Saturday, December 19, 2009

Japan-Kuruu-Special & Asakusa Jinta At The Loft

I knew Japan-Kuruu-Special was a band worth checking out when I took a look at their website, the funnest I've seen in a while.

It parodies a sports tabloid, with eye-catching primary colors. Where the breathless, huge tabloid headline would go is an announcement that Kuruu is going on a national tour. The cover art features four bosozoku-looking guys with gigantic pompadours and afros, astride an old Japanese automobile shooting out from the Rising Sun (and there's a fineprint in the corner saying, 'Note: We're not actually bosozoku [biker gangs]).

Their profile page is headlined, “Not Again, Osaka! Japan's Most Powerful Violent Music Organization Is Formed In A City-Run Slum Housing Project”. In the corner is a picture with the caption, “The Osaka city-run housing project where the incident occurred”. Taking up all the left part of the page is, as if introducing secret pictures of notorious gangsters, another headline saying, “EXCLUSIVE: Pictures of the four members!!” The drummer, whose afro is bigger than his face, wears one of those ominous surgical masks that bikers are said to wear with a red line cutting through the middle.

Crazy Osakans!

Anyway, Kuruu was on tour and playing with Asakusa Jinta at the Shinjuku Loft, so I headed over. It had been a while since I last walked through Kabukicho on a Friday night, and I lapped up the town's erotic, drunken, seedy, money-hungry energy, the hostesses in their dresses, the hosts with their long locks and shiny suits, the real and phony gangsters. How many other towns are there like this in the world, this Far Eastern Sodom? Maybe it's the recession, or maybe it's a reflection of Tokyo's increased internationalization, but several touts invited even me, an obvious gaijin, for an evening of flirtatious conversation in cabaret clubs. Ignoring them, I walked down the stairs to the Loft in a building whose every other tenant appears to be a girl bar or red light establishment of one sort or another.

Kuruu lived up to their “exclusive” photos: they did have monstrous poofy pompadours and afros. They were like a cross between the Ramones and Carol-era Eikichi Yazawa. The singer, Junzo, stood nearly the whole time at the center with one leg permanently on the stage speaker, and he went through every cliched rock gesture there was, but since he did a new one on every single beat, twirling the mike stand on one beat, doing a clenched fist the salute the next, kicking the air the next, etc, it was great fun to watch. In front of them in the audience section was spirited slam dancing, including a few guys in business clothes, maybe letting off some steam after a hard day at work. This was a good band—Junzo said between songs, in a joke-filled, earthy Osaka dialect, that they're aiming for the Budokan. Who knows whether they will make it there, but these guys might become popular.


It had been a few weeks since I last saw Asakusa Jinta and when I heard Osho slapping the bass while setting up for the show, those precise sonic explosions, it came back to me what this band was all about. His bass comes down like bomb runs, destroying our day's banalities and boredom. And the band's music, a beautiful fusion of hard rock and horns and old Japanese popular music, illuminates something inside me I'd forgotten about.

Their latest album and title track are called Setsuna, which is a Japanese word meaning the briefest moment of time. It's actually a Buddhist term—according to trusty Wikipedia, it comes from the Sanskrit word ksana, and if you divide one day by 30, and then divide that again by 30, and then divide that by 60, and finally divide that by 120, you get a setsuna. So one literal school of thought says that a setsuna is 1/75 of a second, but another denies this, saying that you can't measure it.

The period of time watching Asakusa Jinta is always a pleasurable one. These guys are professionals of entertainment, proud shokunin, artisans, of music, and they are committed to making the show fun for the audience. The 30 minute shows like these are dense in content, but go too fast, though maybe that's because this is another sort of setsuna, just a blip in the long flow of time.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Goodbye, The Capris; Fukui Surf Scene

Until quite recently, I had no idea there was surfing in Fukui prefecture. In fact, it never really occurred to me that people surf on the Sea of Japan side. Which is ridiculous if you think about it: if there are good waves and a beach, surfers will come.

Anyway, what awoke me to the realization there's surfing in Fukui was the discovery of a great surf pop-punk band called Browny Circus from that prefecture. They were one of those groups whose CD I bought but didn't listen much to, until that one moment, when, during a random listen, suddenly I got pounded by their brilliance. I remember when. I was walking in LA, listening to their album SURF-TRIP! on the iPod, when the song “Ride On” came on. When it was over, I repeated it. And then again. And again...

An energetic but fairly run-of-the-mill 2-minute pop-punk song, the thing about it that got my attention was the vocals. It was an unusual female voice that was sweet, nasal and kid-like. But there was also electricity that ran through it—it tapped into some rock current. It was a cherry coke voice, spiked with some rum or vodka.

When I got back to Tokyo, I bought their other albums, and found great tunes like “Super Surf Jet Girl”, “Happy Days”, “Summer Beach” and a nice cover of Sadistic Mika Band's “Time Machine ni Onegai”. I also learned that while Browny Circus had disbanded, the vocalist Kaori had formed another group in Fukui called the Capris. I daydreamed about traveling to Fukui, about a four hour train trip northwest of Tokyo, to see them perform in their local scene. Fukui wasn't a strange place for me, in any case. I'd been there one winter, and had one of my most memorable seafood dinners ever—fresh shellfish popping over a fire, the meatiest crabs...

I wanted to see what Fukui surfers and surf rockers were like, and the characteristics of their scene. What was a Fukui live house like? Did the musicians talk in a Fukui dialect, stretching out vowels at the end of words in that distinctive way? Mostly though, I wanted to see what Kaori and her new band were like on stage.

But, alas...a few weeks ago I read on their website a short notice saying they've decided to call it quits. Now the website itself is gone. My Fukui pilgrimage to see the local surf punk wasn't meant to be. Unless...perhaps Kaori will one day form yet another band?


