Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Noodles, Zeppet Store, Auto Pilot

Auto Pilot at the Que. Posted by Hello

The Noodles, the Japanese all-girl band that's now a trio after the recent departure of its lead guitarist, played tonight at the Que one day after their return from a U.S. tour. They said they were jet-lagged. Drummer Ayumi said she was almost left behind in Denver when her plane flying from New York made a stopover there on the way to Seattle. She thought Denver was Seattle.

"I didn't know if I would be able to come home," she told the audience. "If not, I would have had to find work there."

Anyone reading this see them in the U.S.?

It was my first time to see the Noodles as a trio, and I have to say, I miss Junko the lead guitarist. The Noodles said in their interview with that they aren't looking for a new lead guitar, but with only one guitarist the band's sound isn't as full as I remember it.

One observation: I noticed that singer Yoko's speaking voice is higher than her singing voice. Usually with Japanese female singers it's the other way around.

Zeppet Store at the Que, watched by bopping female fans. Posted by Hello

A loud, straightforwardly rocking quartet, Zeppet Store, the second act of the night, reminded me a bit of proto-grunge bands like Soundgarden and Mudhoney. Maybe it was partly their late 80's hippie hair, though theirs was carefully sculpted with gel and hair dryers to look unwashed and unkempt, rather than actually being those things. They were popular with the girls, who bopped around next to the stage and pumped their arms in the air.


The third and final band of the night, Auto Pilot, I had confused with another band I saw once and I liked, Afterpilot. In fact when I entered Que and the ticket seller asked me which band I'd come to see (they ask that to divide up the ticket revenue between bands), I answered 'Afterpilot'. A confused look on the ticket seller's face for a second or two, then she asked, "Do you mean Auto Pilot? Are you sure this is the show that you want to see?" I said yes, yes, silly me, I meant Auto Pilot (though actually I thought I was going to see Afterpilot...).

But I'm glad I made that mistake and voted for Auto Pilot, because they were an excellent band, the best of the night. The quintet plays shoegazing type music (the singer's guitarist has a sticker of the band Ride on it) with bits of punk and trance influence mixed in, and lots of feedback and repeated driving bass lines. I have a major weakness for that sort of sound.

Though the band rocked, the audience seemed to consider them something of an intellectual band to be watched from a safe distance, and reverently left space open in the front of the stage so that the back half of the Que was packed but there were few people in the front. Auto Pilot was selling their CDs after the show, and I bought their album White Light Ride. It's discoveries like these that keep me addicted to Japanese music.

Monday, March 28, 2005

INTERVIEW: Orange Plankton

Orange Plankton: from the left, bassist Tsuji-, singer Yumi, drummer Tamarou, and pianist Yuki. Posted by Hello

I interviewed members of Tokyo piano pop band Orange Plankton more than a year ago for a project, but so far the project hasn't seen the light of day. In the meantime I've decided to share some of what I talked about with the group in Japan Live. The interview took place right after their third album Fanciful Garden came out, but before the release of their latest album, Wakusei Note (which is my favorite album of 2004). It was a long conversation, so I've trimmed it down to just the parts talking about music-making and the origins of Orange Plankton.


JAPAN LIVE: I've heard that the 'orange' in Orange Plankton refers to the Japanese orange from Ehime prefecture [in western Japan, where Yumi is from]. Is that true?

YUMI: Yes. And also, it's the color of the sun. And with that sunlight, we make the plankton multiply. That's the image.

JAPAN LIVE: How was the band Orange Plankton formed?

TSUJI-: Originally when we were in Osaka we had one other member who played the guitar, and the guitarist and I were in a (rock music) club in college, and we decided to form a new band. So we put up flyers seeking other band members at various musical instrument stores and practice studios, and the people that responded to the flyer became the band.

JAPAN LIVE: What was your first impression of each other?

YUMI: It was my first time in a band, and I had this image of band people having bleached blond hair and wearing lots of pierced jewelry and I was expecting those sorts of people in the band, but then Tsuji- showed up, and I thought, 'How simple!'.

YUKI: I also thought (looking at the other band members), 'simple'. Yumi looked very child-like. But when I met the other four band members they subjected me to a barrage of questions, and I got the feeling that these are pure, serious people.

JAPAN LIVE: What made you decide to be in Orange Plankton?

