Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gyoko, Michiro Endo, Midori

I was looking forward to Saturday's show at the Yoyogi Zher The Zoo because it was to feature a musician and a band I've wanted to see for a while: Michiro Endo, the former front-man of the legendary 80's punk band The Stalin, and Gyoko, Japan's one and only fisherman rock band. It turned out to be a great evening.

Endo, the second on the bill, played solo. His face was jagged and all sharp angles, like a stone spearhead. Whipping the strings of his acoustic guitar, he shouted sung poems about sex and destruction (at one point he compared the womb to the atomic ruins of Hiroshima), and then let out shrieks at the ends of songs like a bat's scream. A couple of decades after the Stalin days (when he picked fights with audience members and threw animal innards into the crowd, getting banned from most venues in the process), he was still a rule-breaker but with words rather than action. The audience seemed at once moved and uncomfortable; several yelled out his name between songs.

Up next was Midori, an explosive punk-jazz-rock unit from Osaka, with a girl in a sailor uniform on vocals. Now that Limited Express (has gone?) has, sadly, disbanded, Midori will likely be one challenger to their throne as Osaka's wildest zany live band: bands that crowd-surf are a dime a dozen, but this was the first time I saw someone crowd-walk—the sailor uniform girl grabbed the ceiling pipes and stepped over the shoulders of fans during one number.

Gyoko is a trio of fishermen rockers—according to the tale they've spun they decided to start a band when heard Run D.M.C. on the radio waves while on a tuna-fishing boat near Australia. They have a great single out called “Maguro [tuna]” featuring taiko drums and a triton conch, and are due to release their first album in May.

Right away it was clear this was going to be something different: the stage was covered with banners with old Chinese characters on them saying things like “Big Catch”, and there were two giant paper lanterns on either side. The three members made their way to the stage through the audience, and the singer, Captain Morita, raised a long sashimi knife into the air as he climbed onto the stage. He was wearing aviator sunglasses and a tightly-twisted headband, and spent about as much time talking as doing a few songs. But it was first-rate entertainment—you never knew what they were going to do next, and at the end of their set Captain Morita left the stage and came back wearing an actual big tuna head on his face, proceeding to cut it up to give as gifts to the audience, while explaining what each fish part was.

For too many bands a live show is all about themselves: it's an egotistical thing, an opportunity to reveal themselves and their feelings through music, and the audience is expected to understand and be supportive. Not so with Gyoko. Their aim is to surprise and delight the audience, and they succeeded fully at that—I had so much fun I decided to leave before seeing the last band, because I was already sated. We need more bands like Gyoko.

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