I’ve been going to Tokyo rock shows for years but somehow never made it to the Jam in Shinjuku, one of the oldest live houses in the city. That changed on Friday, when I went there to catch badbee.net’s event featuring Melt-Banana, Nokemono, Factotums and Falsies on Heat.
The Jam is a small basement club that looks as plain as a shack in a suburban mall. You get there walking down a drab thoroughfare away from the rowdier parts of Shinjuku, going past a Shinto shrine. Once inside, I thought I felt the liquified essence of Rock Bands Past perspiring down the Jam’s walls (or maybe it was just the air-con was down).
The first band up was Falsies on Heat, an all-girl quartet that I thought was good the last time I saw them, but truly rocked this time. Maybe they come to life most in a little, low-staged place like the Jam, where there’s nothing separating them from the audience. Or, maybe I was in a more receptive mood this time. Either way, my opinion of the group went up. They said they were going to take time off from doing shows because the drummer was about to have a baby.
Speaking of being one with the audience, Simon, the singer of the next band Factotums and one of the badbee guys, placed one mike in the audience section and another on the stage, and moved between those two seemingly at random, staggering sometimes into the crowd and singing in their midst. With long hair reaching down to his tattooed shoulder and with drink-hazed eyes, he was every Japanese daughter’s dad’s worst nightmare of a furyou gaijin (‘bad foreigner’). But he sang well, like a 70’s rock star (the band reminded me a bit of the Dictators).
‘Nokemono’ (pronounced ‘no’, ‘kay’, ‘moe’, ‘no’), the name of the third group, means something like ‘the Ignored One’. It was hard to blow them off though at the Jam: their bass and guitarist both played bare-chested, while the singer, wearing shocking-pink full-bodied tights and a green leather (?) cap, shouted at the audience that Nokemono drove 600 kilometers from Kyoto to be at this show, so they better have fun, and went on to try to crowd-surf two times, a difficult undertaking because the crowd density wasn’t quite enough. Badbee.net describes their music as “mental psycho-delic rock ‘n’ roll”.
Melt-Banana, the last band, dashed though their fast, experimental, short (one minute or so) punk songs, and were amazing. I remembered once being bored at an extremely brainy Tokyo indie pop show, and one of the few high points that night was that the club showed a video of a very energetic, rocking group, which turned out to be Melt-Banana. After Melt-Banana’s gig, a friend said that they are one of those bands you don’t expect to be that good because all these foreigners that know little about Japanese music love them, but you go to their shows and it turns out that they are really excellent after all (a somewhat elitist opinion, to be sure). Their female singer, wearing a white, caped pullover, moves the irises of her eyes from one corner to another as she sings, like a Balinese dancer, though I wasn’t sure if that was part of the performance or just a nervous thing.