Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Go To Hell Youth Graduation Ceremony: Yamada Jackson Band

I had a feeling my friend's show would be fun when I read in his invitation e-mail: “People tend to think of us as weird guys, but we're very serious about what we do”. And I wasn't wrong.

The first sign of the whackiness ahead was when I entered Club Que on Sunday afternoon and saw that it had been transformed into a school auditorium on graduation day: on stage was a grand banner in red, pink and white, saying, in Japanese, 'Die and go to hell youth graduation ceremony'. A high school anthem played in the background. And all of the audience members had been given mini pom poms to shuffle around during the upcoming celebration.

Soon the lights went out and out came my friend Mr. Navetin in a shirt and tie as the school principal, stiffly MC-ing for the graduation proceedings. He said special guests had been invited for the ceremony, and immediately a gang of black-Prussian-uniformed men piled on to the stage: the Ouendan! With expressions of samurai-in-sword-battle seriousness and concentration, they went through school cheer routines.

What these guys were parodying was the Ouendan ('oh, N, dan'), who are fixtures at high school and college sporting events, crews of grim-faced men clad in heavy black wool uniforms even on the most humid Japanese summer afternoons. They move and shout through military dance routines as one guy swings a huge school banner the size of a small truck. (The flag-bearer is one of the top posts in these groups, reserved for a senior member, and it's considered a deeply humiliating thing if the guy ever has to put down the flag, according to the Japanese Wikipedia's 'ouendan' entry...) Ouendan guys never seem very popular with girls, but I think a lot of Japanese have a soft spot for them because they represent something Old Japan.

Once the Gamushara Ouendan finished their act, Yamada Jackson Band came on stage, and proceeded with a show that was hyper and crazy during every second of its duration: the singer, Yamada Jackson, began by climbing on top of an audience member taking a photo of him, collapsing together and then spending a big chunk of the act singing in the audience pit rather than on stage.

This band's gag is that they're punk-rocking high school teachers. Teacher Yamada Jackson air-guitars on a big wooden triangle ruler. Lead guitar Flask is “a chemistry teacher who makes his students conduct weird experiments during class. Big explosions and queer voices are heard sometimes from the chemistry lab but no one knows what he's up to. Also, no one has ever heard Teacher Flask's voice,” explains the band's website. The green wigged girl dancer/teacher Grammar/Glamour is “a high-tension, hysteric English teacher. She stands up to authority, and calls the school principal a 'bitch'”.

On stage these guys were power pop + rock + punk without all its cliches and just the energy and anarchy. Great melodies and ceaseless activity (teacher Grammar/Glamour gave the audience the Finger after each song)—I hadn't had so much fun at a show in a long while. At one point Teacher Yamada Jackson said this graduation ceremony is actually for the band, i.e. implication is that they're going to be quitting, a statement that was met with puzzled silence, but then, at the very end of the show he said, no, that's a joke, they're never going to really 'graduate', and will continue playing. Great! Thanks! Because I want more!

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