By the way, one thing I've been pondering recently is that fact that so many great Japanese girl rock bands and groups led by girl vocalists were formed in the 90's, and what was behind that band boom. Just listing my favorites, this was the period of Browny Circus, the sublime Teeny Frahoop, Mix Market, Ketchup Mania, the Automatics, and the genius Supersnazz. What were the factors that came into a perfect alignment to lead to the birth of bands like those? A major thing is there must have been a shift in consciousness that made it normal, acceptable, and cool for girls to play together in a rock band. How did that happen? (And I'm not saying there weren't girl bands before the 90's, the idea of them just seems to have become more normal in the 90's. Am I wrong?) K.O.G.A. Records' Mr. Koga must have been one big impetus too: all of the bands I listed above except Supersnazz have recorded on K.O.G.A. I don't know how many of that label's CDs I own.

What's the status of girl rock bands now, nearly at the end of the turn-of-the-century decade? Honestly speaking, I haven't discovered that many good ones recently. Sometimes I wonder if (for reasons I haven't worked out), rock in Japan is reverting to be a guy thing. Or am I missing awesome great girl bands I should know about?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Watching advantage Lucy Live 5,000 Miles Away

How remarkable it is that you can now watch a live Tokyo rock show 5,000 miles away on the internet. From LA, on a vacation, I caught advantage Lucy and Vasallo Crab 75's Munekyun arpeggio show. Sitting cross-legged like a Buddhist monk, I meditated on the MacBook plopped on a stack of futon, that beamed in live music from Club Que in Shimokitazawa.

The picture quality from the single, stationary video camera was basic: the performers looked like little dolls in a toy box, their expressions indistinct. The stage lights melted and trickled down as colored boxes of pixels. But the sound was surprisingly good, crisp, and giving a feel for what it must be like to be at the Que. Also, this time, unlike when I watched Munekyun TV, the signals were stable, and the webcast never froze—I'm not sure if that's because the organizers fixed things or it was because I had a better set-up here in LA (which would be ironic if I can watch a webcast better 5,000 miles away than 3 miles or so away from my Tokyo home...).

What's missing, of course, is that feeling of being in the live house. The huge noise that envelops you. The perfume and sweat of strangers. The wonder of seeing favorite musicians up close, creating music for that moment that will never be repeated again. Maybe one day technology will find a way to reproduce even those things...

I have to confess I only watched about an hour and a half of the show, because it began at 2:30 AM LA time, and I was wiped out by 4. The portion I saw was fantastic: the concept was to have continual performances on the stage, without breaks between bands, and instead having new musicians walk on to play as each song ended. The guest musicians were all people that were friends with the late Lucy and VC75 guitarist Takayuki Fukumura, whose memory this annual event celebrates, people like Three Berry Icecream's Mayumi Ikemizu, the Primrose's Keiji Matsui and Round Table's Katsutoshi Kitagawa.

Here's an excellent review of the show from someone who actually went. This person put into words something I've always felt, but, in one of those forehead-slapping realizations, in 400-plus posts I don't think I ever wrote down (though I hope the spirit of this has seeped through to the surface in my stories...):

What made the performance really really special, aside from the guest musicians, was how the two bands engaged the audience. This is probably the one thing I love about Japanese bands, indie or not. They make an effort to let you now that hey, you exist and we know you’re standing right in front of us now, enjoying our music. It’s a real interactive, human experience that I don’t get with most of the Western bands, who while enjoy themselves on stage seem to be going through the motions of performing yet another time.

These webcast shows are neat because they embody musical freedom. Anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world can tune in for free. They are the opposite of strictly supervised, exclusive, expensive corporate music events. Until the picture quality improves enough that I can see the performers well, I probably won't be watching many webcasts of artists that I'm not already fans of. But I have a feeling things will get better fast. And in the meantime, I hope bands continue with this great idea.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No-Show Report: Zunou Keisatsu

Brain Police, also known as “the radical protest band” Zunou Keisatsu, is near the zenith of the celestial list of legendary Japanese rock groups, so when I heard they had reunited and were doing a national tour, I was intrigued. But, for a variety of reasons I ended up not making it to the Tokyo shows, a major one being that the tickets were pricey, about three times the cost of regular live house gigs. Did anyone go?

Zunou Keisatsu's legend and notoriety stem mainly from their involvement with radical leftist politics in the 70's, and the banning of their first two records because of the controversial lyrical content. As Julian Cope writes:

They were formed in the late ‘60s by vocalist and guitarist Panta, who had formerly played with festival obscurities Peanut Butter, Mojo and Spartacus Bunt, and Brain Police songs were all built around the guitarist’s fist-in-the-air people-at-the-barricades lyrics. Taking their name from the early Mothers of Invention song ‘Who Are The Brain Police?’ the band survived long enough to make six LPs and continued until the end of 1975. However, there are two obvious peaks in their career, the first being their rousing duo performance at the GENYA anti-airport protest festival, when Panta and conga player Toshi shared a bill with Blues Creation, Masauki Takayanagi’s free rock New Direction For The Arts, and Keiji Haino’s Lost Aaraaff. Performances of the songs ‘Pick Up Your Gun’ and the seven-minute chant ‘World Revolutionary War Declaration’ received such a positive response from the crowd that the nihilism of closing act Lost Aaraaff was greeted with large rocks hurled from the Sanrizuka fields.

One thing I wonder about this band is the extent of its interaction with the Japanese Red Army. There's the matter of their first album containing a song called "Red Army Soldier's Poem", though, in an interview with the great site, Panta says the song comes from a Bertolt Brecht poem about the Red Army in Germany, “but politics in Japan were so sensitive that nobody bothered to pay close enough attention to find that out.”

