Sunday, July 31, 2005

Blue Badge Guitar Pop Party

Kawaie of Humming Parlour. Posted by Picasa

Winnie or udon?

That was the tough choice that faced the hundred or so people gathered at the Shibuya O-Nest club to attend the Guitar Pop Crazy Summer! party on Sunday night. Organized by Mr. Higuma, the young owner of the ultra-cool Tokyo guitar pop record company Blue Badge Label, the event brought together the great indies bands Spaghetti Vabune, Winnie, Murmur, Humming Parlour, Metro and Choco (actually the solo unit of Spaghetti Vabune’s singer Cheechoco), plus Oka Hitoshi, the singer of Sloppy Joe.

The concept of the evening was a traditional Japanese summer festival: Mr. Higuma encouraged participants to come dressed up in yukata, and about half a dozen girls did so, showing up wearing the bright-colored cotton summer kimono, while Mr. Higuma himself wore a stately blue man’s yukata. Like a festival at a Shinto shrine, there were booths at the side that sold sweets, water balloons, and, this being a musical event, CDs by Blue Badge bands. Shows alternated between the bar floor on the 6th floor and the stage floor on the 5th, and the party-goers walked up and down the stairs outside that looked out to the love hotels next to the O-Nest.

A major schedule conflict occurred, however, at 7:15 PM. At that time, Winnie was to play at the 5th floor stage, but at the same time on the 6th floor, there was to be a live demonstration of a guy making udon, the wheat noodles that are one of Japan’s two most popular types of noodles along with soba. Which to see: Winnie or udon? As the udon guy poured flour on a table and brought out dough to begin pounding it, many in the crowd stayed to watch, taking a pass on Winnie. I did too at first, but after a few minutes rushed downstairs to see Winnie.

Guy cutting udon noodles. Posted by Picasa

It was a good choice, because Winnie played their lovely girl-guy vocal pop songs with much feeling, and it was a satisfying show. But between songs the band talked about how they would have wanted to see the udon making demonstration too, and at one point we could hear a steady thumping sound from above, probably the sound of the udon guy pounding the wheat dough with his hands before cutting it into noodles with a knife.

Murmur at the O-Nest. Posted by Picasa

Though all the bands were good, one band that impressed me in particular was Humming Parlour. I should note that its two members, Ms. Kawaie and Mr. Ito, are friends, and we invariably meet each other at advantage Lucy shows, because we are all Lucy fans. However, even if I didn’t know these guys, I think I would have liked their performance tonight. Ms. Kawaie looked gorgeous in a bright red yukata, and put plenty of emotion into their pop songs, while her partner Mr. Ito played the acoustic guitar with precision and confidence. They’ve released one song in the highly recommended Blue Badge Label compilation Guitar Pop Crazy!, and hopefully will bring out more songs to the world.

Humming Parlour at the O-Nest. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 30, 2005

detroit7 at Shibuya Chelsea Hotel

I knew detroit7 was a rising star in Japan’s rock music world, but even so I was surprised to open up a recent copy of Shukan Shinchou magazine, the country’s sort-of equivalent to Newsweek, and see the trio featured in one of its photo essays. The magazine’s focus was on detroit7’s singer and guitarist, Nabana Tomomi, who it called Japan’s Janis Joplin, a beauty who sets the stage on fire (metaphorically) with her passionate performances. I’d never seen the band, barely missing them once when they played before Shonen Knife (I think what happened was I caught an Orange Plankton show early in the evening in Shibuya and immediately left for Shimokitazawa to get to the Shonen Knife show, and arrived there right when detroit7 finished). So, when I found out about their show at the Shibuya Chelsea Hotel on Saturday night, I looked forward to it.

Well, I saw them tonight, and I can report all the hype about the band is deserved. Their playing is tight and the music, influenced as their name suggests by Detroit rock bands like MC5 and the Stooges as well as grunge and punk, is catchy and fiery. And Nabana is truly hot. She is the huskiest voiced female Japanese rock singer I’ve ever heard, and listening to her talk between songs, I found out that was her natural voice. She dives completely into the music, her face becoming contorted as she bellows out her lyrics, before returning to its normal prettiness. Her long hair splashes all over her face as she shakes to the music. And, Nabana is also a decent guitar soloist. Watching them rock the club was exhilarating.

