The Shelter is a tiny, dark, dusty-looking basement of a rock club in Shimokitazawa that puts on some of the best shows in Tokyo. I went there to see a new group called Teenline.
Teenline's a band formed by bassist Chiharu after the split-up late last year of the group she was in, the great garage rock girl trio the Clicks. She got together with three guys from bands Mirwelts and Supersnazz, while the Clicks’ guitarist and drummer started their own group called Newbie.
These ex-Clicks girls are a part of a Tokyo music scene I’ve only recently started to get into, a garage rocker punk scene. Its supporters aren’t pure punkers—you never see mohawks and there isn’t much slam-dancing at shows. But they aren’t conventional Shimokitazawa rock musicians either—they have their own influences, which seem to center on 60’s to 80’s American and British rock and punk.
Like their idols, they act working class, whether or not they really are. Their drink of choice, for example, is happo-shu, the poor-man’s Japanese beer (equivalent, I guess, to malt liquor in the U.S.). I’ve never understood why people drink happo-shu. It’s about 100 yen (about US$1) cheaper than regular beer, and the first gulp tastes pretty much like beer. But then, there’s the aftertaste…it makes it abundantly clear you are drinking something different, a phony beer that tastes vaguely vegetal. Is the 100-yen difference really worth it? If you just want to get drunk, can’t you just knock back some cheap shochu? Not according to the garage rockers, who happily dive into the wannabe beer.
In fact, when I turned the corner that leads to the Shelter, I saw a loitering gang going through cans of happo-shu before the start of the event. Down the stairs in the club there was almost no one in the audience, but right before the music started the Happo-shu Proletarians came down, so that in the end there was a decent crowd.
Teenline had invited three bands, High Vox, Beehive and Havenot’s, and all of them followed the same musical formula: loud repetitious passages of guitar power and barre chords, tight rhythm parts and passionate vocals, punctuated by guitar solos about three-quarter of the way into songs. It reminded me of grunge when grunge was a new thing, before it became huge. This was music you’ve heard before; these guys weren’t trying to create a new chapter in musical history. But what they lacked in innovation, they made up for in overflowing, captivating energy: their music makes you move.
In front of me in the audience was a group of well-perfumed ladies wearing silky, pleated skirts, and one of them, who was apparently a friend of one of the bands, showed the others how to do the “devil’s horns” hand sign, and all of them proceeded to stick out their pinkies, index fingers and thumbs in a studious manner.
They had come to see the second band, Beehive, which was led by an eye shadow-wearing glam singer who kept on calling out “Hello, TOKYO!” to the Shelter audience and otherwise acted like an arena rocker facing tens of thousands of fans, rather than tens of club-goers. A fun band.
The most popular, and best group of the night was the Havenot’s, a trio that crashed non-stop through fast, short, intense hard rock tunes.
Teenline went last, and their show was less absorbing than the three that went before them, probably because they had less experience. Still, they seemed promising. Chiharu was the one girl in the quartet, and her three guy partners seemed to give it more rock ‘n’ roll horsepower than the Clicks had, though at the expense of the Clicks’ cuteness.