Friday, August 12, 2005

Food Band Night: Noodles Vs. Waffles

An alley in Yoyogi near the Zher the Zoo club. Posted by Picasa

Friday night at the Yoyogi Zher the Zoo club was the Battle of Food Bands Night. Headlining the event were two groups with edible names, the Noodles and the Waffles. Well, actually, there was also a guy guitar/girl drummer duo called Little Hayata that billed themselves as “the White Stripes of Osaka”, but I’ve never been that crazy about the White Stripes, and neither was I about this band.

OK, in reality the event was called something else, and the bands probably didn’t think they were in a musical “battle” with each other, but that’s the way I liked to think of it. The two Japanese groups, the Noodles and Waffles, are both good but so different that I wanted to see which one ended up playing a better show and capturing the hearts of more audience members.

To fast-forward ahead to my conclusion, I was more impressed by the Waffles and would have given them the victor’s trophy. But the Noodles were also enjoyable, enough to make me want to get a second serving.

As in past shows of the all-girl alternative rock trio, singer/guitarist Yoko was the energetic Noodle, swaying as she sang in the way she has of sounding both relaxed and passionate. Next to her Ikuno played bass and sang chorus with a fixed, mild smile on her face that made her look a bit mannequin-like. Ayumi, meanwhile, looking athletic in her short hair and golf shirt, pounded the drums with much power, as if she wanted to get a good workout.

During a break between songs (and keeping with my food theme), Yoko said her goal for the summer was to eat alone at new types of restaurants. She noted that Ikuno ate by herself at kaiten zushi joints, where you pick up sushi that’s going around on a conveyor belt, and she found that impressive. Equally impressive, Yoko said drummer Ayumi eats alone at Matsuya beef bowl restaurants, whose clientele for some reason or another is almost all male. But Yoko said she could only go alone to places like McDonald’s, and wanted to gather the courage to try out these more adventurous solo restaurant outings of her band mates.

It was pretty clear who in the audience was a Noodles fan and who was a Waffles fan. The Noodles fans wore rocker clothes and often had tattoos. The Waffles fans, on the other hand, looked like ordinary, mild-mannered college students for the most part. When the Waffles show started, it was also clear the show would be different from the Japanese girl grunge of the Noodles: the band members walked onto the stage to the Madonna tune “Holiday”.

As you can imagine from that song selection, the Waffles are a pop band, and their songs are a wonderfully catchy treat (you can song samples from their mini-album Orangery by clicking on the album icon here and scrolling down to the MP3 links). They have their own sound on stage: all of the ensemble’s sounds—piano, guitar, bass and drums—come through distinct, there’s pleasant space between the individual sounds, but they all come together to envelop vocalist/pianist Kyoko Ono’s gentle but impassioned voice, as well as the audience. The Noodles’ Yoko had said earlier that when she saw the Waffles rehearse, it felt like her “feelings were being washed”—‘kokoro ga arawareru’, a Japanese expression that is frequently used, but seemed appropriate in this case. In my case, I’d come to this show after a long week at work, and outside was hot and humid with heavy clouds in the sky that threatened to burst into torrential summer rain, but when I listened to the Waffles play, for the first time that evening I felt my tiredness fade.

The Waffles are a band you should see, if you can.

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