Wednesday, July 19, 2006

advantage Lucy, Swinging Popsicle, "Mine-Mine"

Aiko and Mineko

At Sunday night's Club 440 show, advantage Lucy singer Aiko said her band has been recording new music day and night so that even now on stage, she wasn't sure whether she was awake or dreaming. She was joking, but for me, there was indeed something almost dream-like about this event: it brought together advantage Lucy and Swinging Popsicle, two of my favorite Japanese groups. It was the first pairing of the two bands in many years, though they've known each other since both got their start about a decade ago. They are both wonderful groups that have stuck it out in Japan's volatile music scene and continued to make good music, creating new fans in Japan and abroad along the way.

Advantage Lucy went first and began by doing two songs unplugged, just Aiko's singing and Yoshiharu Ishizaka's acoustic guitar. That brought out Aiko's striking singing voice, which is delicate but strong and clear, an icicle voice. For the second tune they did a cover of a song from the animation movie Gedo Senki, which I found out is based on the Earthsea fantasy novels that I spent days and nights reading as a child. After that the rest of the band came out and they turned up the volume much louder than usual at a cafe like the 440. They played mostly oldies like "Memai" and "Red Bicycle".

Swinging Popsicle's set featured several new songs, including a gorgeous minor-chord ballad called "Kanashii Shirabe (translated to something like 'A Sad Melody')", and a rocking new number called either "Crash" or "Clash" (you can't tell when it's pronounced in Japanese--I think the former though).

Advantage Lucy's Aiko claimed later that she and Ishizaka-san listened to Swinging Popsicle's set in the dressing room and told each other they need to become skilled musicians like them. And Popsicle was good, rocking the crowd in an almost business-like manner (though, at times, Shimada the guitarist and Hirata the bassist flashed little smiles at each other as they played behind singer Mineko, like two school-kids exchanging jokes behind the teacher's back).

For the encore, the audience got a treat: both Lucy's Aiko and Popsicle's Mineko came on stage for a performance of a rarely-heard unit called Mine-Mine ('Mine' pronounced 'mee-neh'), a reference to the 'Mine' in Mineko's name and Aiko's family name Hiramine. With members of the two great bands on stage, the Mine couple sang a cover of The La's "There She Goes", their voices blending prettily and all the musicians seeming to have maximum fun.

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