Monday, June 28, 2004

Orange Plankton's Recording Session

Orange Plankton (minus drummer Tamarou) at their home studio. Posted by Hello

I'm playing a minor role in the recording of Japanese piano pop quarter Orange Plankton's 4th album. On Sunday I went to their home studio to help out.

This studio is also the home of Orange Plankton bassist Tsu-ji-, drummer Tamarou and manager Hiroki. It's on the 4th floor of an apartment building, and the musicians only play in the afternoon to avoid pissing off the neighbors. In a quiet residential area in Sakura-jousui in western Tokyo away from urban noise, the apartment is still not an ideal environment for recording: While I was there I could hear the American football club of Nippon University practicing outside (yes, American football. It's fairly popular among college kids), and crows and pigeons on the balcony.

They also have to turn off the air conditioning while they are recording to keep out the machine's sound. That means on hot days, they sweat. Everything is basic, yet they pull it off, making beautiful songs. Are there many things more moving than that? A group of musicians doing part-time jobs so they can afford to create lovely songs in a cramped apartment studio.

These guys, Orange Plankton, are one of my favorite Japanese bands. I was thrilled at the opportunity to sit in on one of their recording sessions, allowing me to see how they make their distinct, enveloping and sometimes swinging sound. They are picky. A long time was spent deciding whether one track of a few bars of music was better than another. For a non-member like me, the difference between the tracks sounded slight, but they decided one track was superior, and stiched those together to create a song. The results shined. It was inspiring.

It took more than six hours just to record the vocal part of the song I came to help out with. There are 12 songs planned for the new album -- this is all they'd been doing for weeks. This was hard work, but it wasn't difficult to understand the perfectionism that drove them. Once the album is pressed, there is no turning back, the sound is permanent. That album will be Orange Plankton for people who listen to only that album.

The album is due out in the middle of August. I'll tell you more about how I was involved in it when it comes out.

Yumi sings at recording session. Posted by Hello

Bassist Tsu-ji- recording. Posted by Hello

Friday, June 25, 2004

More Names - Vasallo Crab 75

Further to last post, in my quest to find out how Japanese bands come up with their names, I've made another discovery: why 'Vasallo Crab 75' is called that.

The truth of the matter: the two guys that formed the band, Daisuke Kudo and the late Takayuki Fukumura, were both born in 1975, or the Year of the Crab. Therefore, the 'Crab' and the '75'.

As for 'Vasallo', it refers to the swimming technique used by Daichi Suzuki, the 1988 Seoul Olympic gold medalist. The two thought it would be funny if a crab swam Vasallo style, and the name 'Vasallo Crab 75' was born.

This info is from an interview with Kudo published in the excellent Japanese indies music magazine Cookie Scene.

At this rate, I'll know the secret behind ALL the good Japanese bands by the end of 2004!

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

P.S., Burger Nuds; Names

As I was writing the last post on the Burger Nuds, I found in the Web a site that answered one of my minor Japanese rock questions: What in the world does the name "Burger Nuds" mean? In an interview (which is in Japanese and includes a portait of the Nuds, though I think they are better looking in person), the band members reveal the truth.

First, they explain, 'nuds' is English slang for someone who geekily gets too obsessed in things. ... Wait. Burger Nuds. Shouldn't that be 'nerds'?

As for 'Burger', the interview says that the band members ate burgers often at Wendy's, ergo, 'Burger'.

So, in reality what this band should have been called was Burger Nerds, a cool band name in itself, three rock music geeks who ate too many hamburgers (but remained rail-thin, the obnoxious nerds).

Having found this out, I must say I prefer Burger Nuds to Burger Nerds, because of the weirdness of the former. By the way, the band says their home page, filled now with messages from their aggrieved fans, will soon be discontinued, as will the sale of their albums. Sadness.


Writing about what Burger Nuds' name means got me thinking about where other good Japanese bands' names come from.

There is a whole group of bands with English people names, for example: Cecil, Winnie, and going back further in the past, Judy & Mary, Rebecca, and others.

There is Lucy, which people usually call the brilliant
In addition, Advantage Lucy. In their case I know the reason for their name. Advantage Lucy was originally called Lucy van Pelt, as in the Peanuts character who pulls the football away from Charlie Brown, but they decided to change it when they felt they might make it big (which they did) and the old name might cause problems. They therefore became advantage Lucy.

There are bands with mystery names: Qypthone, Moga the 5 Yen, Vasallo Crab 75, Condor 44 (the latter two examples of bands-with-names-with-numbers-after-cool-sounding-nouns. I think I've seen other examples of this), and many others.

For some bands, I know why they came to be called what they are.

Plectrum, for example, was given their name, which is another way to say 'guitar pick', by Teenage Fan Club.

Orange Plankton's 'Orange' reflects the fact that singer Yumi is from Ehime prefecture, a major producer of mikan, or Japanese orange, while the 'plankton' reflects their wish that the bands grows as fast as the sea-floating organism.

I now know the secret to Burder Nuds' name too, though a bit too late.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Goodbye, Burger Nuds

Tonight is the sold-out final show of Burger Nuds, at the Shinjuku Loft.

I made several half-hearted attempts to get tickets to the show, but was unsuccessful each time. First, I was planning to buy them from Pia, the ticket service, but forgot about when they would go on sale. The tickets sold out in less than half an hour.

I also tried Yahoo auction, where the tickets went on sale several times in the weeks before the Loft show. At one point I was willing to pay up to Y15,000 (about $140) for a pair, but someone outbid me at the last moment at Y15,500. My maximum bid would have worked out to Y7,500 a ticket, compared with the Y3,000 cover price. Not an exhorbitant mark-up, and if it were another band I might have paid more for a goodbye performance. But I didn't feel like forking out the big bucks (big yen, rather) for the Burger Nuds.

I would have liked to have seen the show if possible, but if I couldn't, that was that.

That was not a feeling shared by the legion of Burger Nuds fans, who for weeks had been posting their messages of lament on the band's home page BBS. Some of these fans wrote that they cried and suffered insomnia upon finding out the Nuds were splitting up.

Many of the hapless girls (and they were mostly girls) said that for one tactical error or another, they failed to buy the tickets -- they couldn't log on to Pia in time, for example. One complaint was that the Shinjuku Loft was too small a venue for the final performance of a popular band like the Burger Nuds. And that was probably true: Fairly recently the band had played at the Shinjuku Liquid Room, a much bigger hall, and it seemed to me they could have filled up other big clubs like the Quattro or O-West/O-East in Shibuya.

I'd seen them live three times, once in Nagoya, another time in the basement of Tower Records Shibuya, and most recently at the Liquid Room show mentioned above. A trio of good-looking twenty-something guys, they played with nervous precision their long and unfolding hard rock tunes. Although their songs dealt with poetic young adult angst-type subject matters (with titles like "Normal Abnormal" and "Candle for minority"), in person they were disarmingly down-to-earth and goofy without seeming to intend it.

For instance, the singer Monden made me almost giggle at the Liquid Room when he said something like, "Do you believe in magic? I can use magic, because the music I play can make you happy." Another time, at the Tower Records show, when the audience wouldn't leave because the show was so short and they wanted an encore, he stood at the exit saying they had to get out because their allotted time was over, then shook the hands of the dozens of girls leaving the place.

Sadly, there will soon be little record left that Burger Nuds existed. They said their record label won't print any more of their CDs, so once the disks are sold out in the stores, they are gone for good. At least they will live on for a while in the minds of all those girls, many of whom doubtless spent the evening in semi-hysterical tearfulness, who either made it to the show or didn't and imagined it at home. Goodbye, Burger Nuds.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Clicks in Yokohama

Bassist Chiharu of the Clicks. Posted by Hello

(Sorry about the bad quality of this photo - I didn't use a flash. But I wanted to post it anyway because of the so-cool "Rock 'n' Roll Street" in the background.)

This is, unintentionally, turning into a weekend of all-girl bands.

Last night I saw the Noodles in Shimokitazawa. Today, I went to Yokohama to see a three-girl trio, the Clicks.

I first found out about the Clicks when I saw a flier for their debut album in one of those bundles of fliers they give you at the door at Japanese rock clubs. Among the colorful advertisements, the Clicks' stood out. It featured three good-looking Japanese women in cocktail dresses -- and it was clear they weren't models but the actual musicians in the band. I speed-walked to Tower Records to buy their album, Come To Vivid Girl's Room.

