Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nirgilis & HALCALI At The Unit

The Daikanyama Unit was bad-mouthed in my Tokyo live house post, but having been there on Sunday I have to say it wasn't actually that bad. The staff was even polite (shock!). Still, in the end, I prefer grungy little clubs with character like the Que and Loft.


I was there to see an event called Spoon Market, organized by the group Tokyo Pinsalocks and featuring a number of girl bands, including the ones I was especially interested in, Nirgilis and HALCALI.

Nirgilis is a synth-pop trio consisting of a girl vocalist and drummer, and a guy bassist, with all three in charge of synthesizers and programming. Japanese sources sometimes describe them as a 'mashup band', but I'm not sure how accurate that is—their hit tune “Sakura” did overlay a version of “Amazing Grace” to the main melody, but other than that, most of their songs seem pretty straightforwardly pop.

What's special about them is the vocalist Acchu Iwata's singing style, which, to borrow from one of their song titles, is 'coquettish'-sounding, and also intuitive, emotional and sensual. Some of their song lyrics are rather steamy, so maybe their aim is to be sexy, in the true sense of the word. I was curious to see what they were like on stage.

Acchu, wearing a head-patch shaped like a hand, was petite, like some sort of Hobbit pop idol. She did laps across the stage and threw her arms up in a V, like a medal winner. The band was a lot more noisy and intense than I expected having listened to their albums, and often plunged into digital jam sessions.

One of my favorite Nirgilis songs is called “Thank you for the special day!!”, which is about seeing a perfect show by a favorite band. At the end of their gig, my enthusiasm level wasn't quite that high, but it was still good and I was happy to have seen them.


HALCALI came on a little later. They're a girl hip hop duo comprising Halca and Yucali (Halca + Yucali = HALCALI), and they made a splash a few years ago as a 'Japanese high school girl hip hop unit'; according to their website, the two met each other in a dance class when they were elementary school kids, and they were discovered at a 'female rapper audition'.

They're an adorable combo—Halca, tall, long-haired and pretty, while Yucali being little, short-haired and cute. They had on striped shirts, Yucali's in pink and Halca's in yellow, with illustrations of bananas on the front.

HALCALI's show was worlds apart from the typical Shimokita or Shibuya rock/pop gigs I see. Of course, it was hip hop, but going beyond that, the emphasis on dancing, acting and moving on stage, one girl coming forward when rapping while the other moving back, and so on, was fresh and fun to watch.

It also made me think that, at a certain point, a 'show' became for kids not just an occasion to sing and play musical instruments, but also do coordinated dance steps, in HALCALI's manner. It mustn't be a coincidence that you see so many groups street dancing to their reflections in building windows these days. Dancing became a natural part of musical entertainment, and people enjoyed showing off their moves on stage. Whereas, for many people of my generation (thirtysomething or so), the common understanding was that bands don't really dance, at least not the good ones, except as a joke. Dancing was an extra variable you had to put into the performance; why not just do your best singing and playing music? But maybe now that would be considered by my succeeding generation as plain and sorta boring.

In any case, HALCALI was skilled at all they did, rapping, singing, dancing, and getting the crowd moving—Yucali repeatedly told everyone to come closer to the stage, “even all you people standing in the back like strangers”—and I thought these two should play in the U.S. in an anime festival or something, where the fans would lap them up. But then, woops, I checked later, and it turns out that they already did that earlier this year, though the fans would no doubt want to see them again. (One final thing about HALCALI: some of their rhymes blow my mind, for example I would have never thought of rhyming 'aka jutan (red carpet)' with 'Azabu Juban (a shopping district next to Roppongi)' as they do in one song!)


Filled with regret I left the event before Tokyo Pinsalocks hit the stage, due to other business to attend do. They are a great group and nice people... Next time...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Murmur, advantage Lucy, Caraway, Lost In Found

Facing pounding rain as I headed out to see advantage Lucy and others, I remembered a line from the Lucy song “Smile Again”: “I realized there's no rain that never stops (yamanai ame nante nai to kizuita)”. And, indeed, by the end of the Basement Bar show, the downpour had run its course.


There were many friends at the Basement Bar. Watching the show next to the stage was Three Berry Icecream's Mayumi, whose music advantage Lucy grew up listening to. Mayumi's daughter was also there—she's known these bands since she was a baby. But where once she danced and called out the names of favorite singers, now, in elementary school, she ducked behind the stage and plugged her ears during the loud parts.

