Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yuyake Lamp, At The Bank And On The Train

One wish I have about the Tokyo music scene: I'd like more events to be organized at unusual venues, rather than at the same old live houses and clubs, and in that regard, this weekend was ideal—I saw shows at an old bank in Kyoto and aboard the Arakawa-sen streetcar in Tokyo. Both were events featuring piano pop trio Yuyake Lamp.

The first was Friday night at the Museum of Kyoto's performance hall, which used to be the Bank of Japan's Kyoto branch. In creating this hall, the museum moved the entire Bank of Japan structure from wherever it was before to a space next to the main museum building. The ceiling was high, causing natural reverb during the performances, and there were tall pillars and a 2nd story balcony; it was a majestic hall, named an Important Cultural Asset, where bankers and businessmen of old must have met to mull important affairs of the day. Now, a few decades later, this sanctum of Finance had been taken over by a couple of dozen amplified-music playing young adults.

In the audience, though, were a good number of the middle-aged and seniors, maybe relatives and family friends of Quesa, the Kyoto-based female singer/pianist who organized the event. I wasn't sure what the older folks thought of the evening—they were mostly motionless and expressionless. This wasn't their music. To their credit, Yuyake Lamp were able to rouse even the elders through their music and interaction with the audience. A lady in front of me turned to her partner and said what a pretty voice the singer has. Which is true, but vocalist Yunn also has a way of filling every phrase and word and syllable of her songs with meaning and emotion, and I'd like to think the crowd responded to that. The last act of the night, Quesa, was a vocalist with a strong, beautiful voice too, who sang vivid, imagistic pop tunes. (I thought 'quesa' was Spanish for 'cheese', but it's actually 'queso', and the unit name doesn't actually mean anything. So much for five years of Spanish in school...)


On Sunday was Yuyake Lamp's Arakawa-sen live. Arakawa-sen is Tokyo's only surviving public streetcar line, traveling from the college-town of Waseda on the west to Minowa in northeastern Tokyo, a neighborhood that is like a time-warp to pre-1980's Japan. Yuyake Lamp set up a couple of small amps in the one-car train, connected those to a keyboard on one end of the train and to an acoustic guitar, while the drummer tapped on a cajon, and a flutist joined them. They played and talked during the whole fifty-five minute trip.

There were lots of smiles on board: smiles in response to the music, to the friendly, intimate atmosphere of the train, and the strange sensation of listening to wonderful live music on a commuter train that traveled through everyday scenes of a Tokyo Sunday afternoon. I saw outside the car window a crowd of revelers carrying a mikoshi; a guy riding a bicycle heading for kendo practice with a bamboo sword and a bag filled with armor; and lots of people of all ages on the streets and on train platforms doing a double-take after realizing that live music is coming from a streetcar.

This was the opposite of the live house experience, where, walking the stairs to a dark hall, you remove yourself from everyday life to focus on the music. The street car live WAS everyday life, but with live music in the background blending with the everyday scenes, and lending them an artistic feel (like something in a movie). Although by the end of the trip I was a bit dizzy due to the motion, I found I enjoyed the streetcar live much more and in a much different way than I expected.

Yuyake Lamp said they want to continue doing unusual events, and one idea they've floated is to do a show on board a hot-air balloon. If it happens, I may have to overcome my fear of heights just to be able to say I once saw a rock show in a balloon...

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