Saturday, April 15, 2006

4 Bonjour's Parties, Kitsune No Kai, Juke Joint

Kitsune No Kai

Hanging out at the Shibuya O-Nest on Thursday night watching 4 Bonjour’s Parties and other bands play, the thought came to me that these guys are turning the club into something like a juke joint.

The way folks in the American South go to juke joints to play the blues, the music lovers at the O-Nest were there to unwind and have a good time through music, after a long day. When each band’s set was over, the members streamed back into the audience to see the other groups and to chat with friends. None of them locked themselves up in the dressing room, refusing to mix with the fans.

Though the evening proceeded according to a schedule, and all the bands must have rehearsed beforehand, I didn’t get the sense that everything was scripted, like I sometimes do watching bands who take each show seriously as another small step in their musical careers. Nothing wrong really with the serious bands, except that they lack spontaneity, which, come to think of it, isn’t right at all.

Between songs, the clarinet-playing front man of 4 Bonjour’s Parties talked in squeaky imitation-woman voice for reasons only known to him, causing the other members to giggle. It didn't matter to them that they were on a stage facing several dozen people--they were going to have fun regardless. Their manner might have been annoying if not for the fact that their silliness was followed by their gorgeous, slowly flowing pop music, which sounds classical at times in part because of the wind instruments the members take turns playing (clarinet, flute, trumpet, trombone and sax). You can hear sample songs of theirs here.

I also liked a band called Kitsune No Kai, which means something like ‘party of the foxes’ or ‘meeting of foxes’. They played songs with names like “The Lamb of Finland”. The event program described them as "Japan's Belle and Sebastian", but they also reminded me of Cowboy Junkies and Mazzy Star. These foxes have recently released a series of three CD singles, which I’ll have to listen to.

Also playing was Shugo Tokumaru and a band called toy. Unusually for a show at the O-Nest, many in the audience listened to the shows sitting on the floor. Also unusually, the DJ put on some Bach between two sets.


The other day I stumbled upon the website of Yu Hirano, the founder of the rock club Loft, arguably Japan’s most important live house, and in one of his columns he wrote something I agreed with completely. Hirano was talking about the beginnings of the Loft, and how at first he wanted the club to be something more than a place where people pay to watch bands play. Instead, the Loft would be a hang-out where people meet and talk, with tables and food, and live music would just be one ingredient and bands wouldn’t necessarily play every night but only when the Loft felt the bands were good enough.

That wasn’t how the Loft turned out, Hirano admits: to compete with other live houses, the club eventually cleared out the tables to pack more people in, and they started booking bands every night. But his ideal club is still a small place for people to meet and to create something through those meetings, and to accomplish this he says he recently opened a new, smaller live house called the Naked Loft. Again, what I think he is aiming for is a juke joint—a place where people aren’t divided clearly between musicians and listeners, but where the two mix, and make something new, or, at the very least, have fun together.

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