Guitarist Osamu Shimada had a fever of 38.2 degrees Celsius (101 degrees Fahrenheit) when he hit the stage of the Shimokitazawa Shelter with his band the Caraway, but you wouldn’t have known it if you were at his show. It was a performance that made me suddenly remember the things that drew me into Tokyo’s indie pop scene a few years ago: guitar sounds as bright as a sunny Southern California day, melodies as catchy as those of the first album you ever bought, and as much energy as your first all-night party with friends.
Shimada is also the lead guitarist of pop trio Swinging Popsicle, and listening to the way he crunched out precise and color-filled Caraway guitar solos in spite of his fever, I saw one big reason why the great Swinging Popscle has remained popular a decade after exploding on to the scene—its super guitarist. Shimada's other band, the Caraway, is due to release its first album in June. Can’t wait!
Long before either Swinging Popsicle or the Caraway was formed, in the early-1990’s, there was a neo-acoustic group called Bridge, whose music still influences Japanese bands, and whose members have continued with music, most notably the singer Hideki Kaji. At the Shelter show two bands featuring former-Bridge members played: Three Berry Icecream, of whom I wrote about recently, and Chicago Bass, which includes Mami Otomo, Bridge’s former singer. Both were good.
The evening, in fact, became a Bridge reunion of sorts, because, standing at the back of the tiny club watching the shows was the man himself, Hideki Kaji. I did a double-take when I saw his familiar face in the audience, and many fans went up to chat with him and take photos with him after the show. You have to understand that for many in Japan’s indie pop scene, Kaji is about as big as they get—I imagine there are a good number of people out there who would rather meet him than any number of major label Japanese ‘stars’. I didn't chat him up, though, because I'm not that familiar with his work, not owning any of his solo albums. Maybe next time though...