Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Kitchen Gorilla's First "One Man"

It's amazing how sometimes a thing that isn't a huge deal for one person is earth-shatteringly important for another. That thought was on my mind Monday night as I watched The Kitchen Gorilla perform their first-ever one-band-only gig.

In Japan, the first show a band does alone (without other bands playing on the same set) is a major event, a rite of passage and a milestone showing that a group has gotten big enough that it can fill a rock club with its own fans. Bands put in a giant effort to make sure the gig goes well, and no true fan would think of missing it. And indeed, it was crowded at the Yoyogi Zher The Zoo, the site of Kitchen Gorilla's first "one-man show" (as it's called here).

Some of those in the audience were moms and other family of band members, and the event itself reminded me a bit of a graduation ceremony: when the band talked between songs, there were the thanks and future promises of a valedictorian speech (though, maybe one for Rock 'n' Roll High School...). Outside of the club was a bouquet of flowers from Kitchen Gorilla's management agency. And the band itself was visibly nervous because of their desire to pull the show off perfectly.

I don't have enough experience hanging out with bands back home in the U.S. or elsewhere to know for sure, but it doesn't seem to me that the first solo show of, say, an American band is quite as momentous an occasion as it is for a Japanese group. Sure, it's a big deal and a nice thing, but it's not something for which you do visualization exercises the days before the actual event, is it (Kitchen Gorilla singer Kayo said she did)?

Maybe it's the Japanese love for rituals and formalities that results in the first one-man show being so important here. What was strange to me, though, was that Kitchen Gorilla was super-nervous during the gig, even though, for once, they must have known that everyone in the audience was fans or friends or family, who love them. Part of it was probably that they had to play an hour and a half or two hours, when they are more used to six-song, half-an-hour sets, and they were worried whether they might mess up. But even so, this is a great live band that has really knocked me out with their performances in the past, and I don't think just fear of failure explains it. Rather, I think it's that the band built a giant mental edifice out of the fact that This Is Our First One Man, and that weighed on them.

All of which isn't to say that they weren't good. It was, actually, a nice show, and an emotional one. But it seemed like somewhere, they were holding back a bit, until about the various last songs they did for encore, when they went all out.

As part of the One Man festivities, vocalist Kayo passed out a booklet detailing her thoughts on all the songs they did that night, and the band also handed out a CD-R containing a new song. Called "Fallin', Fallin'", it was a typical Kitchen Gorilla tune, simple but catchy, Kayo's squeaky, syrupy voice bringing to life the emotions of the love song. I've listened to it over and over since receiving it.

By the way, it really is frustrating that I've been writing a lot about this pop punk trio recently, but there aren't many ways for readers outside of Japan to actually listen to their music, because the band doesn't have sample MP3's on their website or have a MySpace page. If reading my descriptions makes you so interested in Kitchen Gorilla that it keeps you up at night (...yeah, right), send me an e-mail...I'll try to arrange something.

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