One thing that was surprising, though, was it looked like there were only several dozen people at most who had come specifically to see detroit7 (there were three other punk bands playing). I was worried a small club like Chelsea Hotel might sell out. Maybe did the Fuji Rock Festival happening this weekend take away fans who might have otherwise come to see them play? Or is this turnout about par for the course for them?

I also wondered what’s next for this band. While they sound great, there isn’t that much in their music that is truly original or sets them apart from other bands, other than, maybe, Nabana’s powerful singing. I had a blast during the show, but then when it was over it didn’t leave that deep an impression. Could detroit7 become something more than just a band that plays really good rock music? But perhaps, as they say, nothing is new under the sun, and the important thing is to enjoy the rocking moment?

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Clicks & K.O.G.A. Night

Chiharu of the Clicks. Posted by Picasa

One step inside Shimokitazawa’s Club Que tonight, and I knew I was in K.O.G.A. Records territory. Blasting from the speakers were songs by great pop-punk-rock bands that have recorded with the Tokyo indies label, like Mix Market, Jimmy Pops and the Automatics. I recognized a big portion of the songs playing, a testament to how good K.O.G.A. bands are and how much my collection of the label’s CDs has grown. Tonight at the Que was a show featuring some of those bands.

Mr. Koga, the bleached-blond owner of the record label, is one of the true characters of Shimokitazawa. A staid businessman by day, by night he is a rock aficionado who prowls the town’s alleys, the shochu liquor of his native Kyushu pumping through his blood vessels as he drops in on clubs like the Shelter, sometimes causing a scene in his drunken state. Or so people tell me. I see him everywhere but have never talked to him. All I know for sure is that he has excellent taste in music, judging by the bands in the K.O.G.A. catalogue.

One of the latest additions to the K.O.G.A. label is the Clicks, a girl rock trio, who headlined the Que show for the final night of the tour after the release of their outstanding second album, Magic of White. Opening for them were Nudge ‘em All and Ron Ron Clou, two K.O.G.A. Records veteran bands, as well as a band I’d never heard of called the Dudoos.

Though all four bands were good, the one band I didn’t know anything about, the Dudoos, stole the show. How to describe their sound…maybe, Japanese Working Class Punk Rock? The trio looked like a threesome you might find working at a harbor. The round-faced, ever-smiling guitarist had a towel wrapped around his throat, as Japanese construction workers often do so they can wipe off sweat. The drummer was wearing a sailor’s shirt. The bassist wore a kung-fu jacket with a little cap.

If their fashion was weird, their music was spot on. Their playing was crisp, precise and energetic, and all of the audience seemed to be having a blast. Unfortunately, they announced the unhappy news in the middle of the show that they would be taking a break from the band thing for a while. I wished I’d known about them earlier.

The Dudoos at the Que. Posted by Picasa

The Clicks played one of the longest sets I’ve seen them do, mostly doing songs from Magic of White. They’re still a developing live band, especially compared with veterans like the Dudoos and Ron Ron Clou (if you add the female singer Momoko Yoshino to the trio Ron Ron Clou, by the way, you get the Automatics), but they had exciting moments, especially when they played the title track from Magic of White and a couple of other numbers from the album.

Besides, they were all wearing frilly dresses and high-heels while pounding out driving rock tunes, and I have a major weakness for that sort of strange contrast.

The Clicks at the Que. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

CDs of Note: Kitchen Gorilla, Travelling Panda

Two CDs by little-known but great Japanese indies rock bands, both with animals in their names:

The Kitchen Gorilla's One Posted by Picasa

One took me by surprise. I expected the Kitchen Gorilla to be a pop-punk band (by which I mean, the sound is light punk but the fans don’t sport mohawks and don’t slam-dance) after listening to their song “O.K.” from a compilation and after watching their intense, loud show at the Zher the Zoo. But this mini-album reveals them to be more practitioners of straightforward, satisfying J-Rock, a garage Judy & Mary. Vocalist Kayo, pictured on the cover looking pale with flowers in her hair (some sort of funereal reference? One of the songs ends with her mumbling: “Please kill me”), has a voice that is high up in the scale of Japanese female squeakiness and she uses it to sing in a coquettish way. One can be bought here on Amazon Japan, but it looks like it’s not always stocked.

