Sunday, May 07, 2006

Plectrum+Las Vegas+Round Table

It’s not often that I enjoy, from beginning to end, a Tokyo rock show featuring more than one band. Oftentimes, only one group is good, and the rest are passable or worse. If a band I don’t know about turns out to be brilliant, it feels like a minor miracle, but that doesn’t happen very much. And neither is it a frequent occurrence for every band on a bill to be great. But that was the happy situation at the Shimokitazawa Club Que on Friday night, in a show featuring the groups Plectrum, Round Table and Las Vegas.

The thing these three bands share is plentiful experience. Plectrum is celebrating its tenth year as a band. Las Vegas is a unit created by a member of Great3, which has been around even longer than Plectrum. I’m not sure how many years Round Table has been in existence, but I guess it’s about a decade too.

All those years make a difference. First off, if they weren’t good they probably would have fallen away from the scene long ago. And as the years pile up, so does their experience. A performance by a veteran band simply feels different, from the opening few seconds of the gig: it’s tighter, and it draws the audience in more, and immediately.

Rock fans (and the music press and record labels) tend to spend a lot of time looking for the Next Big Thing, which is fine, as long as one keeps in mind that the Previous Big Thing and Big Thing Before That are not only good, but may actually be better because of their experience.

Having written all that, I have to say that Round Table’s show surprised me—I knew they were good, but either I’d forgotten, or didn’t fully realize before, just HOW good they are. A duo consisting of Katsutoshi Kitagawa, the guitar guy, and Rieko Ito, the keyboard girl, they brought along a rhythm section and a guy on the congos, and did a show that was about as funky as I’ve ever seen in a Tokyo pop show. It was obvious they were having a blast—Ito wrinkled her brows in the way that musicians do when they are focused completely on keeping a perfect jam going.

Next up was Las Vegas, who was a regular rock band the last time I saw them couple of years ago but appeared to have become a DJ/trance/club music act, and they set up their equipment to the side of the audience rather than on the stage. I don’t know much about DJ music, but it seemed like they were trying interesting new things and I enjoyed it, even if their 40 minute set only consisted of two ‘songs’.

And then there was Plectrum. These guys are a perfect illustration of what I mean when I say a veteran group’s gig feels different right from the start. There’s intensity, even if they don’t begin loudly or fast. They are also all fabulous musicians: lead guitarist Akira Fujita and bassist Manabu Chigasaki both play as supporting musicians for major acts; Mikiya Tatsui, the drummer, has an explosive style, and likes to show off his moves on stage. But Plectrum wouldn’t be Plectrum without its lead vocalist Taisuke Takata, who is pictured above. A natural entertainer, he has an unerring ability to get the crowd giggling with little jokes between songs, but then turn around and deliver musical performances of true passion. After the show, Takata told me that he writes one song a day, humming the melody into his mobile phone—songs are like diary entries for him.

These three bands are all worth seeing if they ever come your way.

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