Saturday, February 17, 2007

Salt Water Taffy & Vasallo Crab 75 At Zher The Zoo

Sometimes after a long day at work I debate with myself about whether I really want to go to a rock show somewhere in Tokyo. Is it worth spending the whole evening in some smoke-filled basement where the music might not even be that good? Often the 'go home' arguments wins out, and I slither back to the comfortable cocoon of my apartment. But other times I decide to go to the club in spite of being tired, and become glad I did because I feel regenerated at the end of evening. That was the case on Thursday night.

The chief draws of the show at the Yoyogi Zher The Zhoo were the bands Vasallo Crab 75 and Salt Water Taffy. The drummer of the latter moved to the former, but the two remain friendly with each other, and funnily enough, I found out later I wrote about a show featuring the two at almost the very beginning of this journal.

Salt Water Taffy is a quartet that consists of a female vocalist/guitarist and drummer, and a guy guitarist and bassist, and play shoegazer-influenced indie rock. The girl singer, dressed in a puffy red skirt with black dots that made her look like a ladybug or a strawberry, sang softly as if her voice was just another instrument in the ensemble rather than the focus of the performance, and it created a good contrast to the heavy sounds of the lead guitar and bass. Many Japanese kids seem to have a gift for coming up with attractive melodies and hooks (the same way they are often master cartoon illustrators), and this was certainly the case with Salt Water Taffy.

Of Vasallo Crab 75 I've written a lot over the years, but to repeat, they are one of the best live bands I've seen in Tokyo. It had been several months since I last saw them and they seemed to have gotten even better.

They combine rock with disco and funk, and the violinist Kawabe even breaks out Bach solos once in a while. Vasallo Crab 75 is a gathering of amazing musicians who seem to genuinely get along, and that comes through to the audience during their gigs. They are due to release a new album around May.


At the start of the evening my body felt stiff, like I was fossilized, but as the night progressed I felt the hardness melt, so that by the end I was light and exuberant, ready to dive into the limitless possibilities of music and art. That feeling is what makes me keep going to shows.

Vasallo Crab 75

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Rightround Column: Moga The Y5

J-punk has been my thing recently: I've been listening to a lot of Ging Nang Boyz, Gauze (after reading this in Tokyo Damage Report), a J-Psychobilly compilation album called Far East Evils, punker-turned-novelist Machida Machizou's old work, etc. Another album whose play count has been shooting up in my iTunes library is So no Gunjyou, the new work by poetic, Japanese-language-only, quasi-emo quartet Moga The Y5, a longtime favorite group of mine. My latest rightround column is about Moga The Y5, their label Pizza of Death Records, and about the fact that punkers get older too.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Yuyake Lamp At Heaven's Door

The Heaven's Door in Sangenjyaya is known as a hardcore club, its bathroom walls coated with layers of graffiti, and its employees covered with tattoos. So it was a surprise that it was where mellow piano pop group Yuyake Lamp did their first gig of the year.

Yuyake Lamp, which is Orange Plankton minus pianist Yuki, is due to release their first single in March, and several video cameras filmed their show, maybe for a promotion video. Neither Orange Plankton nor Yuyake Lamp ever exploded in popularity, but things may be looking up for them in 2007: several of their songs have been used in TV commercials, and one tune is being played as background music at ski slopes across Japan. A movie director is producing Yuyake Lamp's single--no doubt he's one of those of us who became smitten by the group's sublime melodies and vocalist Yumi's singing, which is soft, but as intensely emotional as any hardcore singer that headlines the Heaven's Door.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Foreign Legion Of Italian Music Reviewers

For reasons I'm not sure of, I've been asked to review independent Italian music, a genre I know nothing about. But when I admitted my total ignorance to my contact person, a guy named Renzo, he replied, it doesn't matter, we want your feelings as a non-Italian listener, it's fine if you give us slashing criticism or enthusiastic praise, just "say the truth, ever and ever".

OK. I could handle that. I told Renzo I'll try it.

A few days later I received the album Odi Profanum Vulgus Et Arceo by the female artist Miss Violetta Beauregarde. The description that came with the album said Miss Violetta got into electronic punk because she was tired of all the pretentious techno-music maestros and wanted to show the world she could make equally good stuff by twisting knobs and punching buttons, without any training. It also said she throws lamb heads at her live show audiences. Interesting...

My 100-word review is here. To sum it up, this wasn't an album I would pay for, but it did grow on me and I came to like many parts of it. My attitude is, you might as well try listening to all sorts of music, dive into any sea of sound. What could go wrong? It's music, not a mined harbor.

Renzo kindly translated the review into elegant-sounding Italian on the website Rockit: "Ma poi ho capito che la signorina Urlatrice crea un interessante mondo sonoro – tetro, arido, inumano, grigio ..." etc. (You can read the original review in English if you scroll downa bit.) And the name of the series of reviews by me and the other foreign writers will be Legionestraniera, meaning we're the Foreign Legion of Music Reviewers. Bravo!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Pizzicato Five Rediscovered--Visually

I've long been a lukewarm fan of Pizzicato Five, in that I like a lot of their songs but not with a boiling passion. But then the other day while surfing YouTube I found several P5 music videos, and after watching them I suddenly understood why the group appeals to so many people. While their neo-60's hipster pop music is lovely in itself, what sets P5 apart is the whole package: fashion, visuals & art, attitude, in addition to the invariably catchy melodies. This became clear the instant I clicked play on the first YouTube P5 video I found.

It shouldn't have surprised me that Pizzicato Five's videos are sparkling gems, since one of the joys I've gotten out of buying their CDs is looking at the quality artwork and photos that came with discs, portraying Maki Nomiya and Yasuharu Konishi as stylish 1960's jet-setters, and if their CD pictures are so artsy and imaginative then you'd expect good music videos too. But I've never been a big music video fan, so never thought to check out P5's videos.

What happy results a few minutes of aimless wandering on YouTube can bring! I first found a video of the upbeat song "Twiggy Twiggy", and loved it. Such cute dance moves! They're a mix of vogue and the Twist. What lovely art, with the faded black and white picture and the random appearance of slogans on the screen saying things like "pizzicato five; in action"... And what's the deal with the blank-faced guy in the back taking it all in?

I also liked this video of "Playboy Playgirl" with a bleached blond Nomiya and a boyfriend drinking champagne and dancing at some super-ritzy party in what looks like the inside of a castle...

But my favorite was the video of "Such A Beautiful Girl Like You". The song is one of the P5 tunes I like the most to start with--it has a great melody, and the lyrics with its main line, "Why is such a beautiful girl like you crying?/There isn't a girl as beautiful as you anywhere", are simple but evoke something like a scene out of a movie. The video doesn't take anything away from the song, and adds delightful art.

The total impact of the art exceeds the sum of its parts: for example, Nomiya's blond hair, red sweater, white mini-skirt, and the white room with a white bed and white chair are each fairly ordinary, but all together they are striking.

And then there's that random street corner and curving road that Nomiya walks across. The whole feel of the scene fits perfectly with the image of the video: the bright white building in the corner, the overcast sky, the European feel of the street... It's brimming with classiness.

If you watched P5 videos in real-time when they came on TV none of what I've been writing about above might seem like anything new, but for me, who saw these videos for the first time, they're a grand discovery. For the benefit of people who've never seen the videos, here's "Such A Beautiful Girl Like You" (at least, until YouTube takes it down):