Vasallo Crab 75 singer Daisuke Kudo.
Since moving to Japan a couple of years ago I’ve been to see several bands visiting from abroad (Cloudberry Jam, Luna, Yo La Tengo). While the Japanese fans adore these artists, I’ve never been blown away by these shows. The Emperor Wears No Clothes truth: the foreign bands’ shows are often not as exciting as the shows of their Japanese counterparts, but the tickets still cost three times as much or more, for example, 6,000 yen for a ticket (about $60) compared with 2,000 yen for a typical Japanese show.
I’ve wondered about why this is, and have come up with several hypotheses. One is that I’ve just been to a series of shows of bands that are laid back, and don’t try to set the stage on fire. I mean, Yo La Tengo isn’t James Brown, or Iggy Pop.
Another consideration is that whether or not a visiting band likes Tokyo and Japan, this is just another stop in an overseas tour. Whereas, the shows of Japanese bands I go to are often Big Shows, performances that are defining events for the band (like a band’s first solo-act show at a good venue). The bands are totally psyched about the event, and that comes through in their playing.
The last idea is that maybe, by trying to make it in Tokyo, Japanese bands almost automatically get better at presenting themselves in an exciting way. Tokyo is a hyper-competitive market for live music. Each night there are shows at dozens of major clubs and probably hundreds of smaller venues, each event trying to attract at least a tiny piece of the city’s 12 million people. This isn’t some college town—you need to be good to climb up in the music scene here (I wonder how it compares to New York, LA or London).
Vasallo violinist Kawabe-san.
Those were thoughts I had as I pondered what to write about for Vasallo Crab 75’s excellent first-ever solo show, at the Shimokitazawa Club Que on Thursday night. The next day I went to the sold-out show of Yo La Tengo at the Shibuya Quattro. While Yo La Tengo’s performance was charming, and I particularly thought some of their slower songs were gorgeous, I much preferred Vasallo’s show.
One thing, of course, was that this was a special event for Vasallo. A band’s first solo-act show (called here a ‘one-man show’, even if it’s a band) is a rite of passage, a sign that a band has made it. The late Takayuki Fukumura, the former advantage Lucy guitarist who was one of Vasallo’s founders, used to talk with singer Daisuke Kudo about doing a solo show. Thursday night, that show finally happened, and the band was bound to be intense.
But there were also lots of light-hearted moments during this feast of guitar pop and funk, and in one inspired moment of stage direction, the band placed a string quartet, including the violinist Kawabe-san, to the left of the audience. A nice stereo effect was created: Vasallo’s rock ‘n’ roll from the front, the strings coming from the left.
The highlight of the night for me was when they played a new song called ‘Today Is Tomorrow’, an uplifting, folk-like gem of a tune. What does ‘Today is tomorrow’ mean? Kudo thought about it for a while on stage, and then explained it in terms of a little kitten. If a kitten died yesterday, today is a tomorrow that the cat was never able to experience. Replace the kitten with people who are no longer with us, and the sentiment of the song becomes clear.
I was given a CD-R containing the song and I’ve listened to it many times.
Listen to the morning
Listen to the dawn
So we are here now
Today is tomorrow
What a great song! I can’t wait for their new album.
A light-hearted moment between songs.