Monday, December 19, 2005

The Automatics & Ron Ron Clou At Red Cloth

I’m pretty sure I was the only foreigner at the Shinjuku Red Cloth on Saturday night, and I think I was the oldest guy in the club as well. I stood out in a big crowd of late teen to early twenty-something Japanese music fans, many of whom seemed to be too young to have realized that chain-smoking has its consequences down the line—the hall was like a smoke pit. I wasn’t feeling too well, maybe I had come down with something due to the sudden winter chill in Tokyo, and about five minutes into the show I had grim visions of becoming a weird foreigner who fainted in a packed rock club.

In other words, conditions weren't perfect at the Red Cloth, but I’d seen worse, and in any case I had a mission that made me stick it out: to see the band Automatics for the first time.

Ron Ron Clou

The Automatics are one of the oldest and best bands on the great indie label K.O.G.A. Records. Another K.O.G.A. band, Ron Ron Clou, is a trio that plays retro sounding rock. Add the female vocalist Momoko Yoshino to Ron Ron Clou, have Yoshino write all the songs, and you get the Automatics.

At the Red Cloth show, Ron Ron Clou played a long set first, and when they were done Yoshino joined them to do a 15-minute show as the Automatics. Although neither Ron Ron Clou nor the Automatics is that well known even in Japan, the two have a small but devoted following, as you could see when they played. About a half-a-dozen girls hopped happily to the songs during Ron Ron Clou’s set, and when the Automatics started the rank of hoppers spread sideways so that most of the audience members in the front were bouncing up and down while the Automatics did their five songs.

Ron Ron Clou does gigs every once in a while in Tokyo, but the Automatics hardly ever play—as far as I know this was there first show in more than a year—and that boosted the club's excitement level. I liked both bands. Ron Ron Clou is a good combination of people: a thin sex symbol singer/guitarist (one girl in front of me videotaped him during the whole show, probably in an unofficial capacity), a bespectacled, big curly haired comedian on bass, and a super-calm but skilled drummer (he also helps out Swinging Popsicle).

The Automatics

Momoko Yoshino of the Automatics, meanwhile, is a remarkable singer because her voice is the most nasal, whiney-sounding I’ve ever heard, yet it sounds great. In person, she was a charming woman with short hair and a constant, big dimpled smile, and that unusual voice of hers was big, both when she sang and when she talked. The songs she writes have a 60’s rock feel, with a pinch of rockabilly tossed in (indeed, the guitarist and bassist of Ron Ron Clou both played Rickenbackers and Yoshino played some sort of Gibson ES guitar).

The Automatics played all my upbeat pop favorites—“Automatic Eraser”, “Goodnight My Sweetheart”, “Sweets Can Save Us” and “Yesterday’s Children” (most of these songs are in the Automatics’ classic album Quietude)—and every time Yoshino announced the next song, the crowd ooh-ed in appreciation. The show was much too short, but as it often happens by the end all my feeling of malaise had melted away and I headed out to the wintry streets of Shinjuku feeling rejuvenated.

No comments: