Saturday, October 30, 2004
The Clicks at the Que.
This is my third time seeing all-girl rock ‘n’ roll trio the Clicks, tonight at the Shimokitazawa Que, in western Tokyo.
They were playing with three other bands at an event organized by K.O.G.A. record label owner Mr. Koga, who, vague rumor has it, likes good-looking women.
The Clicks are certainly a pleasure to see as well as listen to. They all wore striped tanktops and mini-skirts, each with her theme color (green, red and blue, I think). They play basic, uncomplicated, pop-ish rock. The band probably won’t change the world. They probably won’t end up in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame either (though, one never knows). But still, I listen to their album a lot, and always have fun at their shows.
I mean, if you are three pretty girls, are in a rock band, can play your instruments well and have a lot of spirit, it’s hard to go wrong.
UPDATE: Just realized this is my 100th Japan Live post.
Jr. Monster at the Que.
Jr. Monster is a humorous, testosterone-driven, pop-punk rock band that I last saw open for the Osaka band Moga the Five Yen. They were playing tonight at Tokyo’s Que with the Clicks and two other bands.
Punk rock subdivisions sometimes confuse me, but Jr. Monster isn’t one of those groups that inspire its fans to slam-dance, stage-dive, crowd-surf and engage in other punk antics. Instead, most of their fans seem to be girls who hop around in place to their songs and shoot up their arms once in a while. The fans are well-behaved.
But Jr. Monster’s (what a wonderful band name...) music itself is fast and energy-packed. Sweat pours off the band members as they head-bang to the music.
Jr. Monster at the Que.
I like their stately plump guitarist, who has a bleached Kurt Cobain haircut and plays an eye-hurting day-glo orange Gibson Les Paul. He’s the guy to keep the crowd entertained between songs, saying crazy things and kissing the microphone.
"Do you love punk?" he asks the crowd at one point.
The girls in the audience murmur ‘yes’ and giggle.
The guitarist pretends to be taken aback by the crowd’s modest response, and says, "OK, this time, when I ask you if you love punk, say ‘YES!’ in your head!"
He asks again, "DO YOU LOVE PUNK?"
A split second of silence later, as the girls think 'YES!' in their heads, he shouts, "Thank you!!", and the band moves on to their next song.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Orange Plankton single 'Ai no Youna'.
Tokyo pop band Orange Plankton’s singer, Yumi, e-mailed me tonight to tell me her song, ‘Weather and Music’, which I translated from Japanese into English, will be used in a TV commercial to be aired from early next year in mountainous Yamanashi prefecture, Wakayama prefecture, famous for its tangerines, Shizuoka prefecture, renowned for its green tea, and other parts of central Japan.
The song will be the background music for a commercial that advertises, of all things, a chain of pachinko parlors. Pachinko is the name for stand-up pinball machines that too many Japanese spend hours sitting in front of in hopes of winning buckets-full of silver balls, which they can then convert into cash in little trading stations down the street from the parlors. (In other words, it’s a form of gambling, a mindless time-killer like slot machines.)
To think that the song ‘Weather and Music’, which sparkles and flows like molten snow from a mountain, will help promote pinball gambling... It’s actually amusing, and makes me wish I could see the commercial (though it won’t be airing in Tokyo, from what I hear).
Speaking about amusing things, this passage from the book Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A. J. Liebling, made me smile:
Following the publication of some of the foregoing papers I had an avalanche of letters–perhaps a half a dozen–asking scornfully whether, in my student days in Paris, I did nothing but eat.An avalanche of half a dozen letters. I know the feeling.
Friends sometimes tell me they read Japan Live often. But they hardly ever leave a trace in the form of comments or e-mails. Which is fine, and I don’t expect a tsunami of comments, but if you do have a question or you feel like saying something about, oh, anything in the whole entire world, don’t be shy! Just click the word ‘comment’ under this or other posts and go from there. (Between Meals, by the way, is classic, a tiny feast of 185 pages for anyone who loves food and good writing on it.)
Monday, October 25, 2004
Plectrum at Mona Records.
Japanese rock quartet Plectrum was playing tonight at Mona Records, a combination café and record shop in Shimokitazawa, western Tokyo.
The show was billed as an acoustic set, a sort of Plectrum Unplugged, but a more accurate way to describe it was Plectrum Amplified Lite: although it wasn’t as loud as a typical rock show, all the guitars were still connected to amps.
Whatever you'd call it, the show was another excellent one by Plectrum, one of the best live bands in Tokyo. At moments, when the band was ripping up the joint playing great songs of theirs like ‘3pm Lazy’ and ‘30 Boy’, I felt it made little difference where these guys played. They could be playing in a big concert hall, or a small rock club, or outside of the southern exit of the Shimokitazawa train station among all the people waiting to get drunk with friends, and wherever they are they’d rock the crowd.
IN THE AUDIENCE: was Jang Yaeri, a music lover from Seoul and organizer of the ‘P is for Pop’ Seoul shows last month featuring Plectrum and Swinging Popsicle from Japan. She’s visiting Tokyo, and said the crowds here are too quiet compared with those in Seoul (and she’s correct).
Also in the audience were all four members of piano pop band Orange Plankton. Actually, I invited them to the show, because I found out the bands knew each other from back in the days a few years earlier when both Plectrum and Orange Plankton were based in Osaka. With the two bands’ meeting tonight, will this mark the historic start of a long and fruitful musical collaboration? We shall see.
And, as I expected, Dr. I, a psychiatrist who has frighteningly similar musical tastes to me, came to see Plectrum too.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Hi-5 at the Shibuya O-Nest.
Playing tonight at the Tokyo rock club Shibuya O-Nest were Hi-5, School Girl 69 and Condor 44. The first two of those bands are both from Kita-Kyushu, an industrial city in the southern island of Kyushu. (Wonder what the deal is with Japanese bands and their love of adding numbers to their names, by the way?)
The musicians in Hi-5 and School Girl 69 all went to the same Kita-Kyushu university, where they were members of a school rock music club (a common place for rock musicians to meet and form bands in Japan).
Hi-5, a synthesizer-guitar-drums trio, was School Girl 69's sempai in the university club, that is to say, they are older and began university before School Girl’s guys did. It’s a very Japanese concept – the sempai is supposed to lead by good example the kouhai, the younger ones, and give advice about how to succeed in school, club activities, and so on.
So, tonight, Hi-5's singer and synthesizer player said: "Since we were School Girl 69's sempai in university, we feel we have to set a good example" by playing a rocking show. Which they did, but they played so hard the guitarist was panting by the end of the third song. It was great rock ‘n roll.
Throughout the show the singer gave something like a Black Power salute, pounding his chest with his fist and then raising the fist in the air. I have no idea what’s behind that.
School Girl '69 at the Shibuya O-Nest
School Girl '69 is a quartet from Kita-Kyushu that plays pop-punk-New Wave tunes. Their main singer, a guy, has such a high, helium-ingested-sounding voice that when I first heard one of their CDs, I wasn’t sure whether it was a guy or a girl. But that voice goes well with their cute pop sound. And they are a good live band. It’s always a pleasure to see them when they visit Tokyo.
(For some reason, I think this blog might get more search engine hits after this post gets published about a JAPANESE band named SCHOOL GIRL 69 playing in TOKYO. Just a wild hunch.)
Pianist/singer Kao playing between sets.
Between sets, a girl named Kao played solo piano songs. Listening to her tunes was a nice way to pass the time while bands set up on stage.
Condor 44's bassist.
It took longer than usual for the last band of the night, Condor 44, to set up, because they had to move the drum set to the right side of the stage. Condor 44's musicians like to be positioned in a semi-circle on stage, with the drums on the right, keyboard in the center, and guitar and bass on the left. The website Rock of Japan describes their sound well – "thoughtful spacy pop". They are an understated band. At the end of their good set, they shuffled off the stage, and when the applause became a modest request for an encore, they shuffled back onto the stage to play one more song.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Orange Plankton at Shibuya Plug.
Tuesday night's Orange Plankton show at the Shibuya Plug wasn't the most dazzling performance I'd seen of the Japanese piano pop quartet, compared with past shows. There were some sound problems, and maybe the band wasn't completely fired up because they were up first, there weren't that many people in the audience, and the women sitting at the tables in front of the stage looked bored.
