Monday, January 02, 2006

The Real Thing

I go to a lot of rock shows.

Usually, I go to at least one a week, and sometimes four or five. The number of new bands I see at these shows—maybe a hundred a year?

I go to so many for a simple reason—there are few things that grab the heart as a great live rock show, and every time I witness one, I want to go back for more.

But in this deluge of live shows, I sometimes wonder whether a group I gushed about in a past post was really as good as I remember them, or, whether, it’s a case of rose hues having started to seep into my memories, making everything in the past look brilliant and special.

The past couple of weeks I went to several shows where I realized I hadn’t been wrong: the bands I’ve praised were, in fact, great. They were for real.

One such show was Orange Plankton’s at the Roppongi Morph on December 26. I’ve probably written about this quartet more than any other group, and have long felt that their gentle, beautiful, emotion-packed pop music deserves wider recognition. But it had been a few weeks since I last saw them live, and I again started to wonder: were they as good as I described them in past posts, and as I remembered?

Their live show dynamited my doubts. It started with a music video played on a screen on the stage that, puzzlingly, had a quiet Orange Plankton song as background music to a film about a bloody pro wrestling bout. It was somewhere between provocative and in poor taste, but it gripped the audience’s attention. The band then appeared and did a set comprising their slowest, most intense songs including “Mebuki” from the album Wakusei Note, a tune about death and regeneration.

As sometimes happens at great shows, I found my eyes becoming watery during parts of the exhilarating half an hour that Orange Plankton played. My friend Phil, who joined me at the show, accurately described part of their appeal: while singer Yumi, keyboardist Yuki, bassist Tsuji and drummer Tamarou are all outstanding musicians, none of them try to stand out or show off, and instead they all work to create a harmonious musical whole. I’ve seen many bands in Japan but there are few that make me think, like I do when I see Orange Plankton on a good night, that these guys are the real thing.


Another evening that helped me remember why I spend so many nights in cramped, loud, smoke-filled basements was the Mona Records cafĂ© live on the 28th, featuring Plectrum; Takashi Nishiike, guitarist of Cellophane; and Toshiaki Yamada of Gomes the Hitman. These three groups and advantage Lucy used to go on four-band tours as GAPC (taking the first letter of each band’s name), and their members are all good friends.

All the GAPC bands have been around since at least the mid-90s, have been on major labels, and know how to make the audience rock, even if they are doing an acoustic set like they did at Mona. I wonder whether GAPC will ever do a reunion tour? I’ll be the first in line.

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