Travelling Panda's Skip Posted by Picasa

A stylish band that mixes funk and R&B, jazz, and pop sounds, Travelling Panda is one of my current J-pop faves because of the singing style of its vocalist, Yoko Furukawa. Her style is relaxed and effortless-sounding like a bossa nova singer’s, and also natural, like that of an ordinary Japanese woman going through a typical day. I’m enchanted by it. Skip! is a good five-song intro to their sound. Song samples can be found here, and it can be purchased here. Ghost in the Salon, their second album, is also outstanding.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Vabune Podcast; Spangle call/Amadori Duet

A couple of random, free sources of Japanese indies music on the Net:

* Kobe-based Japanese guitar pop band Spaghetti Vabune has a podcast here. I haven't listened to it yet, but they say they "introduce mainly indie guitar pop bands from Japan and abroad, and also talk about stupid stuff [in Japanese]". (Thanks to Panda [ ]!)

* Singer Amadori and Spangle call Lilli line vocalist Kana Otsubo do a duet song for some sort of Kyocera mobile phone music download service here (click on the orange box under the words "Come Baby"). The song isn't all that interesting, but maybe it's worth checking out if you are an Amadori or Spangle call fan.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Advantage Lucy: Hello Again; Blue Room

Advantage Lucy's Aiko, in yukata. Posted by Picasa

I’ve bought advantage Lucy’s new E.P. and the first lines of the first song keep on running through my head. They go,

Omoidasunda [I remember]
Ano kaze, ano hizashi [that wind, that sunlight]
Wasureyoutoshitatte [even if I try to forget]
Sobani iru [They are near me]

A slightly different mix of this song, “Glider”, has already been released in a soundtrack, and I wrote about it before, but listening to it again I’m reminded what a powerful song it is. Aiko, Lucy’s singer, is one of the great poets of Japan’s indies music scene, something that becomes clear, I think, when you listen to the lyrics in Japanese.

The second song on the E.P., “Hello Again”, is one of those simple Lucy pop songs with a nice melody that gets in your blood before you know it. I’ll be watching to see when the infection gets serious.

The third tune, “Smile”, is a dreamy little gem of a song for voice, guitar and keyboard. The reason I’m thanked in the CD booklet is that I checked the English lyrics for this song (they were actually perfect when I got them).

The final song is a live recording of “Chikyu” at the Club Que, and it sounds great.

Advantage Lucy’s first single in three years… It’s a major musical event, and I know I’ll be immersed in these songs for a while. I have a few extra copies of the CD—please e-mail me if you want to check it out. [UPDATE: Sorry, I've now run out of the extra CDs, though I might get some more in a few weeks.]

Hello again e.p. Posted by Picasa

I bought “Hello Again E.P.” at an event organized by Miniskirt’s Edgar at a Shibuya club called Aoi Heya (meaning Blue Room), which is owned by a veteran Japanese chanson songstress. It had purple walls, plastic vines, Grecian busts.

In the audience were two sorts of people: those who had come to listen to advantage Lucy, and those who were there to dance to the D.J. music and the music of all the other bands, including Aprils. Although both like live music, they have different dispositions and don’t always mix well. I think of them as the Live House Faction and the Club Faction. The former, of which I consider myself a member, goes to shows chiefly to listen to music, though dancing is an option. The latter attends shows to have fun and dance, though they also no doubt enjoy the music.

Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but the crowd did seem divided neatly in two, between the dancers and the squares.

There was no raised stage at the club, making it difficult to see the performers in the back, but I was able to get to the very front, facing one of the speakers, to take a photo of Lucy’s Aiko wearing a yukata, a summer kimono.

Advantage Lucy at the Aoi Heya. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Kitchen Gorilla Attacks Yoyogi

Kitchen Gorilla at the Zher The Zoo. Posted by Picasa

TOKYO--Three rock musicians calling themselves THE KITCHEN GORILLA Thursday night took over the Zher the Zoo club in Yoyogi, Tokyo. The group consisted of a female vocalist/bassist, a female drummer and a quiet male guitarist. Witnesses said the three used punk rock to take the audience hostage.

No, but seriously... "Kitchen Gorilla"! What an awesome name for a rock band!

I knew about The Kitchen Gorilla because in a compilation album I'd listened to a song of theirs called "O.K.", in which the singer chants "O.K." about a hundred times. It's a nice pop punk tune, and I wanted to see what the band behind the song was like.

They were wild. They personified post-modernism, without maybe intending it. The music was heavy pop punk, but the singer sang in a squeaky high voice. She was dressed like a rock rebel, bundling her hair in a black bandana, but between songs took sips from a Miffy water bottle (I think... Miffy being the rabbit version of Hello Kitty).

The Kitchen Gorilla were a friendly bunch, and after the show I bought their new mini-album and chatted briefly with them, but forgot to ask how they got their name. Next time!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Plectrum's Taisuke Takata. Posted by Picasa

The rock quartet Plectrum is without question one of my favorite Japanese live bands. Every time I go to their shows and watch them give it all they have, I feel infused with new energy. These four guys play everything from sweet ballads to scorching hard rock numbers—as singer Taisuke Takata says, “it’s as if we’re putting into a 30 minute show all of the Beatles’ music from their early days to their later period.”

A taste of what their shows are like can now be found in an excellent new live album of theirs called Live 4 Live, released by Mona Records. Listening to it made me want to talk to the band about the album and their live shows in general. So I arranged an interview with Takata, the band’s leader.

Live 4 Live Posted by Picasa

He turned out to be an interviewer’s dream. Whereas with some people, getting answers is like digging in dry ground for water, with Takata, each question would unleash a river of words, and all I needed to do was to direct their flow once in a while.

Plectrum has been around for about a decade. The group was originally based in Osaka and was called Star Sign, and consisted of four college kids in love with Teenage Fanclub. Listening to Takata talking about the band’s past, I came to understand how a great live band like Plectrum isn’t created in a day.

“At first when we did shows we’d always imitate Teenage Fanclub, for example we’d get together in front of a mirror (during rehearsals) and we’d go, ‘no, that’s not the way (Teenage Fanclub) raise their legs’, or ‘you should drum more aggressively (like Teenage Fanclub). Teenage Fanclub was really a model for us on how to do shows.”

“My favorite concert,” Takata says, “is one I didn’t see in person but it was one I saw on TV, the Redding Festival in 1992 headed by Nirvana. Teenage Fanclub played around noon, and even though they weren’t playing intense songs like Nirvana, (the audience) were having a blast, fooling around in the mud as the rain fell and stopped, and I saw that show and I thought, wow, I want to start a band, and I want to do a show like that one day.”

When his heroes toured Japan, Takata decided to meet the members of Teenage Fanclub and ask them to give his band a new name.

“We had named our band Star Sign after a Teenage Fanclub song, and because of that there was a bit of preconception (about our music), like, ‘oh, you guys are like Teenage Fanclub, right?’ and to get rid of that preconception we thought we should come up with a band name ourselves, but nothing would come to us, and so we thought maybe if we have the real guys name us no one would complain, so (Teenage Fanclub) gave us our name (Plectrum), and then the very next week we received an offer from Polystar Records. It was very lucky, it was miraculous timing.”

With a record contract and a new name, Plectrum felt on top of the world. But the tough realities of working as an up-and-coming major label band soon brought them back down from the heights.

“Teenage Fanclub’s performance at the 1992 Redding Festival was really so natural, and they seemed to be having fun, and it was ideal and I thought, we should do it like this, but it was difficult. There was a long period when live shows were a struggle… When we debuted (on the major label) we really had to think a lot, about every move we made on stage, and the director would tell us, ‘that move there wasn’t great’, and I’d think ‘yeah, he’s right’, but the more I thought about it the less I became able to sing. There was a period when we decided to take a break from live shows for a while, and we hardly did any shows for two or three years.”

“Plectrum and Rockin’ On Japan (magazine) planned a thing where we’d do a solo show four months in a row, and at each show we’d do five new songs, and then out of the twenty songs we made we’d pick ten songs for a new album. But that made our drummer mentally exhausted. We’d been doing music for fun but now it felt like we were being forced to do it… Writing songs used to be like writing a diary for me, but now it felt like filling a quota. I had to write five songs a month, and not only that but also get them in good enough shape that we could perform them live, and the more I thought about it the more things seemed to fall apart. But then Akky [lead guitarist Akira Fujita] helped out by writing a lot of good songs too. Up until then I’d been writing almost all of the songs.”