But Orange Plankton on a not-best night is still very, very good. A friend I took to see them for the first time was excited enough about the show that he bought two albums by the band on the spot.
The Plug is a relatively new and comfy club underneath the McDonald's in Shibuya on the way to Tower Records. The staff is very friendly. They had created a cocktail called Orange Plankton just for the night, mixing orange juice with several different liquers. It wasn't bad.
I knew that Monday night’s show at the Shinjuku Loft wouldn’t be a comfortable one as soon as I saw the number on my ticket. Number 381. I thought about my previous visits to the Loft, and had a hard time imagining more than 200 people in the hall. But the number 381 meant there were at least 380 more people planning to be there. It was going to be like the rush hour train.
The sold-out show featured four popular bands: Art-School, Bloodthirsty Butchers, Fuji Fabric and Meringue.
When I arrived at the Loft, it was even worse than I expected. The crowd filled the hall all the way to the back door. And because of the (stupid) layout of the club, with a big pillar between the stage and the back door, people standing near the door couldn’t see the stage at all. We instead watched the action on two small TV’s on the pillar. I could also see shadows of the musicians on the left wall of the stage.
It reminded me of Plato’s cave. I hear loud music and see a band playing on two small TV’s, but is there really a band playing behind the pillar? Is that shadow on the wall actually that of a member of the band shown on the TV? Or is it, in reality, the shadow of a ballerina maybe, or a mime, or Butoh dancers, and the music and TV images recorded? There was no way to know for sure.
After the first band, Meringue, finished their set, however, I was able to creep up closer so I could see half of Fuji Fabric. By the third act, Art-School, who I had come to see, I had a complete view of the singer Riki Kinoshita.
Kinoshita, who looks a bit like a praying mantis, shuffled wearily onto stage. Why do I like Art-Shool? Kinoshita is a Rimbaud-reading, Kobain-copying, fragilely-sensitive rock star stereotype come-to-life, whose pronouncements in his Internet diaries are sometimes laughably pretentious. His fans mostly look much younger than me – in their late-teens to early 20's. I liked Art-School’s latest single, but I haven’t listened to it much. I wondered, before the show got underway, whether I had outgrown this band.
That thought vanished as soon as Kinoshita began singing. He has a stellar voice. The voice is an adolescent-sounding one, but one that grabs you and fills the hall with its presence. I feel, listening to his voice, that this moment, when he’s singing, is all that concerns him.
I like Kinoshita. He is funny, without maybe intending it always. He can’t speak very well on stage. There are silent moments between songs as the band tunes up. Tonight when he does decide to say something to the audience, his words are: "Ehhh... It’s hard to live. So... a song should be about what doesn’t matter... Please have fun tonight." OK, Riki. Yet, the lyrics he writes are heart-felt and full of vivid images.
He wrote in his Internet diary that his sound guy told him that there are always cute girls and model types at the back of the audience at Art-School shows, which, as someone who was standing in that location, I can say isn’t an entirely inaccurate picture. But Kinoshita went on to write that he wasn’t sure whether this was true, because he always sang with his eyes closed.
Monday, October 18, 2004
Sunday was guitar pop night at the Shibuya rock club O-Nest. Playing were the Japanese bands Swinging Popsicle, Sloppy Joe, Bowlie Weekender, and the headlining band, the Starlets from England.
Guitar pop is a not very well defined sub-genre of rock that is popular among some bands in Tokyo, especially those in Shimokitazawa. As the name suggests, it’s pop where the guitars get the spotlight. Bright, twangy-sounding guitars like Fender Telecasters are favored, and the musicians tend to be down-to-earth types who don’t stand out in crowds. This isn’t teen angst music. It’s more like young adult happy music lovers’ music.
Bands that are called guitar pop groups don’t always agree that’s what they are. There’s the, ‘We’re just playing music, we don’t want what we do constrained by convenient labels’-mentality at work. But it’s clear these bands are approaching music and life differently than, say, a hardcore punk band or a visual-kei group.
Sloppy Joe at the O-Nest.
