In the '60s, it would have been called a happening. And the Los Angeles sextet Maata Haari's party/showcase on Sunday at the Ash Grove fairly bubbled with antique grooviness, even as the music remained thoroughly modern.
The theme was "Casino Royale," the 1967 James Bond spoof that played silently on one wall, accompanied by a deejay's mix of '90s dance music, before the band's set. The stage was festooned with lights, plants, tapestries and Eastern religious icons. A colorful audience of mostly hip-looking teens (and some hip-looking adults who could have been their parents) completed the tableau.
Blending live instruments and samples, Maata Haari wove a laid-back, funky, psychedelic sound that at first complemented the campy ambience and then spun into a more serious groove. Amir Yaghmai's violin playing was often hypnotic, and the songs were confidently propelled by bassist Guitar Boy, keyboardist Zac Rae and drummer Joachim Cooder (son of legendary guitarist Ry).
The music had its own personality, but the grinding industrial percussion, boy-girl vocals and slightly dark feel also smacked strongly of English techno star Tricky. One number felt like a minimal "drum 'n' bass" tune, as Cooder tapped a hand drum in the rapid-fire skittering beat characteristic of that dance genre.
It was striking how readily the kitschy trappings fell away as the set progressed, revealing a young group that paid more attention to song structure and set pacing than a lot of more experienced local acts. The band managed to have fun, be entertaining and display some real pop potential as well. Pretty trippy, man.