YUKI: I quite simply wanted to play the piano in a band. [Yuki is a classically-trained pianist.] I had a strong desire to play in a band, but only recently I've started to realize what I really want to do. At first, I thought we might be doing more intense music. What we ended up doing isn't exactly quiet music, but it is a band centered on the piano as I wanted.

TSUJI-: When I decided around high school that I want to be in a band, I liked hard rock and would copy bands like Queen, but when we formed this band, I thought we should do music with originality, like Radiohead. Now we don't aim to be like any particular artist. We try to create our own sound.

TAMAROU: I started playing the drums when I was in college, and I was covering well-known songs in a college club, and I was also in another band before I joined Orange Plankton but they weren't that interesting. And then I met Orange Plankton and they had this atmosphere that I'd never seen anywhere else, and that came out in their music too, and I thought 'this is interesting' and I decided to join them.


JAPAN LIVE: What do you find is most difficult about being in a band?

YUMI: I sometimes feel that I want to sing a little more this way or that but I'm not able to, or I want to make the sound a little different but I'm not able to express that to the others. When it's like that, sometimes practice does the trick, but other times I need to try to figure out what exactly it is I want to do. That's a difficult thing.

JAPAN LIVE: How do you overcome the difficulties?

YUMI: First, so I know what I want to say, I try things like drawing a picture, and once I know what it is I'm looking for, I communicate that to the other members, again, doing various things such as writing it out or drawing pictures.

JAPAN LIVE: Do you understand what Yumi is trying to express with her pictures?

YUKI: Yes, gradually I've come to understand them. Though at first I didn't at all.

TSUJI-: One song we are working on now ['Iwa Kaesu Kaze No Oto' in their Wakusei Note album], Yumi's image of it was of the Mongolian steppe, but I didn't really understand what she was trying to express just looking at the lyrics alone, but then she drew a picture of her image and showed it to me. It was a picture of a girl standing alone in a great field, with a big tree next to her, and when I saw that drawing I was able to get a better sense of what sort of music to play.


JAPAN LIVE: How do you create your lyrics?

YUMI: When I write the music to songs myself, I come up with the lyrics at the same time that I create the music. Also, after I read a book or watch a movie or meet someone, I get an impression and I write lyrics to express that impression.

Besides me, Tsuji- and Yuki also write the music to songs, and when I do the lyrics for their songs I attach a lot of importance to the impression I got when I listened to the music for the first time. That lets me write words that aren't inside me.

JAPAN LIVE: When do you write lyrics?

YUMI: Mostly I write at night. I write when it's late at night and it's very quiet.

JAPAN LIVE: Many of your songs use colors as imagery, for example 'Akai Aka' ['A Crimson Red'] and 'Midori No Kotori' ['A Little Green Bird']. Do you consciously use colors as imagery in your songs?

YUMI: I've been told before that I use color a lot. It's not a conscious thing, but colors make it easier to create an image, and I end up using them a lot.

JAPAN LIVE: You also use 'garden' often, for example, in the title of your album [Mizu no Niwa literally means 'Garden of Water', though it's been translated into English by the band as 'Fanciful Garden'.]

YUMI: I try to use words that let people form different images. In the case of colors, people get different images from the color red, but they do get an image. A garden is the same sort of thing.

JAPAN LIVE: Does a garden have a special image for you?

YUMI: It has an image of a partitioned space where anything can be created. I always have an image of there being a garden in my mind.

JAPAN LIVE: What do you mean by 'Garden of Water' [the literal translation of Orange Plankton's third album]?

YUMI: 'Garden of Water' is, well, Orange Plankton's music is a partitioned thing, and when someone listens to Orange Plankton, it's like a garden that we want people to enter. Also, by naming it 'Garden of Water', it helps expand a person's image, though everyone will have a different image, with some maybe thinking of, say, an underwater metropolis.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Winnie, Spaghetti Vabune, $2000 Panda

The Aprils' panda. Posted by Hello

Guitar pop was the theme tonight at the Shibuya O-Nest, where four good bands played: Lost in Found, winnie, Aprils and Spaghetti Vabune.

I was especially looking forward to seeing winnie, who only recently started perfoming live after a one-year hiatus. Their mini-album released 2003, first class speed of light, is one of my favorite recent Japanese pop-rock albums. I included it in my list of 5 Dreamy, Distortion-Heavy Japan Rock CDs, of Japanese groups that are musical descendants of My Bloody Valentine. Looking at winnie's website, it looks like the band members are more into pop and rock bands like Teenage Fanclub, Wannadies and Ivy than My Bloody Valentine, but I still do hear a little of MBV in winnie's music. Less sonic experimentation and heavy distortion, but the same focus on creating catchy melodies with overdriven guitars and girl-guy duo singing parts.