Take Sloppy Joe. I’d seen this quintet once before a few ago, but had forgotten how good they are. They play driving rock with hints of rockabilly, though the singer says he was influenced by the Smiths. Between songs, the lead guitarist walks back to pick up his mobile phone that’s lying on an amp. The singer asks him what’s up. He says he got an e-mail from his mom on his mobile phone. What’s it say?, the singer asks. "It says, ‘relax, have fun and show a nice smile on stage’," the guitarist says.
I love guitar pop shows!!!
Swinging Popsicle at the O-Nest.
Swinging Popsicle were sensational. Their singer, Mineko Fujishima, can SING. It’s like seeing an R&B superstar in a small Tokyo rock club, in tonight’s case the O-Nest .(For what it’s worth, the Chinese characters that spell out her first name, Mineko, literally means ‘child of beautiful sound.) The band is tight and their music is catchy.
Compared with when I saw them in Seoul, however, they seemed subdued between songs, not saying much more than ‘arigatou gozaimashita (thanks very much)’. Probably tonight I was seeing a more typical Popsicle, while in Seoul they were high off the crowds’ adulation.
Bowlie Weekend at the O-Nest.
Other bands playing tonight: Bowlie Weekender was a big group that included a cellist, a trumpeter and a flutist. They were ok. The Starlets, up last, seemed good, and the guy singer had a nice tenor voice, but by the time they started I was hungry and tired so I left after a couple of songs (wimp).
Saturday, October 16, 2004
Julia Hart's Miss Chocolate (from juliahart.com)
I returned home today to find in my mailbox a padded envelope from Seoul containing something very cool -- the new single by Korean rock band Julia Hart. The sender was Wonyul Lee, Julia Hart's bassist. I'd met and become friends with Wonyul in March, when I went to Seoul to see the Japanese bands advantage Lucy, Plectrum, Miniskirt, Lost in Found, and Korean band Linus' Blanket play live. Wonyul plays bass for Linus, but his main band is Julia Hart.
This was the first time I heard Julia Hart's music, and I found it utterly charming, exciting and fun. The title track, 'Miss Chocolate', is a catchy 3-minute pop song that could have been a 1950's radio hit. It has a Korean and an English version, and the latter contains the delicious lines, "I'm the kind of boy who thinks we'll get married when you just smile/Well, I know I'm semi-stupid/But I guess you are my cupid".
The other two songs' titles are both written in Hangul and sang in Korean so I don't know what they are called, but they're both good too. Song two is a more rocking number than 'Miss Chocolate', and song three has a 60's Flower Children feel because the guitar uses the echoey effect pedal which I think was popular during the latter part of that decade [help me out here, Wonyul -- what's that effect pedal called??].
I'd really like to see Julia Hart play live sometime. If you, for some reason are in Seoul and are reading this and don't know about Julia Hart, you should try to check them out and also buy 'Miss Chocolate' while you are at it.
I was flipping through Julia Hart's home page (which includes MP3 files of their songs, including a cover of Cheap Trick's Surrender, if you are curious to know what they sound like), and I found this photo of the band below that I liked. The combination of the blue sky, the trees in the background, and the mysterious huge white screen at the back of the stage is aesthetically very satisfying, wouldn't you agree?
Julia Hart of Seoul (from juliahart.com)
Friday, October 15, 2004
Tonight I was alone, and Primrose blew me away. Guitarist Keiji Matsui began the show solo, playing trance-inducing repetitive parts that gradually built up in intensity. By the time the other band members joined him and started to rock, the music, combined with the trippy stage lights, had transported me to another level of consciousness, like I was on drugs. Matsui used two microphones, one of which I guess was connected to some sort of special effect, and a whole pile of effect pedals for his guitar. My only wish was that the show be longer -- it was only about half an hour, but they were the opening band, so c'est la vie.
On their web page Primrose says that both their bassist and drummer had decided to quit the band, leaving only Matsui, the guitarist. Sounds like a disaster, but Matsui says he will continue with the band with the others helping out when needed. I hope he keeps at it, because Primrose is creating very exciting music.