The ten songs that Plectrum wrote were included in the album Adventure of Pony Rider, released in 1998. Once that album came out, however, Plectrum faced a new problem: Polystar wouldn’t let them go on a tour to promote the album.

“That was the company’s policy. I guess they felt that our shows weren’t that good, since I was having trouble singing. And touring costs money, and I think they wanted that CD to make it on its own. But, all those songs were written for shows, and now (that the album was completed) we couldn’t play them at shows. While we understood the company’s policy, it left us dissatisfied.”

That and other problems eventually led to Plectrum quitting Polystar and working under Yoshimoto Kogyo, an Osaka entertainment company famous for its line-up of comedians. In 2000, they released Colombia, an album that begins with the hard-rocking ‘Night Patrol’ and ends with the gorgeous ballad ‘Bookend’. Takata said it’s from this period that the band mixed rocking tunes and mellow ballads when doing shows.

Plectrum, live! Posted by Picasa

“I sometimes think that what we do at live shows controls Plectrum’s music. When Colombia came out, there was all the frustration we felt from not being able to do shows (under Polystar), there was all the music that had spread inside my head, from intense to mellow songs, that was Colombia, but then when we did shows we felt good playing mellow songs like ‘Uptown Girl’ (from Colombia), and when we decided to play in a relaxed way like that at shows we ended up with (the album) Sorry (released in 2001), but then around the time of Sorry we thought we want to express ourselves more, and bring ourselves out more, and that was Prom Night.”

But Prom Night, released in 2004, was, in spite of being an outstanding album with standout songs like ’30 Boy’, ‘Sundae Champion’ and ‘Star Light’, a source of frustration business-wise.

Prom Night was a very unfortunate album… The sound was good, the songs were good, and our intensity was good, but because of troubles with the label we couldn’t really advertise it that much.”

Their problem, Takata said, was the new record label that released the album. It was run by a design company with no experience producing music, and the label didn’t market the album enough. The company soon shut down the label.

But despite the troubles with the label, Plectrum went on playing the songs from Prom Night in one exhilarating show after another. They also crossed the sea twice in 2004 to play in Seoul, first in March with advantage Lucy, Miniskirt and Lost in Found, and a second time in September with Swinging Popsicle. They were awed by the positive reception from the Korean audience, almost none of who had heard of Plectrum before the band’s first Seoul tour. Plectrum’s first visit left such an impression with the Korean fans, in fact, that a fan club of a couple of dozen people sprang up in Seoul soon after the band’s return to Japan.

“Going to Korea made us understand what it must be like to be the western musicians (visiting Japan) that we go to see. The way, when a band like Teenage Fanclub tours Japan, the fans would scream when they said ‘konnichiwa’, it was the same when we would say ‘anyonghaseyo’ (on stage in Seoul). It made me want to study Korean, it’s a very beautiful language.”

“A big factor (in Plectrum’s decision to release a live album) was what we experienced in Korea. People there didn’t know our music, but when we played good shows we found out that they’d really get into our music.”

One of the people who watched Plectrum play at this time, the owner of indies label Mona Records, suggested that they put together a live album, and they agreed to do it. They started and ended the album with performances in Seoul, and, in between, put in songs played at a number of shows in Japan.

They considered various titles for the album, but none of them sounded right.

“We thought something like ‘Live, Live, Live’ might be good, and we wanted a number in the title, something that reflects that we’re four people, and putting all that together, Akky came up with Live 4 Live, which we thought was stylish.”

Plectrum's Takata. Posted by Picasa

Plectrum’s live album Live 4 Live starts with a song called ‘Myongdong Calling’, recorded at a show in Seoul. The title is a playful reference to the Clash’s London Calling.

“When I thought up the title ‘Myongdong Calling’, I thought to myself, ‘I win!’ It was a fun title. I thought it should be the first song (on Live 4 Live).”

The finale of Live 4 Live is an extraordinary recording. It’s the song ‘Till I Die Again’ from Prom Night, but at first all you hear is a crowd singing it together as one big chorus, and only toward the middle of the song are the amps turned on and it becomes a rock tune.

