Thursday, March 01, 2007

Asakusa Jinta At Shibuya Quattro

In these cold months in Tokyo I've discovered a great band that warms my soul. Their name is Asakusa Jinta.

This septet takes old Japanese popular music, mixes in rock, rockabilly and a teaspoon of punk, and cooks up a sound that is both nostalgic and brand new. The 'jinta' in their name refers to brass bands that were active in the Meiji and Taisho eras (that is, 1868 to 1926), and horns and saxes, in addition to an accordion and a pumped-up double bass, are key ingredients in their songs. Their music sounds like modernized versions of old Japanese movie music (you can sample some of their tunes here).

Most Japanese bands borrow from western music styles like rock, blues and hip hop, but very few tap into Japan's own home-grown musical traditions. Asakusa Jinta does, and succeeds brilliantly. My next rightround column, due out on Monday, is about Asakusa Jinta--take a look if they interest you.

I went to see them at the Shibuya Quattro last week, and had such a good time I forgot what a cramped, smoke-filled hell-hole the Quattro is when it's packed (which it was). I was surprised to see that despite Asakusa Jinta's retro sound, the audience was young, mostly people in their twenties--was this a sign that Old Japan is becoming trendy? There were a few guys in rockabilly outfits, and one girl in a kimono with skin as white and smooth as ivory.

Asakusa Jinta is led by vocalist Oshow, who plays a golden double bass that's souped up to explode notes with maximum impact. Martial metaphors come to mind when trying to describe his bass sound--distant bombs, machine gun rounds... He's surrounded by a girl on sax, another girl on accordion, a trumpet guy, a guy that plays brass (including a sousaphone), and electric guitar and drums.

They play music that if it doesn't make you dance you should go and see a doctor. The crowd did what looked like Okinawa-style dancing, with both arms in the air, palms facing the ceiling and wrists twisting to the rhythm. For the encore, the horn section marched into the audience like some sort of ultra-hip chindonya ensemble, while Oshow did a solo on-stage. The front-center of the audience section dissolved into a mass mosh pit, and in spite of the incongruity of people slam-dancing to neo-Japanese popular music, I shared their sentiment.


Asakusa Jinta is touring in the U.S. in March, so don't miss them if you are in one of the big Americas cities they will be playing in, which are:

Cambridge, MA on March 10 at T.T. The Bear’s
New York on March 11 at Knitting Factory
Philadelphia on March 13 at Khyber
Chicago on March 14 at Empty Bottle
Austin, TX on March 16 at Elysium
Los Angeles on March 18 at Knitting Factory
San Francisco on March 19 at Independent
Seattle on March 20 at Neumos Crystal Ball Reading Room

More information here.

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