The music in the album was straightforward hard rock/punk. Fun to listen to, bit nothing to write home about. But on my scale of rock band ratings, all-girl bands earn an additional 50 points, while those with girls wearing colorful cocktail dresses get 50 bonus points, so the Clicks were better than perfect. They immediately became a personal hit. I especially liked the last song on their album, a love ballad called 'Summer has gone'.

The show was at the Motomachi Gig, a Yokohama bar that usually plays 60's and 70's rock but has punk rock shows on weekends. The event took place after a rare, beautiful sunny day during the June rainy season, with an approaching typhoon causing the clouds to travel fast in the blue sky.

Yokohama Posted by Hello

The Clicks were in the same primary color dresses as they wore in the photo on their album cover. Somewhat unexpectedly, though, for a band whose members look like Moody Jazz Night at a hotel bar, the girls played with plentiful rock 'n' roll spirit. The Gig was home ground for them, according to what guitarist Yuko said during the show: Their first performance after forming in 1998 was in Yokohama (I was surprised that they had been around that long).

I didn't have a chance to talk to the band members, but they're playing at the Shinjuku Red Cloth next week, so maybe then.

Drummer Yuki and guitarist Yuko of the Clicks. Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Vasallo Crab 75/Noodles/Salt Water Taffy

Noodles singer Yoko in her watermelon outfit. Posted by Hello

Wow. Vasallo Crab 75. They made the rock club tonight as hot as a basement on a Tokyo summer day with the air conditioning down.

This 5-man alternative music band has topped Japanese indies charts recently, and they are creating a buzz in the Tokyo live music scene. Watching them live at Shimokizawa Club Que, it's not hard to see why.

They played for 40 minutes without stopping, creating a sound feast with musical ingredients like psychedelia, funk, pop and a bit of punk. Vasallo even puts an electrical vioin to good use -- it makes some of their melodies sound a bit like psychedelic-era Prince. (Singer Daisuke Kudo is a big Prince fan, according to the band's home page.)

Vasallo was the band Takayuki Fukumura belonged to before he passed away last year of heart disease. At one of their past shows, a band member said the truth was that even after months had passed, they hadn't gotten over his death. But at the same time, it seems the spirit of Fukumura drives the band members to make intense, beautiful music. What a band Fukumura left behind!


The Noodles were the first act of the evening, followed by Vasallo. It was my second time seeing the all-girl band live. The singer of Salt Water Taffy, the final act of the night, described the Noodles well: She said they are 'kawaii' -- cute -- and 'kakkoii' -- cool. A musical group of four women in Tokyo playing heavy but catchy original rock tunes is the definition of cool.

The band recently went on a U.S. tour, photos of which can be seen on their home page by clicking on the map of America on the floor. They visited McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California. I only mention this because the fine store is a 5-minute walk from my parent's home.

Yoko, Noodles' singer, claimed she'd forgotten about tonight's show and that's why she was wearing a T-shirt that made her look like a watermelon.


It was my first time to Salt Water Taffy. They were a quirky bunch -- the singer, whose name I don't know, scolded (half-jokingly, I think) the bassist for messing up a part, and she ran off stage in the middle of the set to change into a T-shirt from a tanktop that kept on trying to slip off of her. But they played good hard rocking music.

Vasallo Crab 75 Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Orange Plankton at Shibuya Deseo

Orange Plankton Posted by Hello

Tonight's show is piano pop quartet Orange Plankton, back in Tokyo after touring a number of Japanese cities. They have just released a new single, 'Ai no youna' -- 'something like love' (my translation). A new album, their fourth, is coming up in August.

Singer Yumi. In the background, bassist Tsu-ji- and drummer Tamarou. Posted by Hello

Yuki on keyboard. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Cloudberry Jam at Shibuya Duo

Shibuya Duo, where Cloudberry Jam played. Posted by Hello

On Friday night in Tower Records Shibuya before heading to a club, I found the new album 'Movin' On Up' by Cloudberry Jam, and a sticker on the cover saying they were playing in Tokyo on Tuesday and Wednesday. I rushed home to reserve tickets on Pia's web page. This Swedish pop band was a group whose show I didn't want to miss. They were a favorite band of advantage Lucy and probably a lot of other Japanese musicians who were into Sweden's pop music.

