Saturday, May 10, 2008

Waffles & Tornado Tatsumaki At The Que

Why did the Waffles never become huge? Why hasn't Tornado Tatsumaki hit the bit time? And how about Pop Chocolat?

Seeing those three groups together at the Que got me thinking about breakthrough success. Each of those bands had a lot of momentum at one point, but none of them became household names. The Waffles, for instance, was one of the most successful turn-of-the-century college pop bands and was involved with a major label. Tornado Tatsumaki was signed to Victor Entertainment. Pop Chocolat was for a period heavily promoted in the indie scene. Now though, each has a sizable fan base, but none is Perfume.

I can guess at some of the reasons. There has to be some combination of trendiness of sound, catchy melodies, musical innovation, and talent (though, that last category seems very much optional...). These guys never quite got the combo just right, if they were trying to do so in the first place. It's not a secret, though, that I much prefer a band like the Waffles or Tornado Tatsumaki to the vast majority of musical offerings on TV. The Waffles of the world are doing real music, in my view.

In any case, the Waffles opened the four-band show, and I didn't recognize them at first because vocalist/pianist Kyoko Ono had made a hair change: from straight shoulder length to an orange-colored perm with bangs. But the first song started and the style was unmistakable—facing the ceiling, eyes closed, she performs like she is breathing in and consuming happiness, even though she's singing lines like “I hate Time, it's a thief that pretends to give in abundance (Jikan nante daikirai, michiteku furishita dorobouda)”—that from “Tsugi No Hikari (The Next Light)”, one of my favorite Japanese pop songs. Their show reminded me of the way that, around 2003, when I seriously caught the Japanese music bug, I listened to the stirring opening notes of their album One, and mistakenly thought there would be a whole scene out there with many songs as good as these—no, there are certainly lots of brilliant musicians, but none can quite match the Waffles at what they do best.

Several people seemed happy about my report in the last post that advantage Lucy is releasing a new single; I'm pleased to say that the Waffles are also due to release a new work around the summer, and played several of the new songs, which were good.

After the Waffles was a band called Stainless that had its rock moments but wasn't quite as rust-free as their name would suggest, and then Tornado Tatsumaki came on. Bravo. Tornado Tatsumaki's set blew me away so much that I couldn't get it out of my head during Pop Chocolat, and I ended up taking off in the middle. To get back to the original issue: why doesn't Tornado Tatsumaki rule the world? I suppose their jazzy, alternative pop may be a little too adventurous for the masses, and somewhat lacking in easily identifiable catchy lines, but it's still a mystery. They are one of my favorites, a member of my alternative pop Trinity along with advantage Lucy and Spangle call Lilli line.

Tornado Tatsumaki's vocalist Makiko Naka is an Okinawan girl with a sweet, acidic voice—a shikuwasa voice is the vision I had—and it goes perfectly with the band's indie piano rock sound. I was struck, in particular, by her rendition of a song called “Anata No Koto (About You)”, which is in their last album Fureruto Kikoe and is almost blues-like in the way it builds up simple lyrical lines to come up with a powerful emotional edifice. It wasn't everyone's favorite when I broadcast the song on my radio station a while back, but maybe people's view would change once they see how much emotion Naka puts into it live...

No comments: