Thursday, December 16, 2004

Misako Odani

Misako Odani is a Japanese songstress of mystery. I first found out about her reading punk rock band Moga the Five Yen’s Internet message board, on which Moga’s bassist and a fan were gushing about her songs. Soon afterwards I discovered that Odani has also worked with the popular Japanese punk band Eastern Youth. Yet despite this, Odani’s music isn’t punk at all. She is a pianist and singer, and plays pop music.

Her trio was performing at club called Mandala in Minami-Aoyama, right across the street from the Aoyama cemetery, the eternal resting place of Tokyo’s rich and famous, and between party town Roppongi and the Meiji Shinto shrine. Most of the audience at the Mandala were well-dressed young professional types in their late 20's and 30's, and the club was a chic sit-down place, nothing like the grungy live houses I usually frequent.

A little past eight, Odani appeared on stage saying "konbanwa (good evening)", a petite, shy-looking woman. She paused for a second at her piano, then launched into her first song of the night. That voice! A voice that fills the hall with its melodic wail. I loved her voice from the first time I heard a CD of hers, but it’s hard to describe the voice satisfactorily. It is both child-like and old, and tragic, like the way a basset hound pup looks.

I was intoxicated by her singing and piano playing, but then, at some point in the evening I started to grow bored. One problem was the crowd. The fans were dreadfully formal. This was music to swing to, like good jazz, but they hardly moved in their seats, and didn’t even reach out for their drinks. Sitting toward the back, I felt like I was in the midst of human-shaped props. They seemed like classical music fans who don’t want to disturb the music-making of a Maestro. Overawe in the face of a great artist, and mass shyness prevented the crowd from showing much emotion, except applause after songs.

Odani, for her part, didn’t do much to reach out to the crowd. There was her scintillating music that her talent wrought, but that was all she left on the table; you didn’t get a feel for the person behind the music. Between songs, she talked little and then haltingly, and at one point she explained she is shy with strangers. I got a feeling that here is an artist who never went through the process of gradually attracting fans at tiny clubs, going from zero. With her voice and her piano, maybe she was elevated from the beginning to big halls and major label album recording. She may never have had to learn to work a crowd. Not for her was saying lame jokes to make the audience laugh, or jumping around on stage to attract attention. (I don’t know any of this for a fact, but this was the impression I got.)

But in the end, her songs were deep and beautiful to listen to, and maybe the evening was a good change of pace. Not every night can be wild and ecstasy-creating, like evenings with a Plectrum or an Orange Plankton or a Farmstay.

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