Masters of Disguise

Ninja Academy, Consisting of Indo-Ninja and Outdo-Ninja, Impress at 924 Gilman With Their Off-the-Wall Concept And Incredible Music Ability


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Performing onstage in costume and character may be a cheap way to replace talent while generating buzz (I'm looking at you, Gene Simmons!), but it helps to give acts the benefit of the doubt.

Ninja Academy consists of two "humble ninjas" from Los Angeles. Going only by their secret identities-Indo-Ninja, on the bass, and Outdo-Ninja, on the drums-the duo plays a dizzying mix of fast and precise instrumentals. Since 2003, they have steadily gained a reputation for exciting live sets at diverse venues.

Ninja Academy's eclectic combination of drum and bass caters to audiences from punk to hip-hop. They've opened up for rappers and jammed at art galleries in Los Angeles while maintaining their ninja schtick. Indo-Ninja's innovative experiments with the electric bass have also attracted attention in Southern California, as he has applied techniques of the double bass and guitar to the instrument. 2007's Live at The Echo took on Ninja Academy standards like "Your Kung Fu Sucks" while covering Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang" and Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk."

All of this has amounted to an extensive ninja and non-ninja fan base. There is, of course, the lay fans who do everything from headbob to mosh to Ninja Academy's instrumentals. But there are also honorary Ninja members who contribute martial art demonstrations, vocals and instrumentals on stage. There are even docile Ninjas in the audience who simply heed the band's presence at its many L.A. haunts. The band has attracted hardcore and casual followers through a steady diet of live shows throughout Southern California. In that spirit, Ninja Academy has taken off on their first national tour.

The second stop in this 42-city march across America was Berkeley's 924 Gilman. Succeeding the alternately brilliant and atrocious opening acts of "Cherry Chocolate Rain"-covering We Be the Echo and thrashers Godstomper, Ninja Academy played a crisp set. A cymbal masquerading as a gong produced a thunderous sound and signaled that everything would be in character.

The Red Bull-paced "You Do the Math" (roundhouse) kicked off the set from Ninja Academy. A perfect first course for the moshing crowd, the song started, stayed and ended fast. But not every ditty was a musical interpretation of the effects of meth. Most songs wavered between hardcore heavy grinding and contemplative bass. Indo-Ninja's riffs were a complex negotiation, at once placating a rougher crowd while exploring the musical range on the bass.

The electric bass in his hands seemed like a completely different instrument, as he played with a bow (rather than the ninja bowstaff), aping the standup bass. From there, Indo recorded and looped the heavy bass lines and proceeded to work both hands high up on the neck. As he picked strings and played chords with left and right, he looked more like lead guitarist than bassist. Outdo steadily kept time, waiting for the thrashing interludes to really strut his stuff. It was in these 20 seconds outbursts that Outdo's talent, while not as expressive, came to fore. His hip-hop-infused beats took on a raucous quality.

It's important to note that the costumes were not a distraction during any of the snaking instrumentals. Instead, one of the band's faithful ninjas, aptly named Donkeypunch, displayed a bit of nunchuck fury stage left. While his skill with two sets of bludgeons was intimidating (especially as he kept time with Outdo's drums), the music of Ninja Academy were the master of the Gilman dojo, despite the novelty act.

Tell Derek about your secret identity at [email protected]

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