I went to the Yoyogi Zher The Zoo on Saturday night to see Budou Grape, a quintet from Nagoya that came highly recommended by Steve of JapanFiles, and discovered the evening to be a pageant of weird, fun groups that I didn't know about.
Up first was Souchi Megane, which consisted of a skinny guy surrounded by keyboards pumping out 80's-sounding synth disco music, and his fleshier, bowl-cut-hair partner, who hopped around stage doing dance routines while singing. In one of those only-in-Japanese-live-show things, about a dozen mainly-girl fans in the first two rows did the same dance moves as the singer (for example, making a circle with the thumb and forefinger to represent glasses, like in the picture above). I wasn't sure whether the gay feel that permeated the show was real or accidental, and whether the gal fans were into that or just liked the music and the cuteness.
Band #2 was Kasei Soda (meaning 'Mars Soda'), and they went for the SF-anime-look, with the singer wearing high-tech military goggles and the girl lead guitarist receiving galactic transmissions via her big white headphones with a protruding antenna. The singer said they were from the planet of Neo-Nagoya and were here to teach all the country bumpkins about rock 'n' roll. For all that, their music was straightforward rock, though with lots of (cosmic?) energy.
Budou Grap, the band I came to see, came on next, wearing matching yellow-orange shirts and polka dot ties. Budou Grape ('budou' means grape too--don't ask me what their name means, because I don't know) is made of five people all stage-named Budou, sort of like the Ramones. They have a good sound: the three guy Budous, Nagai, Matsui and Taichi, pound out heavy, rocking bass-drum-guitar parts, while the two Budou girls, keyboardist Midori and singer Quminco, add a cute sweetness to the music. Quminco is said to work as a model when not singing grape rock, and seemed to have several die-hard fans, one of whom took flash photos of her throughout the gig. Budou Grape said they're also from Neo-Nagoya.
I'd seen the fourth band Hi-5 a couple of years ago, and they were as good as I remembered them--they're like a more punk New Order with a teaspoon of funk mixed in. The trio said they were from, not Neo-Nagoya, but Neo-Kita-Kyushu, which must be a gritty, industrial city, going by its name. I felt Hi-5 would make it much bigger if they were anywhere in the world but hyper-competitive Tokyo--I really feel they would attract fans in big cities in the U.S., say.
I should have, but didn't, see the last band Cosmic Airplane, who organized the event, because I was musically stuffed full by the fourth group of the night. They passed out a DVD of one of their music videos, though, so I can watch it and regret not seeing them if they are good.
Most of the crazy, costume-wearing, flashy bands seem to come from Osaka or Nagoya (...excuse me, Neo-Nagoya) rather than Tokyo, where musicians for the most part seem plainly dressed in T-shirts and jeans. Maybe it's that Tokyoites have grown complacent when it comes to stage presentation since they're at the center of Japan's music universe and no one else is dressing crazily, whereas those in the regional cities feel a psychological need to stand out, or, they're afraid, they would slip back into the comfortable dullness of their provincial origins. Well, in any event, that's my hypothesis.