OK...but then Zunou Keisatsu's website also says that in 1972 the guys performed at a memorial event for the three Japanese Red Army members who were killed at the Lod Airport massacre (is this a mistake? I thought that two of the three perpetrators died, while the other was arrested). A few questions come up for me: did they sympathize with the purpose of the event? If not, was this just an instance of musicians playing at a show because it was happening? What did they think of the 26 people killed by the Red Army trio?

And, moving on to the 21st century, what's this about Panta and ex-Red Army leader Fusako Shigenobu exchanging letters and writing songs together?

I'm assuming that this all reflects how Revolution was in the air in early-70's Japan, that Panta liked the idea of a worldwide communist uprising, but that he was first and foremost a musician rather than an activist. Was it all radical chic? But I am curious about what he thinks about the legacy of the Red Army and his verdict on people like Shigenobu. I haven't dived deeply into the literature on all this; I just read some stuff online. So maybe the answers are out there...

Anyway, the show. It was two weekend nights at a place called The Doors, but the tickets were 6,000 yen (about $60), way more than the usual price of around 2,000. And I thought that leftist bands were supposed to ask for donations—kanpa (short for the Russian word 'kampaniya'), so that the workers attending their shows pay as they are able? However, as a friend said, 'you need money to fund the revolution,' I guess. Plus, the shows were sold out or nearly so, and, with exceptions for those by favorite bands I generally try to avoid sold-out gigs because they really pack you in Japan at those events and you start having flashbacks of rush-hour Keio Line trains... If anyone caught them, I'd love to hear if they lived up to the hype.

(A final pedantic note: the Japanese for 'brain' of Brain Police has been spelled both zuno, and zunou. The problem is that the last O in zuno is a long vowel—you stretch it out when you say it. The formal, academic way to write it would be to put a macron, a horizontal line, above the O. Most rock 'n' roll types can't be bothered, so they spell it Zuno, macron-less. I like the way it's rendered in kana, with a U, after the No character—that seems to give a good feel for the pronunciation.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Munekyun TV - advantage Lucy & Vasallo Crab 75

Did anyone see this?

It was a live internet broadcast of advantage Lucy and Vasallo Crab 75, ahead of the Nov. 26 Munekyun Arpeggio show, and for me it was unstable at first, the screen froze often, but toward the end it became smoother, and I had no trouble seeing their performance of a song that Fukumura-kun wrote, which was fantastic.

And the Nov. 26 show is going to be broadcast on the internet too!

What a great idea...though one day we're going to laugh about how much trouble it was to watch these things, and the young will wonder why it was such a big deal for us to do something as simple as broadcast something online to the world...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Advantage Lucy TV

The sixth anniversary of the passing of advantage Lucy and Vasallo Crab 75 guitarist Takayuki Fukumura is approaching, and in Japanese Buddhism it's an important occasion, so the show this year on Nov. 26 is going to be extra special. The bands are even planning an internet TV event this Sunday to get prepared for the event, called Munekyun, which in a previous post I described as "a favorite word of Fukumura's—it's that feeling you get when a cute or lovely thing bulls-eyes your heart".

So, if you are a fan, and understand Japanese, or don't but want to see it anyway, tune into this site here, at 9PM on Sunday the 15th for fans in Japan, or 10AM Sunday for those who love Lucy in Brazil, or 7PM for the true believers in Indonesia, or 1PM for the smitten in Sweden, or 4AM for the sleepless in California, etc. etc.

I don't know if it will work in all these places, but I hope it will where you are.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mom & Kid Pop Show At Mori No Terrace

I doubt many people will ever make it to the Mori no Terrace in western Tokyo, but I like its concept so I'll write about it anyway.

The 'Terrace in the Forest' is a two-story home in the city of Chofu, about a ten-minute walk from Sengawa station, and the ground floor living room with a grand piano is used for mini-concerts. It's in one of those neighborhoods in suburban Tokyo that amaze you with their quiet and peacefulness if all you've seen of the capital is its crowds and bustle. The Terrace is reached walking down stone steps amidst trees.

I was there to see Three Berry Icecream, the band of singer and accordionist Mayumi Ikemizu. Unfamiliar with the area, it looks me longer than I expected to get to Sengawa: from Shinjuku, I first got on the semi special express to Meidaimae, then took the express to Chitose-karasuyama, and finally boarded the local for a one stop ride to Sengawa. Wonder if there was an easier, faster way? The living room was already packed; but I could watch the show from above the room, through a window with wooden railings. Later on, I sat and listened to the other performers in a Japanese room, with tatami mats. The brown and dark orange wood, the trees outside, and the incent smell of a burning mosquito coil reminded me of when I was a kid.

The show's concept was to be a music concert a mom could bring her baby to, and there were lots of little kids running around and exploring the garden. Songs were punctuated by the screams and cries of the children. On the pamphlet for the event was a note saying that “there is a diaper-changing and breast-feeding corner in the Japanese room next to the entrance.”

This isn't where cutting-edge music is made; but I still like it. I like it that people have made their home into a little music hall, performing music locally. And it's good to see people continuing with music, and not dropping away after their twenties, like so many sadly do.


An after-show party was held in a funky old yakitori joint near the train station, and at the table next to ours I saw a guy meeting his fiancee's parents. He was doing all the right things, and the parents seemed to approve: he sat on his knees in a seiza style; he spoke formally and with respect; and he asked the dad for advice. But...this was happening in a yakitori joint? And all four were wearing casual clothes? There were some mysteries for me, but then again, I was only eavesdropping...

"Sorry for the inconvenience."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Advantage Lucy & D.W. Nicols At The Que

I've been curious about a band called D.W. Nicols, mainly because of the name. It must refer to C.W. Nicol, the Wales-born writer and environmentalist, who lives up in the hills of Kurohime, Nagano Prefecture. After adventuring in the Arctic and Ethiopia, Nicol came to Japan to learn karate, wrote a book about whaling, befriended authors like the late Takeshi Kaiko, and is now a Japanese citizen. Are these guys fans? I tried to find an explanation of their name, but was unsuccessful.