Tonight at the O-Nest they played some new songs in Japanese (all the songs in first class were in English), which were good. They are a nice looking band on stage -- the guy singer Okuji hunches forward toward the mike as he sings, as if about to leap into the audience, while Iori, the girl singer, stands straight, looking peacefully contented. Tall for a Japanese woman, with long henna-dyed hair, she wore jeans and high heels, and with those heels she stepped on her guitar effect pedals, which I thought was the coolest thing.

Winnie at the O-Nest. Posted by Hello

I've been to Aprils and Lost in Found shows before, but this was my first time to see Spaghetti Vabune! , a guitar pop band from western Japan. The one song of theirs I knew and liked, 'Jetset star' in a compilation album by the Japanese guitar pop indie label bluebadge, they played as the final song of their set before the encore (they were the last band of the night). A group that plays bright and energetic pop, they were loved by the dozens of well-dressed guitar pop fans in the audience.

At one point between songs, the girl singer held up a hand puppet of a cow, which announced to the fans in a high-pitched bovine (?) voice that a new album was in the works. This impressive feat of ventriloquism was accomplished by having a drummer talk into the mike in a falsetto voice while the singer flapped the puppet cow's mouth. Cutely wacky, in a way that maybe shouldn't be surprising coming from a band that calls itself Spaghetti Vabune. ('Vabune' is like 'zoom' in English, the sound of a rocket flying in the air.)


The Aprils' future dance pop isn't quite my thing, but there's no doubt their shows are fun. In the middle of the set, an aqua and white stuffed panda hobbled onto stage and swung its arms around to the songs, as the guy singer Imai urged the crowd to look at him rather than the panda. The panda outfit is said to have cost around 200,000 yen (about $2,000), paid for by the band's record label.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Japan Live, Interviewed

I was interviewed by the cool folks over at Japan music website, and the article has just been published here. If you check it out, be sure to spend some time looking through the rest of their site too. It's a comprehensive, well-designed site with several people on the staff, and contains lots of great features and interviews, including a wonderfully minimalist interview of girl band Noodles (sample exchange: KEIKAKU.NET: Is being a noodle a full-time job, or do the band members have other occupations? NOODLES: No.).

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Advantage Lucy; Nekobed

Nekobed at the Shibuya Cyclone. Posted by Hello

It’s been getting clear recently that Tokyo rock band advantage Lucy’s very, very long-awaited new album is nearing completion and release .

You can tell by the way they’ve been scheduling their shows – rather than playing with other guitar pop bands of friends, as they usually do, they’ve jumped into events with unfamiliar groups in different genres, to make a wider audience of people that might buy their album interested in their music. Last Sunday it was the Que show with Kawakami Jiro and the Robots. Tonight they performed with a few rocking bands including Nekobed (literal translation: ‘cat bed’).

They also seem even more focused when playing live, to show their new audiences their best face.

Appearing tonight at a venue called Shibuya Cyclone, advantage Lucy were spectacular. No band is quite like Lucy at their best. They occupy a pleasant place in the middle of musical extremes: Lucy rocks harder than most pop bands, but they are classier than hard rock bands. They are like a rocking chamber orchestra, the sound of each instrument distinct (two guitars, a bass, drums, and recently, keyboard played by singer Aiko) but coming together to form a beautiful musical whole.

Aiko’s singing is superb. Shyly friendly in person, she seems to come fully to life only on stage, where, with her singing, she squeezes out all her emotions and intense love for her music.

The show – a feast. It was a six-course meal of their most well-crafted songs, including rousing renditions of ‘Citrus’, ‘Chikyu’, ‘Goodbye’ and a new, melancholic ballad called ‘To-Ii Hi (‘A Distant Day ‘, my translation)’. I still feel happily stuffed.


The last act of the night was Nekobed, a sextet that plays music that combines elements of 50's rock, rockabilly, ska, R&B, and Japanese popular music. It’s hard to dislike a band where the two sax players and singers are beauties and the three all stand at the front of the stage during the show, dancing and having fun.