I was interested in Luna of the U.S. because one of its members was formerly of Galaxie 500, a band I listened to over and over and over in my college days. But their show didn't really do it for me. Like an old car, it seemed they took a long time to get warmed up but they didn't drive that fast even when they did. To be fair, I'm not the biggest fan of breezy rock like theirs, and the fans certainly seemed ecstatic to see the band.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
The rain has finally stopped. A cool autumn breeze is blowing outside. I’m drinking a beer at a soccer bar in Shimokitazawa called Palazzo, and Velvet Underground is playing in the background. And I’ve just been to the historic first solo live show of Tokyo rock quartet Hartfield.
Doing a one-band show for the first time is a rite of passage for Japanese bands, a sign that a group is becoming successful. Fans come to the show en masse to celebrate. True to form, the small but prestigious Shelter was packed tonight with Hartfield fans, who were a jovial bunch.
Hartfield's Komine and Kagawa.
Hartfield hit the stage about 7:30 and played two joyful hours. They’re a good-looking band. Particularly striking is guitarist Yukari Tanaka, a long-haired Japanese woman who wears a white dress and plays a pale Flying V guitar.
Their sound reminds me of My Bloody Valentine – the same combination of feedback and distortion (singer and guitarist Takateru Kagawa uses about a dozen effect pedals) and catchy melodies. And like My Bloody Valentine, a guy, Kagawa, and a girl, Tanaka, share the singing duties. I love such duets because they have the potential to create gorgeous music, and Hartfield’s two do.
Tonight, for this special occasion, there was a treat: we got to listen to what might be called Hartfield Unplugged. Like the MTV show, for two songs Hartfield went acoustic, and they sounded wonderful.
When Hartfield’s sound was stripped of amplified, feedback-laden electric noise, what was left was straightforward, satisfying music. Without feedback, you could clearly hear what strong, pretty voices Kagawa and Tanaka have.
Not that they should become a folk music group or something... Every night they play a rock show they have thrilling moments that make it worth going to shows.
The two songs they played during the Unplugged session were ‘Merchen’ and ‘My Christiana’ from their mini-album L.I.B.R.A. (which I figured out recently means ‘Leave It Before Ruins Again').
I take all their fliers and study them later. I feel sympathy for these people trying to promote something to strangers.
Tonight, however, leaving the Hartfield show, in addition to the usual fliers I was handed a four-song CD-R containing music by the band G-Ampere. I didn't even realize it was a CD until later -- I thought it was just another flier. They want people to come to their show so much that they are handing out CDs of their music, which seems an expensive way to promote themselves but is very cool from the CD listener's point of view.
I've actually seen G-Ampere before, with Hartfield. They've convinced this music fan to check them out again. (Be sure to check out the band's home page, linked above, by the way. It's pretty wacky.)
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Ad photo for Nov. 26 show.
The Tokyo rock show of the year hasn’t happened yet, but I know it will be an incredible music experience. There are wonderful shows every night in Tokyo, I know, but this will be MY rock show of 2004.
Performing at it will be some of my favorite bands, bands that I’ve praised in the pages of Japan Live – advantage Lucy, Vasallo Crab 75, Apila, Orang, Lost in Found and others. These groups will all gather on November 26 at the clubs Shimokitazawa Que and Shinjuku Loft.
When I first found about the show, I was moved. I’d been thinking about how to spend November 26, and this was the perfect answer.
November 26 marks a year since Takayuki Fukumura, guitarist of advantage Lucy and Vasallo Crab 75, passed away of heart disease. He was in his late 20's. I didn’t know Fukumura personally, and only knew him through his music, but his death ended up changing me in some ways.
Less than two weeks after his death, advantage Lucy was scheduled to do a show in Ikebukuro. I wasn’t sure whether they’d go through with it. It was clear the loss of a close friend and band mate was weighing heavily on them.
But they played. And it was one of the most moving show I’d ever been to, one I’ll never forget.
Starting with the song ‘Red Bicycle’, whose dazzling opening arpeggio was Fukumura’s creation, it was nearly two hours of beautiful and intense rock music, humor befitting Fukumura’s personality, and also, of course, sadness.
It was a great show that made me wish I could also have such a final send-off one day.
It also made me want to know more about these musicians. That desire pushed me to meet them, listen to more of their music and write about it.
I wanted to mark the one year’s time in some way on November 26. Then I heard about the show. Of course! He was a rock musician and would have wanted us to play music and dance to it, to remember him.