D.W. Nicols was playing with advantage Lucy at the Que, so I had a chance to see them. A two-guy, two-girl quartet, they were unusual in that the girls made up the rhythm section, while the two guys took care of the guitars. Their overall sound was blues-rock and country-rock. The songs were well written, the playing skilled, and the lead vocalist guy had a good voice and was an engaging character. But, in spite of all that, they didn't leave a deep impression with me. Maybe it's because they're still a young band.

Advantage Lucy were great. They're an innovative band, always trying novel things, without sacrificing their melodious pop goodness—a new song they played that night used not one, but two melodicas! There's assurance in the way they perform, a product of a decade-plus career plus talent. Some of the old songs they played, like “Citrus”, “Kaze ni Azukete” and “Memai” I've listened to so many times that they feel like a part of my body. Hearing them played live reminds me they're part of me, the way its pumping makes me remember the heart, or the stomach asserts its presence after a great meal.

I heard Lucy vocalist Aiko say once that, although it may appear so, she doesn't actually cry during songs, because it ruins her voice, and she thinks about other things to avoid it. But now I'm not sure if she was being entirely honest. At the Que show, during those old songs, her eyes became noticeably red, even seen from the back of the crowd where I was. She has also said that she knows a melody that guitarist Ishizaka-san writes is good when it makes her cry.


During the two shows, at the front-center of the crowd was a petite Japanese man, who hopped manically during the shows, the height and speed of his jumps appearing to increase in line with his excitement level. He stood out in a relatively staid audience, and there must have been a few funny looks directed his way, but I liked the guy. I dreamed he didn't actually exist, but was some spirit of rock 'n' roll, absorbing the great music and becoming energized by it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

GREAT SONGS: Quinka, with a Yawn's "Harunire"

Just one line from the Quinka, with a Yawn song has gripped me. It's a simple line. Vocalist Michiko Aoki sings, in the [Su] version of “Harunire”:

Anata wo shiawase ni shitai.

Translated to, not very poetically, “I want to make you happy.”

Or maybe the nuance is more like, “I want to bring happiness into your life.”

It's the way she voices the words. She takes them slow, filling them with emotion over a dozen seconds. They make you feel like you are eavesdropping on some scene of an outpouring of love that you're not supposed to be witnessing.

And there's also a whiff of the radical about the line, because this is something that usually, in Japan, you'd expect a man to say to a woman when proposing. She's going against conventions—it's as if a woman is proposing to a man.

I was talking with a friend about Quinka, with a Yawn, the solo unit of Aoki, and he said Quinka wasn't his thing because the music is just too pure, too unspoiled and unbending, and his adult taste was for music that was more crooked. I could understand the view, but I like the purity. Aoki has a distinct singing voice that may take some getting used to, but I've found that the direct emotions of the singing have always won me over.

This “Harunire”, which means 'Japanese elm', is the second recorded version, the first having made its appearance in an earlier album called Micro. I have to confess that I overlooked that version—the melody was pleasant, but it just didn't have the emotional impact of this latest version in Quinka's new album, [Su]. (The version in the YouTube video above is the first one, from Micro.)

It seems that Aoki has grown a lot as a singer. Or, maybe more accurately, she's gotten so she's able to express emotions more deeply in songs. This is just speculation, but I wonder if Aoki's marriage with singer Harco has helped with this—her singing in the two's combined work, Harqua, is also outstanding. The couple are environmentalists, and they collaborate on various shows and projects with 'eco' themes. From what I've heard, they are pretty adamant about the cause. Maybe the 'purity' that my friend mentioned makes her dive deep into the eco thing, and also lets her sing in a breathtakingly direct fashion about love. As an impure adult, I almost envy the steadfastness.

One other thing about the [Su] version is that many lines she not so much sings as she declares musically, and that highlights the poetry of the words. The lines leading up to the 'I want to make you happy' climax are especially beautiful:

Dorodarake no watashi, nagasanaide
(Don't wash away, mud-splattered me)

Toki ni ame yo
(Rain of time)

Chiisa na ai wo
(This little love)

By the way, the album title, [Su], is Japanese for 'nest', but 'su' can also mean 'plain', or 'unadorned', perhaps reflecting that this is an unplugged type of album, containing both new songs and gorgeous new covers of old ones. Recent tunes of hers like “Harunire” have convinced me that Quinka's Aoki is one of the best Japanese pop musicians out there these days.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Glistening Eyes Of Salome Lips

There they were, the band I'd been wanting to see, the 21st Century group that cherishes the 60's and 70's, the creators of a mini-CD called Theme of Atami Sex MuseumSalome Lips. To a bittersweet kayou melody that made you forget you were in Shinjuku 2009, two girls go-go danced in shimmering pink and aqua, while between them, the stunning diva sang. What I noticed most were her glistening eyes, on a little face always wearing a restrained expression—the eyes acknowledged the melodrama of the lyrics, and accepted it. They made her seem like from some other place, the eyes of a sad cabaret singer in a desolate port town, in a time long past. What an enchanting actress! She sang in a low voice while her partner, the bassist in 70's hair, boogied to the retro resurrection.

Salome Lips were beautiful and captivated me, but other parts of the Shinjuku Jam event made me realize that retro music for retro music's sake can fall flat. The mediocre stuff is at an even bigger disadvantage because the music is already so old. Lovers of past music still need to create their own sound—and I think of the epitome of that, the great Asakusa Jinta.


The Lady Spade's MC-narrated, hip, nostalgic karaoke is nice too, but the third time around, I knew the act, including the dancing. A first time Lady Spade sighting is a shock, and should be included in any music lover's Tokyo visit itinerary if possible, but for the benefit of the regulars I hope they continue innovating.