Cloudberry Jam was playing at a club called Shibuya Duo, which I had never heard of. It was in the corner of the Dogenzaka love hotel district that contains the Shibuya-O rock clubs. The street in front of the clubs always fills up with music fans once shows end, the fans mixing together with couples walking toward their destinations in the neighborhood.

As soon as we entered Duo, we knew it was a class joint. First, there were tables and chairs. Waitresses took your drink orders, and you could order food too. In normal rock 'live houses', by contrast, you stand in basement-like rooms and order drinks from bartenders exhibiting varying degrees of job apathy. Duo was like the dinner club in GoodFellas that Ray Liotta took Lorraine Bracco to in order to impress her. All the class didn't come cheap though: the tickets alone cost about $70 a piece, and that didn't include the charge for food and drinks.

Cloudberry Jam was seven people -- the singer, guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, sax and trombone. The female singer Jennie Medins had a full, deep voice and R&B stage moves. I wondered whether she grew up listening to American music like Motown, soul and R&B. If that's the case, it would mean the Swedish singer who influenced Japanese musicians herself got her inspiration from American pop. Though good musicians are usually influenced by many types of music, not only one. The chains that bind musicians together wind around the world in complex patterns.

Love hotel street outside of Duo. Posted by Hello

Friday, June 11, 2004


Walking back home from Shibuya after the aborted club experience I talked about in the last post, I listened to Mission of Burma's song "Falling" from their new album. I'd just read music journalist Michael Azerrad's profile of Mission of Burma in his book "Our Band Could Be Your Life", how the band was forced to call it quits because of their guitarist's ear problems, so it came as a pleasant shock to find their first album in 21 years (!), ONoffON, on sale in Tower Records Shibuya recently. Was Roger Miller's ear problem cured?

Japan has entered its June rainy season and this year's Typhoon #4 has landed in Kochi prefecture in western Japan, and therefore it was pouring as I walked home. Trudging through the concrete canyon of Meiji street in heavy rain, the song 'Falling', whose lyrics I listened to seriously for the first time, seemed strangely appropriate to the night.

'Falling' is an eerie song. It's about a guy who had fallen from a skyscraper. It has lines like "I was falling through the air/From the tallest building/away ok away" and "I could see the future rushing up to meet me/Between the seconds split into smaller parts". The 'fall' is probably a metaphor for something, but I wondered, walking, whether the image of the suicide jumpers from the World Trade Center on 9-11 inspired, consciously or subconsciously, the image.

Maybe it was just the gloominess of the rainy night and the fact that many raindrops were falling from the heavens that made me feel the song was the right one for tonight. At the same time, bad weather, people-less streets and a dark song on headphones sometimes makes you realize that always, all your life, you're descending slowly.


Tonight I was planning to go to a DJ event featuring Yoshiharu Konishi, the creator of Pizzicato Five's music. Konishi is a big collector of obscure pop and jazz records, and listening to his choice disks at the event's tiny venue, the Organ Bar in Shibuya, seemed a good way to spend a few hours of an evening. But I ended up not going -- there was a time zone problem.

I'm used to Tokyo 'live house' time. Shows at live house rock halls start early, with the opening band usually hitting the stage around 7 P.M. They wrap up about 10 P.M. in most cases. The bar where Konishi's event took place, on the other hand, opened at 9 P.M. I got to the club around 9:30 after wandering around wasting time in Shibuya, but when I entered, there was no door man and no customers, and there was just a DJ (not Konishi) playing some music.

If at 9:30 there's no one, I thought to myself, then the club probably won't start filling up for another hour or so at the earliest. Even then, Konishi, being a big deal, might not play his records for another hour or two. That means what I'd come to listen to possibly won't happen until midnight. I wasn't sure whether on a Friday after a long week of work, I'd last that long.

Maybe it's just conditioning, but I prefer the shape of an early rock show night to a DJ club event night. In an early rock show night, you have a few drinks during the show, then when it's done get food and more booze, sometimes with the band members, and collapse after a few hours. In contrast, when people go to a club late at night, what do they spend all the hours in the evening before the show doing? Do they watch TV? Do they have dinner? But if they drink during the meal, wouldn't they be burnt out by around 3 A.M. or so? I like the rocket-like progression of a Tokyo rock show evening where your excitement is built up steadily by the music, you fly high in celebration after the show, then come crashing down to earth in a few hours.