This is the moving musical moment I’ve written about a couple of times before: the sound went out during Plectrum’s show in Seoul, but instead of stopping, Takata continued performing without the amp and mike, and the Korean crowd sang along to a tune in Japanese that most probably hadn’t even heard before.

“That really made me glad I’d been doing music, and I also felt this is why I can’t stop being a musician. How can I say this, I guess if you’re just working on your own, making home recordings, well, not to say you’re self-satisfied, but you can quit something like that anytime, but when you do a show the feeling is that you do the show with everyone in the hall, and what’s good about a live album is that everyone is making noise, and the important thing is everyone’s voice or everyone’s applause, and I think shows matter because of those things.”

The big ‘Till I Die Again’ chorus in Seoul “I think was a present from god, and it was a moment when I felt good about continuing this band for so long.”

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Orange Plankton & The Rebel Music Schoolers

Orange Plankton at the Star Pine's Cafe. Posted by Picasa

Music academy grads who had gone bad took over Star Pine’s Café in Kichijoji Tuesday night. They carted a grand piano onto the club’s stage, but instead of playing the classical music of their training, they used it to create loud pop.

The first music academician-gone-bad to appear on stage was pianist Yuki of Orange Plankton, gorgeous in a red dress. As she played, a little girl in a white dress walked on stage and started to recite lines to introduce the first song. Then, from somewhere unseen, singer Yumi’s voice joined the girl’s, the two taking turns making the introduction.

Yumi soon came on and sang, while the girl remained on stage, looking a little confused. It was good stage direction—the hundreds of bands I’ve seen have tried in myriad ways to catch the audience’s attention but never before had I seen a child used to help out with that task. (I found out later that the girl is a member of a junior drama troupe. In some countries like the U.S., the kids might not even be allowed in a club like Star Pine’s that serves alcohol.)

Tonight there was more depth to Yuki’s sound because of the grand piano she played rather than the usual keyboard. Another delinquent music academician, a female violinist, joined the band toward the end of the set. A connection was made between the violinist and Yuki the pianist: when the two looked up at each other during a fiery exchange, the intensity of their expressions caused a pleasant chill to run through my spine.

The whole band was intense. As they moved excitedly on stage, it felt like it wasn’t only them, but also the air around them that was spinning.


At the end of the set, the little girl returned to the stage holding a little blue bird (the subject of one of Orange Plankton’s songs). She tossed the bird into the air so it could fly, but because of the darkness and the bird’s blindness at night, it fluttered pitifully to the ground.

Orange Plankton, however, had really soared.

Orange Plankton's Yuki, with girl. Posted by Picasa

The next band, Edreport, was connected through the network of classically-trained-musicians-gone-bad: its bassist went to the same music school as Yuki. It also happened he was a friend of the drummer of the late-great pop band Judy & Mary, Kohta Igarashi, who played drums for them tonight.

I was excited to see a former Judy & Mary. There was a period when I was deep into the band (like many in Japan!) and I still like them. And now here was their ex-drummer, who played for them at huge arena shows. When Igarashi talked between songs, he had the same relaxed irreverence as Takuya, Judy & Mary’s guitarist, who plays now in a band called Robots that I saw perform recently at the Que.

Backed by Igarashi’s skilled drumming, Edreport, consisting of a pianist, bassist and the same female violinist that played with Orange Plankton, played a good set. They sounded modern jazz at times, Japanese pop at others, and they also had classical music moments. They weren’t performing Mozart and Mahler, but the sound that they molded out of different musical genres was such a pleasing product that it seemed any real music lover would enjoy it.

Advantage Lucy On Cartoon Network

A short animation film on Cartoon Network Japan uses a charming new song by Tokyo guitar pop band advantage Lucy. The film seems to be broadcast irregularly on TV between regular programming, but you can see it here, by clicking on the white box that says 'Quicktime'. It's a strange story about a guy who needs to spin around all the time to live, and how he leads a trouble life until he finds his true calling as a pro wrestler and later becomes so popular he is elected president.

I like Aiko's wah, wah, wah's. It's sublimely pop--check it out!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Elsewhere In Tokyo, Saturday Night writes about a Tokyo show I might have gone to see if I wasn't already booked to catch Plectrum at the Que: the Shibuya O-Nest show featuring the Aprils, Hazel Nuts Chocolate and others.

