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At the time, Cibo Matto’s 1996 major-label debut Viva! La Woman may have seemed like goofy, flash-in-the-pan stuff—playground-rhymy and seemingly food-obsessed, with every song named after something edible. But at that point, American radio listeners were still recovering from the clinical depression of grunge, and seemed eager to champion anything that reconstructed their self-esteem—Rage Against the Machine directed teens’ anger away from themselves, toward the government; Marilyn Manson transformed geeks into goths; the Spice Girls shilled cheap “girl power” in miniskirts. But if they wanted something that wasn’t beating a message into their heads, listeners would have found that in Cibo Matto—a pair of Japanese transplants who made a statement without being so damn obvious about it. “I know my chicken/You got to know your chicken,” they sang, playfully, but true to the idiom’s meaning: Cibo Matto knew its stuff. Yuka Honda’s productions could be funky, loungy, or scattershot, but were consistently fastidious; Miho Hatori vocalized all over the map, from punk rock on “Birthday Cake” to the mostly chillaxed material on their second and last album, 1999’s Stereo Type A. Earlier on, the duo even unearthed prettiness in grunge, offering a serene cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” on its debut EP. The band split in 2001, but decided to reunite and record a new album in the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami and its path of destruction. Leave it to Cibo Matto to make art when people need it most.
Cibo Matto performs with Tony Castles at 8 p.m. at the Rock & Roll Hotel, 1353 H St. NE. $20.