Wednesday, April 30, 2008

AL Airlines (advantage Lucy)

At the start of advantage Lucy's show at the Que on Tuesday night the static-y sound of an in-flight announcement buzzed out of the speakers and a voice suspiciously similar to Lucy vocalist Aiko's came on and said, “Welcome aboard AL Airlines. We sincerely thank you for flying with us and making this a fully booked flight”—giggles—“Today's captain is Ishizaka”—more giggles—“...during the performance we might hit some rough patches, and rapidly lose altitude, but there's no need to worry because we will soon stabilize”—big laughs—thus beginning the musical evening solo flight of Advantage Lucy Airlines, with Captain Ishizaka on guitars and Aiko, serving, I guess, as the musical co-pilot, navigating a jam-packed Que cabin through two hours of their old hits and some new songs. There was one brief period of turbulence, but otherwise the flight was smooth and pleasant.

In spite of the intro there wasn't any airliner cosplaying or anything like that, and I speculated that maybe the idea came to Aiko because she had just vacationed in the Maldives, a long plane ride away. During a break she talked a long time about the islands, saying how there there's only the sound of the waves, wind and birds, a refreshing change from noise-overflowing Tokyo. Aiko also talked about an inter-island volleyball match she went to watch, with the islanders pounding on drums on the boat over to the competition, and how the two teams feasted together after the game but she noticed that many of her (hotel) team's players were quietly shedding tears of frustration because they were defeated, which suggested a straight emotional quality that we city slicker types may have lost...

Anyway...good news for Lucy fans (or, as we call ourselves, the Lucy-min): they are releasing a new 3-song single on May 20!! At the show the band played all three, and they were great: a pop song, a rocking number, and one gorgeous ballad called “Shiroi Asa (A White Morning)”, which sounded like it was infused with emotion, if not created, in the beautiful Maldives.

(Photo credit: Plectrum Takata's blog)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Perfume Bubble

Perfume's out of control! A Perfume bubble is puffing up in Japan.

Only a few months ago, I was planning to write about this idol trio to say that one of the standout things Capsule music creator Yasutaka Nakata has done is to become these three's producer and write great songs for them, so that it became at least semi-respectable to love Perfume in spite of their being otaku magnets. And I really enjoy some of their songs, including “Vitamin Drop”, “Monochrome Effect” and “Computer Driving”.

But now, they're out of sight. Their new album Game is number one on the Oricon charts. Their latest national tour is completely, hopelessly sold out. They are top draws on every music variety shows on TV.

Part of it is that, yes, they're managed by a big entertainment agency that markets them well. But that's not the whole secret. They're more than skillfully-sold merchandise. Somewhere along the way Perfume became a genuinely 'hip' item for a lot of people. Look at the Village Vanguard store in Shimokitazawa, the epitome of counterculture cool. Their small music section now stocks Perfume (it's unimaginable that they'd sell any other idol group's music), and they tout the unit's music like they are the Second Coming of Kawaii. Mixi's Perfume community has more than 36,000 members, and its intro calls their beloved three “this century's most powerful girl pop unit”.

Perfume's formula is a combination of things: the way their voices go together perfectly, being one of the best sounding J-pop girl vocal ensemble since Puffy; the stylish and catchy music by Capsule's Nakata, a techno pop sound that seems novel in the idol arena; the android-like, sharply choreographed dance moves; and the three's down-to-earth, humorous public persona—three girls from Hiroshima who toiled for years without being recognized, before hitting the big time, now.

But one YouTube is worth a thousand words, and the video above, just 53 seconds long, is one of my favorite.

It's actually a cover of a 1980's single by the Japanese techno group Juicy Fruits called “Jenny Wa Gokigen Naname (Jenny's In A Bad Mood)”. I salute the excellent taste of Perfume, or whichever manager that got the three to perform it, because this song is one of the more revolutionary of J-pop: as far as I know it's one of the first where a female vocalist sang in that high-voiced, super-sweet, coquettish way that became so common later on (and the strange thing is that in none of their other singles does the vocalist of Juicy Fruits sing that way); for its time the lyrics were risque for prime-time TV, with the main line being that “we will sleep together hugging, because that would calm me down a bit (daki atte nemuruno, sou sureba sukoshi wa ki ga osamaruno)”; and the entire band came on the TV screen dressed up in fruit costumes, a big singing peach, guitar-playing banana, etc. Even as a kid when I saw Juicy Fruits perform this song it was a shock, and I'm happy that Perfume is bringing it back (a YouTube of Juicy Fruits playing the song is below—hmm, in it there's stuffed fruit strewn on the stage but the musicians aren't wearing them. Is my memory false??).