Future pop band the Aprils are always fun to watch (three words: dancing stuffed panda), and I've been wanting to see Hazel Nuts Chocolate again ever since I saw Yuppa, the girl behind the music unit, do a cute song while drawing a picture on a plastic sheet at an O-Nest show a few months back. One can't be everywhere at once though.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Advantage Lucy's New E.P. - Details

advantage Lucy's new Hello again e.p. Posted by Picasa

Tokyo pop band advantage Lucy has published on its website more details about its new e.p., coming out on July 22.

It will be called Hello again--a fitting title for the brilliant band's first real release in about four years.

The e.p. will have four songs, starting with 'Glider', a rocking tune that's already been released on a soundtrack, and of which I've written (though maybe this will be a different version?); 'Hello again' and 'Smile', two brand new songs; and a live version of 'Chikyu' ['earth'], recorded at the last Lucy show.

I was at the show where 'Chikyu' was recorded, so maybe if you have CSI-type high tech equipment you could isolate my applause from that of the rest of the crowd?

This e.p. will only be sold on the Internet, and at the band's shows. It will go on sale for the first time at advantage Lucy's show on July 22 at the Aoi Heya [Blue Room] in Shibuya. Edgar Franz, who organized this midnight event, told me, as he always does, that this will be the best show of the year in Tokyo. It will also feature Edgar's band Miniskirt, the Aprils, Metro, Bad Daughter from Taiwan, a guy named Dr. Usui, and DJ's visiting from Spain.

If you are reading this and think you will be in Tokyo and have time on the 22nd, you should join the party that night, and please believe me when I say you should buy the e.p. because you will not be disappointed.

(P.S. - A full album is also due to come out in a few months, though the date isn't yet set.)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Missing Plectrum

Plectrum at the Que. Posted by Picasa

Plectrum’s show Saturday night at the Que was their first without Naoki Kishihara, aka Kicchon, on bass. The band had announced earlier that Kicchon would go on an extended leave of absence. It’s not clear when, or even, if, Kicchon will return to Plectrum. I roughly know the circumstances of his departure, but maybe it’s best just to say that he had a life to live, and playing in an active band like Plectrum didn’t fit that life well.

Taking Kicchon’s place for now is Manabu Chigasaki, known as Chiga-chan (they all have nicknames), a skilled bassist who also helps out advantage Lucy. A friendly guy, Chiga-chan lives with two stray kittens he brought into his house that he named Aloha and Mahalo.

It had been three months since Plectrum last performed, and it was good to see again how the group can get a whole club going with its energy. But there was something missing. Kicchon’s absence was noticed.

In the past, Kicchon served as a sort of counterweight to the rest of the band at shows, standing quiet at his usual spot to the right while the other three went wild, a slight grin on his face that was somewhere between mischievous and amused. He looked relaxed, compared with the fire of the rest of the band. But when their shows hit climaxes, Kicchon was as intense, in his way, as the others, and that transformation, and the joyful unity of the four, was always invigorating to watch. Those things will be missed.

I was lucky to be able to see Plectrum at their very best, during their two visits to Seoul and at numerous shows in Tokyo. Those performances reminded me of the power of rock music. After shows I’d chat with Kicchon, and through him I became interested in a number of bands of my own country that I knew little about or hadn’t paid much attention to, like Yo La Tengo, Tortoise and the Beach Boys.


I decided to walk to Shimokitazawa from Sangenjaya to get to the Plectrum show, a 20-minute walk in the drizzle that is a constant presence in Japan’s June and July rainy season.

On the way to the club I saw a small shop that makes and sells traditional paper lanterns. On the floor to the side an artisan sat, painting a red character onto a white lantern. Further on I saw on the side of the road a Jizou Buddhist statue standing inside a wooden box, wearing colorful sashes. I also saw a drinking bistro with the name ‘Sui-Tarou’, or ‘Drunk Tarou’ (Tarou being a boy’s name), as well as a dining bar with the worrisome name ‘Knock On Wood’.