My guess is that the rock live houses start and close early because for one thing, many of its customers live an hour or more away by one of the Tokyo commuter trains, and they need to leave at a decent time. A DJ club is a different matter: there, people go assuming they will stay until morning to catch the first train of the day home. Different life style choices.

I'd been to Organ Bar before to see the band Qypthone, and there was the same issue. The bar had opened at 9 P.M. but even after midnight the band hadn't played and we decided to leave because we'd simply run out of things to talk about and do. The event made me uncomfortable in the same way as a cocktail party filled with strangers. Qypthone used to play early shows at rock clubs until a few years ago, but now in Tokyo they appear to perform exclusively at the Organ Bar. I'm not sure why they made that change.

One of these nights, though, I want to go to the Organ Bar sufficiently late with enough energy to party into the early hours of the day, and see Qypthone and Konishi. Fortunately, their shows are held every month.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

House Plan!

I first became a fan of House Plan! around 1999, when they played from time to time in Shimokitazawa, a Tokyo neighborhood filled with music clubs and stores. I found out about them because they were playing in the same multi-band event as Qypthone, who I had gone to see -- a good example of how, often, bands that are radically different appear together at the same clubs in Tokyo's live indies music scene. Qypthone (pronounced Kip-thone) played music that is pop, techno, jazzy and sophisticated. House Plan, on the other hand, was a spirited punk rock band that did fast and fun tunes. They came from one of the prefectures east of Tokyo -- the equivalent of San Pedro versus LA (like Minutemen), or New Jersey versus Manhattan.

The trio stood out. Like a hard rock Beastie Boys, the guitarist, bassist and drummer took turns mid-song doing the singing. There was nothing deep in their songs, which had titles like 'Ninja Force', 'Psycho' and 'Les Yes' (about a guy's depression upon finding out that a girl he has a crush on turned out to be a lesbian), but their hard rocking songs were fast and aggressive without being too serious.

Then I left Tokyo for a couple of years, and when I came back they had disappeared. I checked the Internet, but all I could find were references to their career in the late-90's. Did the band members get bored of the music scene and quit? Did they become ordinary salarymen? I soon wrote House Plan off as a good band that was gone, and forgot about them.

Until one day, when the intricate web of Japan's music scene led me back to the band, in their current form. One night I saw a show that included the band Poly ABC, one of whose songs appeared in a compilation album that also featured advantage Lucy and the Cymbals (the album is called Killermont Street). A few weeks or months later, I went to a show by the Banks, led by the former singer of the band Hoff Dylan. I noticed that the bassist for the Banks was the same guy as Poly ABC's bassist. Upon further research I found out that the musician went by the nickname Umu. And, in a big surprise, Umu also played bass for House Plan.

After that, I went to see House Plan last month in Shinjuku's ACB Hall, advertised on Umu's home page. They were a different band from the one I had seen in '99. For one thing, there wasn't the tossing-of-hot-potato-like switching between band members of lead vocal parts. The band members themselves were different. From what I've been able to figure out, members of the Beat Crusaders, one of the more popular indies bands, left and joined House Plan, which by then consisted only of the guitar/singer Tatsuyoshi Genda. The new House Plan was still a hard rock band, but their music seemed more mature than when I last saw them, and they had written a bunch of songs and were working on a new album. I plan on seeing more of House Plan.

Monday, June 07, 2004

advantage Lucy

From left: Ishizaka of advantage Lucy, Acky Fujita of Plectrum, Aiko of Lucy and Taisuke Takata of Plectrum, in Seoul. Posted by Hello

Advantage Lucy's singer Aiko said at Saturday's show that the band is releasing their new album in autumn. That's great news for Lucy fans. It's been three years since the Japanese pop band's two EPs, 'Anzu no Kisetsu' (Season of Apricot) and 'Oolt Cloud' came out. Judging by the quality of their the new songs they've been playing at recent shows, this new album is sure to be a gem.

But the high quality of the new album won't come as a surprise. All of the music that advantage Lucy has made in their eight years of existence has been excellent. 'Guitar pop' is one way to describe their sound, a sound reminding one of Swedish pop and bands like Ivy, Club 8 and the Smiths.

Most of their songs are in Japanese, but some are in English. The English lyrics to one song, called 'fizz pop' (from the album 'Station'), strike me as one of the simplest and most straightforward descriptions of how it feels to love music that I've ever heard. The main refrain goes:

It's so funny
It's so sunny
It's so lovely
It's so funky
Makes me happy
Makes me dizzy
It's so simple -
can't explain it.

It hasn't been smooth sailing for advantage Lucy. To begin with, they haven't had a full-time bassist since the beginning, in the mid-90's, when they were called Lucy van Pelt. They signed with the major label Toshiba EMI and hit the peak of their popularity around 1999, but then left the label to create their own, called 'Solaris Records'. One of their guitarists, Takayuki Fukumura, quit during the major label days and later formed a band called Vasallo Crab 75. But last year, he passed away of heart illness, only 28 years old.

Lucy's show right after his death, on Dec. 6 at a club called Live Inn Rosa in Ikebukuro, is one I'll never forget. At the start of the show, Aiko said only that they will play old songs that night, without elaborating. The fans knew, though, that those old songs were in tribute to Fukumura (a guy who, from everything I've heard was a sweet, optimistic, ever-cheerful person despite his chronic illness). It was only after an emotional set that lasted about an hour and a half that Aiko talked about Fukumura. The club became so quiet that you could have heard a guitar pick drop. And then she asked for applause in memory of Fukumura. It was long, loud and sustained applause -- a farewell to a rock 'n' roller.

Meanwhile, the drummer, Kaname Banba, developed a condition that made him unable to use one of his legs for drumming, and he hasn't been active in Lucy (though he's playing in another band called Orang, adjusting the drum set so he doesn't have to use one leg. Watching the joyful way Banba played in Orang at one show made me wish I had seen Lucy perform when they were him, Aiko, Ishizaka and Fukumura).

So, the band advantage Lucy has been reduced to its creative core - guitarist Ishizaka, who makes the music, and Aiko, who writes the lyrics, backed by guitarist Taisuke Takata of the band Plectrum, Manabu Chigasaki, a bassist for several bands, and Kimitoshi Sotomura, a veteran drummer.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Lucy at Shinjuku Red Cloth

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. 

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

An Introduction

This is a journal about Tokyo's rock music scene. It begins on a good night as any to embark on this project: the evening before a show at the Shinjuku Red Cloth, featuring the Japanese pop bands advantage Lucy, Lost in Found, Snow Ball and Sloppy Joe. Your guide, you see, is a devoted Lucy fan. Their shows are always a major event for me, a time to see brilliant musicians in person, hear them play the songs that have become personal favorites, and listen to their new music that takes them in fresh and unexpected directions. But for a band that I think is one of the best in Japan, advantage Lucy plays in modest settings, usually basement clubs in Tokyo that house a couple of hundred people at most, about once a month. More on them later. Tomorrow, I'll walk through Kabukichou, Tokyo's biggest red light district, to get to Red Cloth, a relatively new rock club, pay 2,500 yen for the door charge, buy beer, and settle back in one corner of the club to take in great music.

That's what I've been doing a lot of for about a year now -- I often go to two or three shows a week in this city that is an Asian rock 'n' roll center. How big og a scene is this? Just buy a copy of the Weekly Pia entertainment magazine, open the live pop music section, and there in front of you are pages after pages in small print of names of bands (some of which are totally weird, including 'Hotbitchis Marie', 'Baby Juice', 'Bo-Peep' and 'CIPHER BREAKA') who are scheduled to play in the more well-known clubs. There are hundreds of other smaller clubs, bars, and performance spaces that aren't listed in the magazine, where the music that's performed is sometimes as compelling as that at the bigger venues. After work and on weekend nights, I set out to catch shows at entertainment centers in Tokyo like Shibuya, Shimokitazawa and Shinjuku.

There are also vast assortments of record and music software stores, guitar and musical instrument shops, music book and magazine stores, and even a guidebook to tell you what's where. A trip to Tokyo is a pilgrimage to the great sites of J-pop (Japanese pop). One Grand Temple is Tower Records Shibuya, a seven-story yellow monster of a building containing music of all major genres from all over the world. There, in the independent music section of the J-pop floor (the 2nd floor), I discovered unforgettable bands like advantage Lucy, Orange Plankton, Art-School, Burger Nuds, Moga The 5 Yen and many others. Going to see these groups play live has also been a chance to watch shows of other good bands on the same billing. I want to tell you about these musicians in this journal.