Wow, the Jam was packed though, and there was one bartending girl to take care of the whole, mostly all-you-can-drink crowd, resulting in long lines—I was thirsty at first. They were lucky it wasn't, say, an Australian or English audience.


I liked this article on Tokyo, by the way, though some of it seemed to verge on the fantastic. Still, it's true in many nameless, cramped buildings, you can feel like you are in a dungeon or maze of the unexpected, something that you don't experience much except in big Asian cities.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rangsteen, Supersnazz, Firestarter At The Shelter

There's something about live houses like the Shimokitazawa Shelter. They're dives—dark, dusty, falling apart—but only in these clubs do you get that sound.

The other day I went to a certain brand new live house in Tokyo, and it wasn't the same at all. The sound was clear, but a bit harsh. A friend who was there said that part of the problem might be that the speakers etc. are new—they get better with age. I'm no acoustics expert, but I do know that some people seek out old speakers exactly for that reason, for their warm, enveloping sound. The Shelter's sound system has gone through a lot, and its walls are stained with the memories of a million rock shows. The Que is like that too; as is the Jam, definitely, and the Loft.


A band I'd never seen before, Rangsteen, was a perfect group for this Shelter sound. A hard-rocking trio, they had the sort of muscular, angry, direct delivery that I hadn't seen in a while. I was thinking it was becoming like an endangered species; but maybe I've just been traveling in the wrong musical continents. In any case, they were my favorite band of the night.

Next up was Supersnazz, ex-all-girl rockers and now a girl-guy quartet, who were in good form as usual. Vocalist Spike was in LA Lakers colors (probably not consciously)—yellow T-shirt and purple mini-skirt. One moment of their show really impressed me: during a vocal break Spike turned around to take a swig of water, but it seems some of it went the wrong way, up her nose. You could tell even with her back to us she was coughing hard; the Shelter's stage attendant guy had this look on my face that said, shoot, what should I do, the vocalist is choking. But, right at the moment the vocal parts were to resume, she turned around to the mike, and continued with the song. Professionalism, even at a small place like the Shelter!

Band number three was a band I'd heard a lot about, but had never seen before: Firestarter. After the show I surfed the web to find out that they consisted of members of the punk band Teengenerate and the vocalist is a vocal veteran of the Tokyo indie music scene (there's this interesting interview, for example—that looks like a fun bar to visit). They were tight, they knew how to get the crowd going (at one point a middle-aged-looking man struggled to try to crowd surf, got deposited on to the stage, was escorted off of it by the attendant, was taken through the dressing room to the exit and then re-emerged later from the club entrance), and the punk/power pop music was good but, I have to confess, I didn't really get them. Or, put it another way, I didn't become a Firestarter convert on the spot, ready to follow them around to see all their future shows. It might just be that I was unfamiliar with their music. I later did take exception, though, to the vocalist's opinion in the above-mentioned interview that Japan has only produced a handful of great bands, a notion that is so self-evidently untrue that it made me wonder about his judgment...

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Asakusa Jinta & Gyoko At Asakusa Kurawood

Asakusa Kurawood may have just become my favorite Tokyo music club.

Declaring that after just one or two visits may be a tad risky—the experience could have been made rosier by the quality of the shows—but it can't be denied that this new live house has a nice vibe.

I even like the walk over there. If you have time before the show, you can stroll through the Asakusa old town just a few blocks away, seeing the temples and shrines and little shops and eateries. En route to the Kurawood is an old restaurant with wooden walls and paper lanterns outside, the Komagata Dojo, which serves dojo, a fish that looks similar to an eel and called in English 'oriental weather loach', according to Wikipedia. (The kana spelling of the restaurant is old-fashioned, so 'dojo' looks like 'dozeu'.) Also nearby is the Bandai toy company, with statues of Gundam, Ultraman and other characters on the street outside.

Entering the Kurawood, I noticed that the ticket counter girl was friendly—a contrast to older live houses, where the staff can be apathetic or worse. There was a small bar area separated from the music hall—always a nice thing for when you want to take a break from the show and have a drink in peace—and the guys at the bar were also into their jobs, plus, a bonus, the drinks were a little cheaper than other clubs, at 400 yen per glass.

But, in the end, maybe it was the crowd that made me so keen on the Kurawood: they were Asakusa Jinta fans, there to see the band in the band's home town, and you got the sense that they understood and supported the band's vision of creating music based on traditional Japan as found in Asakusa. In other words there was a clear sense of community. There were lots of little kids, and people the age of the band members' parents, and all ages in between.

The fashion for the most part was Yokohama rockabilly, Hawaiian shirts, caps and tattoos, and this was a dancing crowd. DJ-ing between bands was Ego-Wrappin's Masaki Mori, who spun old Japanese pop singles. The music, the dancing, the rockabilly hipsters and beauties around me all gave me visions of being in a 50's teen flick. Or, maybe, a scene from a Ayumi Tachihara manga.

I missed most of the first band, Tokyo Howling Record, but I liked what I did see. Calling themselves a modern kayou swing rock band, they had lots of energy and nice melodies, with a cool horn section and a girl playing the double bass. They seem to be regulars at the Kurawood, so, hopefully I will see a full set of theirs soon.

Up next was the ever-entertaining fisherman rockers Gyoko. I wrote about them in a previous post, but the gist of it is they're a rapping trio centered around Captain Tsurizao Morita, who runs a fish shop in Chiba when not rocking the crowd from his Gyoko stage. Between songs, Captain Morita talked about how commercial fishing used to be a big thing in the Tokyo area too—the city of Urayasu, where he's from and which is home now to Tokyo Disneyland, was a fishing town—“The town was more Norakuro than Mickey Mouse,” he said—and the captain's grandfather was a fisherman, but a decline in business forced him to quit. Still, he wanted to stay involved in the fish business, so he established the shop that Captain Morita now operates.

