The Red Cloth is a relatively new rock live house, located near the entertainment/red light district of Kabukichou in Shinjuku. To get there from the JR station, you walk through one of Tokyo's most crowded shopping streets and pass a Shinto shrine called Hanazono. The club has a Chinese design motif. The walls are pink with a floral design, Chinese-looking glass lamps hang from the ceiling, and on the wall behind the stage is a banner proudly proclaiming the name of the club in alphabet and Chinese characters. (The name might also be a pun on the band name 'Redd Kross', both being pronounced 'reddo kurosu' in Japanese.)
It's here that advantage Lucy will play, and the club is packed, maybe 150 to 200 people stuffed into the small space. The show is sold out. Shows of Japanese bands I like the most sometimes make me nervous as I wonder whether they'd measure up to my memories of their past performances. Happily, everytime I've seen Lucy live (I must have seen them a dozen times now) they've blown me away. Tonight is no exception.
Playing before Lucy are Sloppy Joe, Lost in Found and Snow Ball. Sloppy Joe are five slightly-nerdy looking guys playing guitar pop. They haven't made any albums yet, and up to tonight have only performed in little clubs, as a sort of 'extra treat' for the club-goers, according to Sloppy Joe's singer. They are therefore nervous playing in front of the big audience, but their songs are good, particularly the tunes 'Weekend' and 'Wonder'. Listening to them I think about how in Japan there's one subculture of youth who grew up listening to music like Swedish pop and guitar pop, and went on to make their own bands that are sometimes excellent. Back when I was growing up in L.A., I doubt many of my contemporaries were listening to music from Sweden. It was mostly punk and alternative rock that inspired people to create bands.
Band #2 was Lost in Found, a six-person group, with a big blond Canadian of Polish descent named Mike doing the singing. I've come to know Lost in Found pretty well -- I traveled with them to Seoul in March for a four-band tour. Even though Lost in Found is fairly new, members of advantage Lucy have taken a liking to their sound and have invited them to play at their shows, thrusting them in front of much bigger crowds than they might have expected this early in their career. That may freak them out a bit, but it's no doubt good experience for them. They have a catchy pop sound. Some of their songs can be sampled on their home page.
The third band was Snow Ball, a five-person band (I think...) with a tiny keyboardist/singer girl. I've seen them once before. Neither the last time I saw them nor tonight did they leave much of an impression, though their playing is expert and their songs are well-crafted.
And then -- advantage Lucy. I will describe them in more detail sometime later, but they consist of Aiko, the female singer, who writes all of their lyrics, and Yoshiharu Ishizaka, a guitarist, who composes all of their music, and a guitarist, bassist and drummer who aren't officially part of the band but help out with shows and recording. Aiko and Ishizaka are the inseparable creative core of the band.
It seems that Lucy's intensity level has been increasing at the last few shows, maybe because they are about to release their long-awaited album, after a three-year hiatus. Usually, they take short breaks every couple of songs, but tonight they played almost non-stop and it made for an intense show. (Someone told me later Aiko was very impressed by Vasallo Crab 75's show a few days earlier, where they also played without rest, and decided to try it out.) Particularly cool was the way that their new song Andersen fused into the next number, Red Bicycle, one of their classics.
As someone who owns all of their CD albums and singles, I'm looking very much forward to the new album, which Aiko said should be out in autumn. Judging by the new songs they've introduced at performances in the past few months, it's going to be a blockbuster. The new tune 'Everything' that opened tonight's show, for example, has such a catchy melody line that, although it was only the second time I'd listened to it, I was humming it on the way home. For their encore they played 'Citrus' from the album 'Fanfare'. This gem of a song seems to be one of their favorites. They often play it as their last song of the night. Remembering how it was played at these shows makes me like it even more when I listen to it at home.