UPDATE: I should have added that the members of advantage Lucy themselves said the new album is likely to come out in the summer.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Orange Plankton On Street; Robots

Orange Plankton in Shibuya, in front of NHK. Posted by Hello

In front of the NHK television studio in Shibuya is a pathway where on weekends, garage rock groups, interpretative dancers, comedians and others come to perform for strollers, each group occupying a small patch of the sidewalk . It’s noisy and colorful, like an impromptu carnival. Tokyo pop band Orange Plankton has been playing here for free on recent Sunday afternoons, and I went to check them out.

The spontaneous weekend gathering of performers in Shibuya is a tradition going back at least two decades. When I first came to Japan I didn’t think much of these often exhibitionistic but incompetent performances, but then one night in the mid-90's I went to see Fugazi play at the Ebisu Guilty, and one of the members of Fugazi said something on stage that made me look at these street bands in a different light. At the time, authorities had prohibited the playing of amplified music in the area, and so the gatherings had disappeared. The Fugazi guy (memory fails on which one it was) asked on stage, what happened to all those bands that used to play on the street in Shibuya, it was so exhilarating to see so many bands playing in one place. That’s when I realized, yeah, many of these bands might be little more than noise pollution, but still it’s a great thing to form a band and create music, and try out your music with the public.

Another picture of Orange Plankton in Shibuya. Posted by Hello

In the years since, the police have cracked down on the performances every once a while but recently have been turning a blind eye, or more accurately, a deaf ear to the street gigs as long as the amps aren’t turned up too loudly. So Orange Plankton along with other bands have been playing here.

Despite it being mid-March it was a cold Sunday afternoon and on the way to Shibuya, snow as big as ashes started to fall from the sky. Orange Plankton was there in front of NHK (they had done their first show of the day in the snow!), and soon began a set of about half an hour. The amps were turned down low to avoid getting in trouble with the cops. To one side of the band was a jazz group, and across from them was a wannabe girl-idol punk band, and because everyone was playing at once it was hard to hear the songs. But when I focused I could hear their familiar songs, like sifting for gold in a sandy river of noise.

I only listened to one set but they did several more later in the day, and I wished I could see those too. In Orange Plankton’s BBS, I read that one guy took the bullet train from Nagano prefecture just to see them play, then went to the airport to catch a flight to Fukuoka where he actually lives (!). If you are in Shibuya on a Sunday and see these musicians, stop and give them a listen. That will make their day.


AT NIGHT advantage Lucy played at the Que in Shimokitazawa at an event also featuring a solo artist named Kawakami Jiro (formerly of a band called Kusu Kusu) and a band called the Robots (led by the ex-guitarist of Judy & Mary, Takuya). Those are three popular musical units, and the Que was packed.

It was a strange night. Kawakami plays R&B-type songs, the Robots soft punk, advantage Lucy does guitar pop, and the fans of each artist didn’t mix at all with the other two’s fans. During the show of, say, Kawakami, the Robots and Lucy fans by and large seemed indifferent or bored.

Advantage Lucy did the show because they thought it would be a good chance to introduce themselves to music fans who aren’t familiar with their music, and they played a lot of their oldies like ‘Goodbye’, ‘Kaze ni Azukete’ and ‘Metro’. They played beautifully, though guitar pop just isn’t as flashy as R&B or hard rock, and I wondered whether they were able to convert many of the musically benighted to Lucy fandom. For my part I was knocked out by a new ballad of theirs called ‘Time After Time’, but being surrounded by weird Robots and Kawakami fans helped me keep my emotions in check.


The Robots played last, and I was much more excited about them and had much more fun than I thought it would. Part of it is that I used to be a huge Judy & Mary fan, buying all their CDs etc. (and I still like them), and here was Takuya the guitarist in a small club rather than the humongous halls he used to play in with JAM. Plus the Robots really rocked. Takuya performed with skill and total confidence in himself bordering on the cocky, like a rocking Che Guevara.

I’d heard that as a kid Takuya was a juvenile delinquent that was kicked out of the worst high school in town (don’t know this for a fact though), a true ‘yankee’, the bizarre term the Japanese give to bad kids (maybe because the kids often bleach their hair to make themselves blond?). And he had the attributes of a ‘yankee’: bleached blond hair; triangular eyes that stared with attitude; sunken cheeks; a Sid Vicious snarl. But he would also often flash a boyish smile, which along with his good looks and rough charm may have partly explained the large number of girl fans in the audience, despite his frequently saying very inappropriate things on stage (he was, for example, talking about the snow earlier in the day, and when some in the audience questioned whether it was true it snowed, he said yes it did in Tokyo, but maybe you wouldn’t know it if you trained in from the sticks to see the show. He also made a joke about, er, unwanted pregnancy...).

