Saturday, March 05, 2005

Guitar Pop In Koenji

Snowball at the Penguin House. Posted by Hello

The town called Koenji, a few stops from the huge Shinjuku train station, has a reputation in Tokyo for being a rock ‘n’ roll neighborhood. Lots of musicians live there, and it has many rock clubs and bars. But it’s also a down-to-earth place filled with mom-and-pop stores around the train station -- as I walked to a club in Koenji called the Penguin House, I heard the shopkeeper of a vegetable store yelling out the bargains of the day, and saw a crowd of customers buying their ingredients for dinner. I was in Koenji to see a show featuring four ‘guitar pop’ bands – Lazy Spaniel, Snowball, Clean Distortion and Thurston – at the Penguin House, a live music bar.

Guitar pop is a genre of music I’ve come to enjoy while living in Japan. As a description of a type of music it isn’t precise in its boundaries, and in fact some bands that are called guitar pop bands don’t agree that that’s what they play, but it still is a useful way to classify bands. When you go to see a guitar pop band, you leave your angst at the door. It is bright and happy music, a music of celebration rather than catharsis. Great Japanese bands I think belong in the ‘guitar pop’ category include advantage Lucy, Vasallo Crab 75, Lost in Found and Miniskirt.

Lazy Spaniel at the Penguin House. Posted by Hello

Tonight at the Penguin House were a few other guitar pop bands that are good, but are little known outside of Japan (and in some cases, even inside Japan). There was Clean Distortion, a band originally from Osaka, whose members play classy pop tunes but who have an Osaka locals’ love for comedy, as becomes clear between songs, when the band members try to outdo each other to say the best jokes. There was Snowball, a duo that plays early-Beatles-like numbers and consists of Obata, a male guitarist/singer with a tenor voice and, Rika, a petite female keyboardist. They have just released a 1st album called wild wild party, which I bought after the show. The other two bands, Lazy Spaniel and Thurston, also put on good performances.

There were a few standout songs played by each of the bands, but the overall mood of the evening was to relax and take in all the good pop music. The atmosphere of Penguin House helped – a bar with wood-paneled walls and an ancient-looking standup piano on the stage, it was an ideal place to listen, with a small group of fans, to upbeat pop songs.

Clean Distortion at the Penguin House. Posted by Hello

On the way home from the show at Shinjuku station, I saw a guy running for a last train but his backpack was open and a mountain of documents dropped from it and covered the platform. Right away, five or six people bent down to help the embarrassed guy pick up his papers from the ground. Chivalry isn’t dead, even in the ‘urban desert’ of Tokyo!

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