You hear a lot these days about Japanese guys who are 'herbivores'—gentle, cooperative fellows who aren't very aggressive on the courtship front—and maybe part of the appeal of Gyoko is that they're the opposite of that. They are rough, macho, fish-eating men of sea. To the background beat of huge taiko drums, and wearing expressions of serious, unsmiling concentration, they shout staccato their paean of fish and the ocean. But that's all for show, and a lot of what they do is tongue-in-cheek: at one point, two of the guys, still looking stern, began cheek-dancing to a song, until one of the guys broke away into the crowd to dance with men in the audience. The final guy who was picked was a red Hawaiian-shirted rocker, who was a good sport about the whole thing, spinning the Gyoko guy around and going on stage with him. The climax was, as always, a live tuna cutting demonstration, and giving away some of the fish to audience members.

Captain Morita cutting the tuna.

The last band was Asakusa Jinta, and it was a touching set because, as I said earlier, the crowd were genuine band supporters, and it was apparently the first time in a long time for the band to play in Asakusa, so there was a lot of back-and-forth between the band and the audience. Vocalist Osho said something mysterious about the fact that while he loved Asakusa, he was also down on some of the annoying aspects of the town (he used the Japanese word 'dorodoro' which I have no idea how to translate into English...), including that people had called the cops on him many times (??), and so hadn't played the Kurawood in a while, but that it was great to be back. I came out of the show enveloped by that warm feeling you get after seeing a great gig surrounded by a happy crowd. But, surprisingly, the band itself apparently didn't think it was their best effort; maybe they were tired after a grueling schedule that included an appearance at the Fuji Rock Festival. In any case, they are planning these Kurawood events, called 'Rocking' Shintenchi', once a month, and I'm sure they will be bringing along other great bands, so I want to go to many of them as I can.


By the way, Nippon Rock has a great review of Asakusa Jinta's latest album, Setsuna. I agree with it that Setsuna is one of the best Japanese rock albums of the year.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mime, Funky Dancer, Vasallo Crab 75

It is pretty unusual for a Japanese woman, who is a mime, to do her act during a rock show, at a club in Shimokitazawa, right? I'm beginning to become unsure about these things. I've certainly seen stranger stuff.

In any case, the female mime was part of Vasallo Crab 75's 'one-man' musical extravaganza earlier this month that I'm now time-traveling back in my head to write about. I was really impressed by the mime—the only image I had of mimes before was of those white-face-painted guys in striped shirts patting imaginary walls in the air, the kind of thing they parody in Hollywood movies. This mime was dressed in fairly ordinary earth-toned clothes, and even spoke a bit when not in her act. She mimed along to Daisuke Kudo's solo acoustic guitar, and the cool thing was that it was an all-body performance: the legs, arms, head, neck, eyes, mouth all working together to create imaginary action. I wonder if there's an active mime community in Japan? Maybe one day this site will change to Japan Mime...

Vasallo Crab also got a funky dancer to shake her body on stage along with a couple of their songs, and the beginning of the show started with a recording of the choral part of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. It went on far longer than I expected, they played about 10 minutes of it, including the solos and the grand chorus, before they came on stage in their pimp/glam costumes, to play some funky rock under a spinning disco ball. So over the top, to choose as your stage intro the 9th Symphony's chorus, but that's Vasallo Crab 75, tongue-in-cheek, funny, but also one of Tokyo's best live bands I know.

Vasallo Crab 75 started out as two shy friends from high school who recorded atmospheric indie pop songs at home. Now, many years later, they are six guys who expertly energize the audience, with a music that's a combination of pop, rock, funk, and anything else the members like, including Yasuhito Kawabe's violin Bach solos and keyboardist Akihiro Yoshida's jazz improvisation (and the band played a Michael Jackson cover that night because his passing was recent, and vocalist Kudo grew up listening to Jacko).

You never know quite what will come out of a VC75 gig, but one thing you can count on hearing at their big shows is a song called “Vicious Circle”, which is one of their best and also one of my favorite Japanese pop tunes of this young century. It was one of the last songs that Kudo and his old high school friend Takayuki Fukumara made together before Fukumura passed away, and that simple, unforgettable guitar line was a creation of Fukumura's (he was a master of simple guitar licks that stay in your mind—the incomparable guitar intro to advantage Lucy's “Red Bicycle” was his, for instance). Below is a video of “Vicious Circle” performed at another place.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hyacca, Cottonioo, 10,000 Yen Encore Etc. At Koenji Roots

Saturday night was one of those evenings when I was forced to choose between two equally compelling possibilities of live music entertainment, with one of those options probably being much more promising on the pleasing-eye-stimulation front—that was the futurepoplounge event at the Shibuya O-Nest, featuring among others the sexy dance and song troupe The Lady Spade as well as beauties such as Marino and Eel. In the other corner was the post-punk party organized by Call and Reponse Records' Ian Martin, who, as he does every few months, brought together his favorite indie groups, most of whom I'd never heard of before, for an evening of aural adventure and bacchanalia at a dingy Koenji club of his choice. The former, the O-Nest event, was certainly tempting—one of the performers was Frenesi, whose recently released album Cupra I love—but I'd seen most of these people before. And I felt I was overdue for another Ian-organized Koenji experience. So, I got on the Yamanote line to Shinjuku, transferred to the Sobu line to Koenji, got out of the north exit to head to a funky alley of bars, food joints, and 'health' parlors decorated in pink and other pretty pastels, until I was at the Okinawa-themed building that housed the Club Roots.

