” What name could be more fitting? Next time they pass through Los Angeles, I’ll be back in the audience, earplugs in hand.