All the bands playing that night had worked with Fukumura at some point.
The evening will start at the Que around 6:30 and run until about 10, then the venue will change to the Loft in Shinjuku, where the second part of the show will begin at midnight and last until the morning. We’ll take the Odakyu train from Shimokitazawa to Shinjuku, to continue the all-night party, in honor of a great musician.
Saturday, October 09, 2004
Singer Aiko of advantage Lucy.
A powerful typhoon hit Japan today and was due to land in Tokyo right about the time a show featuring Tokyo rock bands advantage Lucy and Plectrum was to start. Authorities were advising people to stay indoors. I ignored them. It would take a lot more than mere wind and rain to keep me away from a Lucy/Plectrum show.
Still, when I left my apartment to leave for the Shimokitazawa Club Que, the scene outside was grim. Gusts of wind blew the rain sideways, and rain flowed in the gutter like a river. I curled under my umbrella and dashed for a cab.
But even if I became sopping wet going to Club Que, I knew that the club at least would be dry, and more importantly, I’d be surrounded by Lucy and Plectrum true believers. Those fans who would rather be wet and miserable than miss a show.
Amazingly, the Que was packed tonight, with more than 100 people in the audience despite the storm. I felt camaraderie.
I’ve gushed frequently and at length about the Tokyo guitar pop band advantage Lucy in the pages of Japan Live, but up until now I didn’t have any photos of their live shows. Part of the reason for that is they haven’t played much in the last half a year. They’ve been busy recording a new album. In any case, here's a glimpse of what they look like.
The members of Lucy said after the show that, at the rehearsals, their playing was a mess and everything came together only tonight. I wouldn’t have known if they hadn’t said so. It was another fantastic Lucy show, the sort that lets me forget all worldly concerns.
Advantage Lucy's rhythm section.
Lucy Singer Aiko’s voice is distinct, one that is high and slightly whiney in an attractive way. There’s no mistaking that voice on the radio. She sings to beautifully melodic pop music crafted by guitarist Yoshiharu Ishizaka.
They played several new songs tonight, including ‘Glider’, Everything’ and ‘Is This Love’. I’ve listened to their old songs so much, if they were vinyl records the surfaces would be worn down. So, it’s refreshing to listen to these new, good songs. And it was nice to hear once again that they are in the final stages of putting together their new album.
Akky Fujita of Plectrum.
The final act tonight at the Que was Plectrum.
What more can I say about Plectrum? I’m always recharged fully spiritually after I listen to this outstanding Tokyo rock quartet.
Someone once said that Plectrum may be the band that most seasoned Shimokitazawa scene rock musicians secretly consider their favorite live band. Whether that’s true or not, there’s no doubt a lot of people love Plectrum.
They played a lot of old songs tonight (Plectrum has been around for about ten years), because lead guitarist Akky Fujita felt the band was getting too comfortable playing numbers from their latest album, Prom Night, and they needed to keep their edge by playing a wide variety of rock music. For we audience members, it was a chance to hear how good the old stuff was, songs from records that are now mostly hard to find.
The best moment of the night was a mini-jam session that ended their song ‘Les Paul Master’. Singer Taisuke Takata left the stage with his Fender Jazzmaster on the floor still ringing distortion. (But he soon returned and turned it off to do a ballad for an encore.)
Listening to them rock, I forgot that my socks were still wet and my jeans chilled and moist because of the typhoon.
Plectrum at the Que.
Also performing tonight was a good trio called Sparky (they were one of those bands that might have brought down the house if they playing anywhere other than Tokyo, but people here are spoiled by the abundance of top-notch groups), and playing solo, Toshiaki Yamada of Gomes the Hitman. Yamada played an acoustic guitar and sang. I’m not usually interested in that sort of thing, but his music was good.
Yamada said he’d been in a hospital until a couple of months ago, undergoing surgery after they found a hole in one of his lungs. He said breezily that he thought he’d be able to write more songs while he was in the hospital recuperating, but he became obsessed anytime he ran across words like ‘lung’ and ‘death’ while he was reading magazines in bed, and so, wasn't able to focus on song-writing. But he did write one song about looking out the window from his hospital bed, and played it tonight. It was a moving song.