The 53-second clip above shows just how hyper a Perfume live is: listen to the way the male fans shout out the names of the members; see how A~chan cups her hand to her ear to mean 'make some noise' and a few moments later says 'arigato-!' in a very Western Japan accent; and in general, witness the way that three cute dancing girls totally put the crowd under their spell (and I see on the wall a sign saying it's the Harajuku Astro Hall, a relatively small venue—now it's nearly impossible to buy tickets to catch them at the Zepp Tokyo, one of the city's biggest halls...)—I'd love to have been one of the nerds sweating it down in the audience pit.

A Budokan show will be the next thing for Perfume, a gig at a mega-live house like the Zepp being a stepping stone to an appearance at the fabled martial art/concert hall (in fact, ha ha, I checked their official website and it looks like they JUST announced yesterday they are playing TWO NIGHTS at the Budokan in September...). But... after all that, what happens? Fads have been known to happen in Japan, and this Perfume bubble can't keep inflating non-stop. The Perfume three will have to fall back down Earth one day, at which time will we be able to actually get tickets to see them at a 'smaller' live house like, say, the Liquid Room or the Quattro? In any case, these three are a unit to watch.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Japanese Bands To Completely Cover Pink Flag

Just found out that Call and Response Records is putting together a compilation album whose concept "is to take Wire’s debut album Pink Flag and cover the whole thing, track for track." Says Ian of C.A.R.:

I’ll talk more about my reasons for deciding to do this at a later date, perhaps when people will have a chance to listen to it and decide for themselves whether it succeeds or not.

What a crazy idea! Can't wait to check it out--the album is to feature veterans of the Akihabara Goodman-Koenji post-punk-prog scene such as Panicsmile and Tacobonds. (I imagine the reco-hatsu will be quite an ero-guro-nonsense bash of degeneracy and inebriation...)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Mondialito + Club 8

Whatever musical genre you can think of there's bound to be a group of its fans somewhere in Tokyo, and Swedish pop is no exception. It was no surprise that devotees packed the O-Nest on Thursday night to welcome Swedish indie-pop duo Club 8 in their first visit to Japan.

A longing for the exotic is one reason why, I think, many Japanese fans are into a group like Club 8 (though, of course, they love the music too). Somewhere in the music fan's mind there's a wish to be a blond, Swedish musician who goes on stage dressed in an all-white outfit (something you hardly ever see a Japanese person wearing), and acting friendly but a bit aloof in the face of adoring fans. Maybe in another life. And that's even if the person is happy or satisfied with his days in Japan.

This wish to be someone foreign isn't unusual outside of Japan, but it does seem to be an especially big thing here, for reasons that I'm not sure of. Do we have to go all the way back to the Meiji Restoration, catching up with foreign powers, etc., in search for an answer? Or is it a mental reaction to a society that encourages conformity, a way to keep yourself free by dreaming you are someone else?

In any case, Club 8 was a charming act (the vocalist Karoline said they've been wanting to come to Japan for something like 15 years), and their performance had this light and sweet feel you don't experience that often with Japanese groups' gigs. I don't have any empirical evidence for that, but I did feel it and many in the audience must have as well, and it made the time flow in a different way than usual.


Two Japanese bands opened for Club 8: my beloved 4 Bonjour's Parties, and a unit I've wanted to see for a while, Mondialito. From what I understand, the French-singing female vocalist of this latter duo now lives in Paris so they don't play in Japan very often—another 'emulating the exotic' thing? There was something regal about her whispery-voiced performance (a clear, chilly, mountain spring-like voice it was).

Maybe it was the way she stood erect in a velvety green dress while two seated guitarists and a wood bassist at her sides toiled away at their instruments. Or, perhaps it was the way that her eyes glittered dramatically throughout the show, looking down at her subjects (ok, audience...). She didn't bother spending too much time between songs communicating pleasantries. It would have been better if she didn't wave at her friends from the stage before the show—she should have marched on stage wearing, say, an ermine cape...