It was a raw, rocking show that reminded me that Judy & Mary, despite the cuteness of Yuki’s singing voice and the pop rock arrangement of many of their songs, was a band that had its roots in punk rock (though maybe a pop Japanese version of punk).

And another. Posted by Hello

Friday, March 11, 2005

Waffles and Mirrorball-Rock Disco

Vasallo Crab 75 at the Que. Posted by Hello

Shimokitazawa’s Club Que featured three fabulous bands on Friday night: Plectrum, Waffles, and Vasallo Crab 75. I’m a big fan of all three, but since I’ve already written so much about Plectrum and Vasallo, before the event I was planning to focus on the Waffles, a pop quartet led by the singer and keyboardist Kyoko Ono. However, Vasallo Crab 75, who was the last act, put on such a wonderful show, turning the floor into a mass dance zone with their funky pop music, that I need to talk about them first.

It was the first of four monthly shows at the Que organized by Vasallo called "Mirrorball-Rock Disco", and in line with the theme, before the live show the DJ played disco classics, and a mirror ball and strips of reflecting sheets on the wall behind the stage shone in rainbow colors. The members of Vasallo marched on stage dressed up like characters in a hip 70's TV show – singer Daisuke Kudo wore a jacket but was bare-chested except for a silky scarf.

As with the disco theme tonight, Vasallo’s shows are never boring because they are constantly trying out new things on stage, though some of their experiments are more successful than others (for a period, they played in near total darkness other than a lone lit mirror ball). Musically, their innovation is to mix in funk to guitar pop and add an electric violin for a classical music touch. Teenage Fanclub meets James Brown and Bach may sound like a recipe for dissonance, but it works for them.

Tonight, Vasallo’s non-stop funky bass lines worked up the normally shy audience of guitar pop fans into a dancing frenzy. In the middle of the show, an excited singer Kudo tossed the hat he was wearing into the audience. He later said that he was going to give the hat to whoever caught it, but at the same time he liked the hat and was a bit reluctant to let it go. Perhaps sensing Kudo’s latter sentiment, the fan who caught the hat immediately threw it back to Kudo. Not knowing what to do, Kudo then tossed it over to the violin and bass guys. They then lobbed the hat back into the audience, and this time it hit my poor friend Dr. I in the eye. It was a fun, absorbing show that left the crowd smiling and telling each other how great it was.


The event really was a satisfying one. Plectrum played with their usual exuberance (they started with their one song in Korean, Myongdong Calling). And there were the Waffles. Formed in college, they have been around for a few years, and their gentle, melodic pop sound has attracted a following. Singer Kyoko Ono, who writes all the songs, has a good distinct voice that sounds as though she is smiling as she sings. On stage, she often looks up at the ceiling as if chasing her voice as it soars heavenward.

For their second to last song they played a tune called "Tsugi no Hikari (‘The Next Light’, my translation)", which I think is a classic, one of the best Japanese pop songs I’ve ever listened to. It stands out in the Waffles repertoire too. It’s hard to do justice to the song with words. If you like Japanese bands like advantage Lucy or the Cymbals, or pop music in general, I highly recommend their album Pool, which contains the song.

I don’t really understand what ‘Tsugi no Hikari’ is about. It’s unclear whether the ‘I’ in the song is a boy or girl (both the masculine ‘boku’ and feminine ‘watashi’ are used), and in some parts it sounds like the song is talking about a couple that’s drifting apart, but elsewhere the song seems to be about ‘I’ trying to reassure his or her friend. But probably the storyline isn’t important, and what the band wants the listener to get out of the song is an image or an emotion. Ono helps the listener do that with her impassioned singing. Tonight she sang the tune on stage with the same deep emotion as on the album, and it was exhilarating to hear and see.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Telstar Live at Zher the Zoo

Telstar at Zher the Zoo. Posted by Hello

The Unidentifiable Rocking Objects in the photo above are members of the Japanese rock band Telstar. They were playing tonight at a club that just opened this month called Zher the Zoo in Yoyogi (one station from Shinjuku), the first night of their Japan tour to promote their new album, Kokoro wo Furuwasetakoto (‘What Shook My Heart’, my translation). Because of late work I stumbled into the club in the middle of their set and had to see them almost directly from the side, but I’m glad I made the trip.

