Friday, November 28, 2008

Munekyun Arpeggio 2008

Every year, on November 26, advantage Lucy, Vasallo Crab 75 and other bands gather together for a musical event called Munekyun Arpeggio, which celebrates the life of Takayuki Fukumura, guitarist and founding member of Lucy and VC75, who passed away on that date in 2003. 'Munekyun' was a favorite word of Fukumura's—it's that feeling you get when a cute or lovely thing bulls-eyes your heart. And the pop arpeggios that he wrote still make people feel munekyun. This year at the Que for the event were Karenin, Swinging Popsicle, and, of course, advantage Lucy and VC75.

All throughout the event there were subtle reminders of Fukumura's life. Advantage Lucy guitarist Yoshiharu Ishizaka played a cheap purple guitar and red amp that Fukumura once used. He played all of Fukumura's arpeggio parts. You could see vocalist Aiko become a little tearful while singing their newest song, “Shiroi Asa”, which she dedicated to him that night, and which contains the line: “Itsumo omotteta yorimo, kimi wa zutto soba ni itanda (much more than I always thought, you were always close by)”. Vasallo Crab 75 performed one of their best songs with a signature arpeggio part of his, “Vicious Circle”, from the album “Breathe”, the last VC75 album that Fukumura took part in. At the end of the show all the musicians got together to play a couple of his songs that they dug up as demo tapes left behind in his house. They joked that, by performing his unreleased songs like this they are making him into some sort of legendary figure, like John Lennon, even though he was a normal, funny guy, who, whenever he ordered ramen would transform the noodle soup into what looked like a failed chemistry experiment, dumping in vinegar, pepper, red ginger and so on until the soup's color was unrecognizable, and that's the way he liked it.

It was one of those rare, miraculous events where every act was excellent: the mellow pop/folk of Karenin (its singer Mike Matuszak also is a member of Tokyo indie pop group Lost in Found); the super-smooth R&B and rock of Swinging Popsicle; the sublime guitar pop of advantage Lucy; and the crowd-moving funk/pop of Vasallo Crab 75. A few times the musicians said they thought Fukumura was there listening to the performance, and I got the feeling that wasn't just a figure of speech but that they meant it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Miniskirt At The Apple House, Or Hut Of Bells

After seeing Japanese-German indie pop band Miniskirt for the first time in years last night, I was exploring the Web and unearthed this brilliant video of theirs. I love the part from 0:29 to 0:34 where band leader Edgar is singing at a sloping street of old homes somewhere, and a considerate Japanese lady in the background, seeing that a foreigner is being filmed, immediately moves out of the way to give the camera an undisturbed view. The cut at 0:24 to a cheering audience following footage of one of their shows is also inspired.

Miniskirt's Edgar, universally and affectionately described as a henna gaijin—a weird foreigner—is a film buff. He bought a projector so he could watch his one-movie-a-night on a big screen at home. He also bought a $5,000 Sony video camera to help make videos like 'Read Each Other's Minds', above. When I saw him at the show in Ikebukuro, he was setting up that camera on a tripod to film his show. Seeing me, an old acquaintance, he assigned me to be his band's video cinematographer, a few minutes before the gig was to start. I hadn't touched a video camera for decades, but I think I did OK—the only problem being that I didn't know that you could move the camera up and down in addition to sideways on the tripod, severely curtailing my ability to zoom in on the performers, and also limiting the camera moves to a monotonous left-to-right, and then right-to-left again. The Last Waltz, it was not. But maybe it was fine as a minimalist, indie effort...?

The venue of the event was a new cafe called Ringoya in Ikebukuro, the name sounding like Japanese for 'apple house', but rendered in the kanji as 'the hut of bells'. It was a comfortable cafe, all the guests asked to take off their shoes at the entrance like at a regular Japanese home, and good curry was apparently served, though I didn't try it myself. Its only problem, which it shares with similar venues, is it becomes cramped right away when people start coming in because of all the tables and chairs, and it was packed last night.

Miniskirt's Edgar had come up from Kyoto, where he's now a serious member of the Japanese academia, the other part of his life when he's not busy composing great indie music. Also performing were the duo Loyal We, Lost In Found, 4 Bonjour's Parties, and, from Australia, the Motifs (the wind and vibraphone section of 4BJ pictured below).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lost In Chinatown

I was supposed to see Mix Market and a promising young band from Aichi prefecture called SpecialThanks tonight in Yokohama, but I got completely lost on the way to the club near Chinatown and ended up missing it. My Tokyo live house knowledge doesn't extend to Yokohama, and I also have a pathetically underdeveloped sense of direction (for example, after having been there several times, I still managed to get lost on the way to the Basement Bar in Shimokitazawa, with a friend in tow...). The venue, F.A.D., I'd been to a few times before, but my mistake was to take the Tokyu line rather than the more familiar JR; I became disoriented emerging from a strange train station, and the vague, scribbled map I brought along didn't help matters. Soon, I was wandering deep in the belly of the Yokohama Chinatown, realizing for the first how big it was. Making things worse, on this first day of a three-day weekend, a significant chunk of eastern Japanese households appeared to have decided to get Chinese food in Yokohama, and the crowds slowed the search. After doing a few laps of the town and taking in the sights, I concluded that the live house probably won't be found anytime soon, and called it an evening.

It was sad because on the way over to Yokohama I listened to Mix Market's 'Shiawase No Elephant', was reminded what a great song that was, and was hoping it would be performed. SpecialThanks also seemed interesting and I didn't know how often they made it up to Tokyo.

Let this be a lesson for visitors planning to catch a gig in Tokyo (or Yokohama)...The clubs are often in obscure buildings in alleys in the middle of nowhere, and the city is laid out in a chaotic fashion as it is—apparently it was designed to get invading armies lost, something that I have no doubt is historically accurate. You need a good map for the smaller live houses. Study up on Tokyo Gig Guide.

Anyway, does anyone know how to get from the Motomachi/Chinatown station to F.A.D.? Should I have even been walking through Chinatown in the first place??