If someone visiting Tokyo has a bit of free time, I'd suggest spending an hour or two just wandering around any residential neighborhood, because there are lots of fascinating and unexpected things of beauty and humor.

Ally Kerr from Glasgow. Plectrum and Apila performed with them at the Que. Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 08, 2005

Murmur & Gomes The Hitman, Live

Murmur at Mona Records. Posted by Picasa

Playing tonight at the Mona Records café in Shimokitazawa was Murmur, a one-girl pop music unit whose debut mini-album Good grief! I enjoy a lot. Murmur was opening for Gomes The Hitman, a popular Tokyo guitar pop band.

Mai Tsuyutani, who is Murmur, started the set about half past seven. A 20-year old girl from western Japan who wears her silky hair long, Tsuyutani still seemed to be getting used to performing and was a little stiff on stage, but she had charm and the songs she played were good.

As Japanese bands often do, between songs she thanked the main act, Gomes The Hitman, for inviting her, and said she was glad to open for them.

“I’ve liked Gomes The Hitman since I was in intermediate school,” she told the audience. “I’ve liked them ever since a friend of mine gave me a tape of neo-acoustic musicians. It contained Flipper’s (Guitar), (advantage) Lucy and Gomes The Hitman. So I’m happy tonight.”

Tsuyutani is just getting started and probably needs to do many more shows before she could really draw the audience in with her playing. But I felt a certain sense of thrill watching her unit, Murmur—it made me think maybe it was like this when bands like Gomes and Lucy were rookies many years ago, at the start when everything was completely fresh, and there was a lot of uncertainty and bumpiness, but plenty of excitement too.

Gomes The Hitman at Mona Records. Posted by Picasa

Gomes The Hitman, a group that’s been around for more than a decade, is led by the singer and guitarist Toshiaki Yamada. He has a mellow tenor voice, a voice like smooth calvados. Yamada’s singing and the elegant love songs he writes seem to have made the band popular with women—most of the audience were females in their late 20’s and up. Throughout the show a video was playing at the back of the stage that showed Yamada wandering around in what looked like the Nevada desert, wearing on his head a pillow with horns and two big circles for eyes. It was strange. He called that character the Cat.

This was yet another show in which the band Plectrum’s excellent lead guitarist, Akira Fujita, a.k.a. Akky, was helping out by playing guitar. He’s in high demand as a support guitarist (he’s worked with Chara and Syrup 16g, among others), and I see him all over the place.

All in all a nice show. But because the show was sold out, the café was crowded and I was stuck against the back wall. I was afraid I might get Economy Class Syndrome. Café shows are supposed to be more relaxed and comfortable than those at ‘live houses’, but I’ve found that when it’s a popular musician’s café show the space becomes even more cramped than at live houses because of all the tables and chairs.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Recommended: Sunday at the Lush

If you are free this Sunday night (July 10) and are in Tokyo, I highly recommend the show at the new club Shibuya Lush, featuring: pop pianist/songstress Ricarope, an engaging performer of whom I've written before; Travelling Panda, a great band that makes intelligent, funky pop music (I just found out they released a new album too...a must-buy for me), who I loved when I saw them last; alternative pop band polyABC and a couple of other artists I hadn't heard of before.

No question I'd go to this show if it weren't for the fact that I'm already scheduled to go to a friend's private musical event. C'est la vie.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Blog Comrades Describe's & VC75

An unfortunate truth is that although there are plenty of Tokyo rock shows I want to see, for one reason or another I often have to miss many of them (sometimes there are even two or more promising shows on the same evening and I have to skip them all!).

My fellow Japan bloggers are luckier at times, however, going to and writing about good Tokyo gigs while I'm kept away from the good times.

Big in Japan, for example, writes about going to see the's, the female rock trio made famous by Quentin Tarantino's use of their song in the movie Kill Bill. It sounds like the Shimokitazawa Shelter gig was nearly perfect except for a low-energy encore performance., meanwhile, describes seeing Vasallo Crab 75, PINE*am and a few other groups at the Star Pine's Cafe in Kichijoji. In our conversations, Miniskirt singer Edgar Franz has several times raved about the girl future pop band PINE*am, and I've been interested in seeing them but haven't been able to. And I've written many times about the indies guitar pop/funk band Vasallo, something that's Patrick kindly notes, adding that he liked them too.