Right away I was glad I was there—there was that Koenji live vibe, where it's obvious everyone is there because they like the music and are in search of new sounds, and at the same time there's a community feeling and a lack of nervousness about foreigners (the event was organized by one, after all). These guys seemed polite—there were little 'excuse me's when they had to walk through tight space in the audience section. I got the feeling that this was for the most part a college-educated, intellectual, petit-bourgeois crowd (some bands in Tokyo are proleterian, as are their fans—some of those I'm crazy about too; maybe one of these days I'll write about this divide).

Act one was Mir, who I'd seen before, a trio featuring a girl wearing a bunny rabbit headress and using a carrot antenna. Self-described as new wave/experimental, they were an eccentric, minimalist ensemble that played forlorn-sounding tunes. But at the end of the set they all came down off the stage and led the audience into a conga line.

Next was a lovely duo called Cottonio, two girls in tropical shirts with pink feathers in their hair, who created with guitar, bass, wooden synthesizer (?) and do-re-mi carpet what sounded like Hawaiian or exotica on hallucinogenics. I really liked them.

The last three acts were sort of a blur, though they were all excellent, playing energetic alternative music with fast, challenging rhythms and unusual chords. Indie rockers Owllights had a super-skinny vocalist who liked to jump into the audience pit; the Mornings were described by Ian as “the wildest, noisiest, and most athletic live experience in Tokyo” and indeed had head-bang-inducing virtuosic prog/punk techniques; Hyakka, 'a Hundred Mosquitoes' from Fukuoka was similar to the Mornings, but with a more punk grounding and male-female vocals. They were great, and made me start fantasizing about a trip to the southern, Kyushu city of Fukuoka to check out the scene, not to mention the local gourmet offering such as tonkotsu ramen, mentaiko pollock roe, food stalls in general and shochu. Hyakka's encore was a rousing punk number that got the already overexcited male portion of the front row audience into a frenzy of friendly slam-dancing, and for once I was very sympathetic to the physical outburst.


The Mornings


Probably by coincidence, every band except Cottonio included a single female member, the drummer in the case of Owllights and the Mornings.

Ian said, by the way, that if the show wasn't done by 10PM the club would charge a 10,000 yen fine, and the Hyacca show did put the finishing time after ten, meaning it may have been a 10,000 yen encore. Well, to me it was worth more than $100, but I wasn't the one paying it, and I'm not sure whether the organizer got the fine in the end and if so, what he thought of it once he was sober again the day after the show or so...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

You Should Have A Band Like Yuyake Lamp In Your Life

I went to see a show in Kyoto, in a part of town away from the temples and tourists, at a cafe on a big street that could have been on any city in Japan. From the cafe's window you could see the auto parts shop Autobacs; just down the street was a Jusco supermaket; this was an ordinary man's Kyoto. I was in a strange town again to see Yuyake Lamp on the road.

When this band was called Orange Plankton, I followed them way down south to Nagasaki and Okinawa. When they quit and then were reborn as Yuyake Lamp, I crossed a sea to see them play in Taiwan. And it's a rare thing for me to miss them in Tokyo.

In other words, I'm a devoted fan. Maybe you haven't heard of them—they've released a number of albums and done a lot of shows, but have never really hit the big time. Their membership has dwindled over the years, so that now it's basically just vocalist Yunn and whichever musician accompanies her. But in my mind they are one of Japan's great bands. Their piano pop melodies are always catchy and memorable. The lyrics are pure poetry, and about everything from love and friendship to our planet's precambrian era and the wonders of the human body. Above all, though, there's the vocals of Yunn—with her high, almost child-like voice, she has this way of bringing to life the words she sings.

Here's a video of a show she and flutist Kopan did at a Shinto shrine somewhere (it's pretty good but it shows so little of what a great Yuyake Lamp show is like...):

For a select few, Yuyake Lamp's music seems to have the ability to stimulate a nerve that controls the tear ducts. Someone at their Sendai show, part of their current national tour, commented that the joy of seeing them again and the emotion of the music caused her to cry. A friend I saw after their Tokyo gig said she was in tears from the first song to the last. I also felt the water well up at the first song of that show, when they played a tune called “Nami Wo Nuu Kaze Yo Te Yo” from the album Yuyake Ballad, a rarely-performed classic that I like to think of as extraterrestrially inspired, because it's hard to imagine such a strange, slow, beautiful music being germinated in the human mind...

Having said all this, if you do give Yuyake Lamp a listen and the music doesn't do it for you, that's okay. Tastes differ. But what I want to say is, you should have a band like Yuyake Lamp in your life. If you are alone in thinking a band or musician is genius, you are right, ignore the others. If a band's music makes you happy, it's the right thing. And that's the sort of band Yuyake Lamp is for me.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Collectors & Hoover's Ooover At The Que

I looked forward to, but also somewhat dreaded, Club Que's sold-out Hoover's Ooover and the Collectors two-band event, because a sold-out show at the Que can be an ordeal for an older guy like me. There won't be any free space in the club—the entire place is packed with fans. Good luck going to the bathroom or getting a drink at the bar: it will be a challenge to come back and reclaim your spot, unless you have a friend guarding it. Most people stay put.

At this show I had an additional problem: during Hoover's Ooover's gig, I stood behind two tall guys who blocked my view of the petite vocalist Masami. In front of me was one guy, with samurai-like, long, straight hair; to his front was a man with a poofy, curly do; those two heads created various visual obstacles, with Samurai Hair sometimes coming down like a black curtain in front of my eyes, and Poofy Head forming an uneven mountain range of hair, through the recesses of which I could sometimes glimpse the stage. To get a better view, I could stand on my toes or crane my neck backward. But then I'd become worried about the diminutive girls I knew were behind me, who were also having problems seeing the band. Maybe I've been in Japan too long worrying about these things...

