Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The House Lights in Tokyo

The House Lights at the Red Cloth. Posted by Hello
A couple of bands that I liked were playing last night at the Shinjuku Red Cloth to welcome the House Lights, a U.S. band I hadn't heard of before from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at the start of a one-week Tokyo tour. It was an exciting evening, and the show made me think about the difference between American and Japanese rock 'n' roll.

The House Lights. Posted by Hello
I thought about this because the House Lights took command of the stage from their first note, in a way I don't see many Japanese bands do, at least not in that way. These guy were basically nerds from Small Town, U.S.A., but they personified what Iggy Pop must have meant when he sang Raw Power.
It felt like the difference between Major League baseball and its Japanese counterpart. Or, to pile on the analogies, a steak dinner versus sushi.
Why was there this difference?
First, I thought, the Americans are simply bigger. They take up more space on the stage, and there's more movement when they strut around on it. That also makes their guitars look smaller, like toys tossed around by giants. (I mean, take a look at the bassist below...)
Second, I assume that their being a U.S. band means that they tour around a lot in the U.S., playing in hick bars where no one's ever heard of them. They need to perform in a way that makes the audience boogie rather than boo (or throw bottles). A lot of Japanese bands, on the other hand, can get by ok in Tokyo alone, the city having such an amazing concentration of clubs.
Third, rock music was invented in the U.S.
So what?, you might say. There are, it is true, many, many great bands from outside of the U.S. But I think when Americans form a band, they get a big head-start because of the reservior of rock 'n' roll knowledge all around them, and they grow from there.
All of which isn't to say that, god forbid, Japanese rock is somehow lacking. No. Fireworks go off every night on stage in Tokyo clubs. But there was something confident, powerful and electric in the way this American band played, which was good to see. 

The House Lights' bassist. Posted by Hello

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