Telstar has been around for many years, and I’ve been an on-and-off fan. They are punk in a very pop, non-violent, boys-next-door, Japanese sort of way. If you locked a few suburban Japanese kids in a room and gave them electric guitars, amps and a copy of Never Mind the Bollocks, they might come up with music like Telstar’s. All of their song lyrics and titles are in Japanese. It’s hard, in fact, to imagine them singing in English. They’re probably not the type of sophisticated musicians that readers of, say, Marquee magazine would like. If a group like Pizzicato Five is champagne, Telstar is soy sauce. But sushi would be uneatable without soy sauce, and Japanese music would lack flavor without bands like Telstar.

The big crowd that comes to see Telstar is a good indication of how good this quartet is. They are about 95% female, mostly around college age, wear Telstar t-shirts in primary colors, and hop up and down madly to the group’s songs, a mosh pit made in heaven. It may be hard to tell in this photo above, but the Telstar boys would probably never find work as fashion models. But the girls love them, and this goes to show that looks aren’t everything. I think part of their appeal is that they are funny. They sometimes spend almost as much time wise-cracking on stage as they do playing their songs, and the Japanese love comedians. (Their website, even if you don’t read Japanese, is fun to explore.) They are also super-high energy.

When I first saw Telstar they were college kids but they are now working, and as a result I think they have less time to perform live than in the past. They said they won’t be playing in Tokyo again a while, which made me wish I’d gotten to the club on time and stood at a better place to see them. They played third out of five bands, and the final two bands, without naming names, were competent but bored me. I try to watch as many bands as I can, but very few dazzle me like Telstar does.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Japan Live Mentioned In Chinese Music Blog

I found a Chinese blog that mentions my post about Spangle call Lilli line's live album! It looks like it was written by commenter Makzhou -- thanks! The way the Internet connects the world is wondrous. (I'm happy to say I actually understand most of Makzhou's post.)

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!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Spangle call Lilli line, Live, On CD

Spangle call Lilli line's live album. Posted by Hello

This is live albums week. In my last post, I wrote about Live 4 Live by Tokyo rock band Plectrum. Now I’ve discovered another fantastic new live album, this one by Japanese art pop band Spangle call Lilli line. The two albums have been my constant iPod companions of late.

The Spangle call live album, called 68scll, is pretty expensive, at Y3,800 (about US$35). But the price tag didn’t matter to me– a fevered owner of their three great albums, I wanted to listen to anything I hadn't heard of theirs before the new Spangle album comes out in the spring. The reason 68scll is so expensive is that it is an album and art booklet in one, the booklet containing photos, pictures and graphic design illustrations. Looking through it, I found an essay that said an amazing thing about Spangle call: each of the three members of the band have full-time non-music jobs. That is to say, Spangle call is a part-time project for them. I know many Japanese musicians who do part time jobs to support their musical lifestyle, but I don’t know of any that do music only part time and still succeed so brilliantly. I mean, how is it possible to create such gorgeous music on a part-time basis?

In any case, the 68scll booklet is Spangle’s own creation, with the illustrations done by the singer Kana Otsubo, the photos by Kiyoaki Sasahara, one of the guitarists, and the design by the other guitarist, Ken Fujieda.

The 68scll album itself is a must-listen for any Spangle fan, and highly recommended for any music lover. The quality of the performance that was recorded in the CD is simply astounding. 68scll begins with the sound of a string section tuning, like the start of a symphony concert, and when the music begins and the guest violinists play as part of the rock ensemble, the resulting sound is in itself a happy discovery. Unlike other rock bands for whom a string section is something extra, an embellishment to help make their songs sound arty, in Spangle’s case the violins feel like an integral part of the music, and fit perfectly. Otsubo’s singing voice, which I tried to describe along with Spangle's musical style in an earlier post, soars lazily like it does in Spangle albums but with more immediacy because it’s live. Consisting of nine long songs, with one song, Piano, lasting nearly ten minutes, 68scll nevertheless makes me forget time.

(By the way, in a funny mislabeling, iTunes lists this album’s genre as New Age. Impossible. Don’t worry, you won’t hear chirping birds or traveling astral objects in 68scll.)