The evening's headliner, Murmur's Mai Tsuyutani, was an advantage Lucy fan from when she was a teen-ager. She was too shy back then to say hi to the band and tell them she's learning to play the guitar; hearing that, Lucy guitarist Ishizaka gave Mai's mom (who had taken her to the show) a guitar pick to pass on to her daughter as a souvenir. Mai says she still has it, in her little treasure box at home.

Lost In Found, the first act, toured Seoul together with advantage Lucy in 2004. They were always good, in a cute amateurish way, but in a few years' time they've developed into great, fun live band, at once relaxed and energetic, and featuring one of the prettiest-sounding guy-girl vocal duos around. They've become a band I want to see every time they play.

Act two was Caraway (the top photo), Swinging Popsicle guitarist Osamu Shimada's other band. Swinging Popsicle and advantage Lucy both hit it big in the late-90's, and they considered each other as rivals of sorts back then, in a good way, but now, a decade later, they are good friends. Swinging Popsicle's vocalist's husband runs the Nakano pasta joint where advantage Lucy filmed their “Sunday Pasta” video. (By the way, my friend David Cirone has published a photo collection of Swinging Popsicle. It's full of gorgeous pictures of the bands, plus two interviews, one by me. If you're a Popsicle fan, check it out! Info here.)


Outside the club before the show, a mikoshi, a portable Shinto shrine, was being carried around, bounced up and down, when a fight broke out. One of the fighters was a guy in dreadlocks; his challenger grabbed his dreads, and he latched on to the challenger's hair too, so the mediators found it impossible to pull them apart, and all the revelers stood and watched the the spat in silent disgust. It must have been all the drinking that prompted the fight—fights happen from time to time at festivals, where adults often drink continuously from the early afternoon. The crowd was unhappy the festivities were sullied by a fight. But, I couldn't help thinking that maybe one thing being celebrated at a matsuri like this was the elemental nature of humans, not only love and fertility, but also fighting and destruction, so the spat wasn't completely out of place...

Friday, September 05, 2008

Big Musical Harvest In September

September is shaping up to be a bountiful harvest month for Japanese music.

First off, there's a not-to-be-missed CD release party at the Basement Bar on Sunday (the 7th) featuring advantage Lucy, Caraway (Swinging Popsicle guitarist Osamu Shimada's band), laid-back indie pop stars Lost in Found, and the headliner, Murmur. Murmur is the sparkling solo guitar pop unit of a girl named Mai Tsuyutani, who just released her first full-length album, the outstanding The Afternoon of the Marble Design. If you like advantage Lucy you should check out Murmur—she is an admirer of that great band, and is influenced by them, but still manages to create a sound that is original and fresh. I'm a fan and friend of all four of these groups, and expect to party with them that night until dawn.

Meanwhile, Call and Response Record's Ian is throwing a two-night gig on September 12-13 at the Koenji High to mark the release of the wild concept CD I mentioned in a previous post, a complete cover of Wire's Pink Flag album by indie Japanese bands. 14 bands are to play over the two night—sounds like it will be a blast.

On the album front, advantage Lucy is releasing a new album! But rather than a completely new work, this CD will be a rarities-type album: various tracks that appeared on compilation albums, out-of-print singles, and, in one case, a nice song called “Windy Sunny Friday” that was only sold as mini-disc downloads at convenience stores, or something like that. Some advantage Lucy snobs (they exist) sniff that they already own most of these songs anyway, and indeed, I have almost all of them too (except “Windy Sunny Friday”—only long-time hardcore fans have a copy of that; I've only been listening to Lucy since around 2001—wait...'only'...? What year is it now??) , but it's worth buying this one because all the tracks are re-mixed, apparently, and it's a nice thing to have all these rare gems like “Photograph” and “Weekend Wonder” on one disc. The album is called Sept papillons ont pris leur envol, and will go on sale on Sept. 17.

Another great piece of news is that a week later, on the 24th, beautifully melodic post-rock trio Spangle call Lilli line will be unveiling a new album, Isolation. Their website calls it “a monochrome tale that is dedicated to the end of the world and all lovers.” Hmmm... Maybe that will make more sense when I actually hear the album... I interviewed SCLL a few years back, here.