The stage-view issue aside, though, the show wasn't bad at all. Hoover's Ooover was in prime form; it still surprises me how deep and strong a voice singer Masami has, contrary to her fragile looks. She said that the Collectors were her favorite band and that the song “Collection” was named after them. They played it, and maybe because the band that inspired the tune was right there, it was a passionate rendition, the rapid-fire vocal phrasing even sharper than usual. (There's an old BBC clip where they are playing “Collection” below.)

By the way, though the band didn't say anything about this during the show, their latest flyer says a new Hoover's Ooover album will be released on Sept. 2, called A-gata Sentimental (Type A Sentimental). Yay!


At the end of the Hoover's set I went to get a beer and staked out a spot near the door, so I could leave early if I wanted during the Collectors' show. I'd listened to their music before, but had never seen them live.



There was no way I could leave once the Collectors got started.

The club became theirs.

And it became a different club.

I liked the Collectors' music, but I had no idea how great they were as a live band.

They've been playing their British Beat-inspired rock for 22 years, and they've done big concerts, so maybe it's the experience, plus talent and energy.

Whatever it was, the Collectors had that thing that made you forget you were in a small, cramped hall, and instead feel happy you could share this time with the crowd around you.

They were a regular four piece with a vocalist, guitar, bass and drums, but there was nothing regular about their sound—incredibly tight, and the musicians were superbly skilled. And the vocalist was a true showman, singing facing sideways looking like a fencer, then marching all over like it was the biggest concert hall stage, and high-fiving and hand-shaking the crowd (and also griping that all the fans in the front were guys rather than girls...). These guys weren't kids anymore; the singer had a bit of a chin; but when they played that didn't matter, they were sexy and you could see why they had oodles of female fans.


During the Collectors' gig, at the back of the club, above the partition that separated the audience space from the dressing room, I saw a couple of faces in the darkness: they were Hoover's Ooover, probably standing on chairs behind the partition, watching their favorite band.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Japan Live Radio An International Genre Pick

As some of you may know, Japan Live has its own internet radio station called, creatively, Japan Live Radio. I've just been informed by the people behind the internet radio system, Live 365, that Japan Live Radio has been featured as part of its International Genre showcase. It's an honor.

It's actually quite a neat list: if you go to the map and click on the headphones in the Pacific Ocean right below the sailboat, for example, it lists two Hawaiian music stations—The Hawaii Network and Haku's Hale Network. Accompanying Japan Live Radio in East Asia are Radio 1HK Hong Kong and Shakuhachi Radio, though the latter is for paying customers only. In India, there's Anuraag; there are also Jewish World Radio and NUSACH Jewish Music; from the Middle East, Arabic Night Life, Soukos Radio and Mazaj; Bossa Nova Breakfast is one of the picks from South America; and so on. I want to check all these out.

Japan Live Radio itself has been updated with music by my recent obsessions, Fukui-based surf rock band Browny Circus and its successor, The Capris, and the various rock, punk and rockabilly bands that are friendly with them, as well as a lot of other stuff in a 4-hour-plus program. I'll soon be adding new Sucrette and Frenesi too. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Odds and Ends

This video by Sucrette is crazy cute...

Who are these guys? It looks like they're based in Kyoto. I hope to see them one of these days, and I'm in any case overdue for a Kansai trip. There are some really good bands over there, including Jenny on the Planet.


Here's one by Frenesi of Tokyo. No one sings like Frenesi.


May was a quiet month for me on the live music front (I ended up missing Haikou Fes, the abandoned school festival, but Ian of Clear & Refreshing went, wrote a preview and interviewed the organizer), but this month is more lively. There are a couple of Saturdays when I have to make tough choices on which equally fun-sounding lives to catch.

One of those is June 20, when I'm going to see Hoover's Ooover with the Collectors at the Que (the show's sold out), but on the same day, a couple of train stops away in Shinjuku at the Loft/Plus One, is this insane sounding event featuring one of my recent favorites The Lady Spade, a drag queen show, a silent movie narration ('katsuben eiga') show, a Julie show--the Julie being an imitator of former heartthrob singer Sawada Kenji, a 'Perfume Show', featuring a Perfume copy unit named Peachume, and a 'color therapy' session.

The Lady Spade seem to always be involved in fun, eclectic projects like these--they're a group to watch. You know, just occurred to me, the Loft/Plus One event is from midnight, so I can make it to both the Que and Shinjuku gig if I'm really feeling energetic. We shall see...


Peachume sounds fascinating. They're described as a Perfume copy dance unit with "an adult feel". Hmmm....


I also want to see Milk Guy Murakawa.

SAITAMA--To mark World Milk Day on Monday, Norihiro Murakawa began a nationwide performing tour in a car painted to resemble a Holstein cow, all to promote his love of milk and raise awareness of the plight of the dairy industry.


Murakawa's lyrics express the dairy industry's woes, such as, "If milk does not sell well, we feel a little worried because we are Holstein cows." He sings and dances to his songs while wearing a cow-print outfit, and his lighthearted performances have proven popular.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

GREAT SONGS: Hoover's Ooover's "Rival Wa Rickenbacker"

A domestic quarrel involving a kitchen knife might not seem very promising material for a great love song.

But that's what “Rival Wa Rickenbacker” is, and it's one of those Hoover's Ooover tunes that astonishes with its newness and lack of cliche.

The song opens with a girl's spat with her boyfriend.

I broke a plate
Cut guitar strings
Threw a frying pan
And brought out a kitchen knife

So far, everything's fine. But then,

I still wasn't satisfied, so
I threw the Ricken
And finally you became mad
Saying “that's it”
You left the room

And so you find out that boyfriend is a guitarist, whose proudest possession is a Rickenbacker (abbreviated 'Ricken'). And the girl knows that, which is why she leaves it until the finale of the fight. But when she tosses the guitar, the boyfriend, who earlier appeared to tolerate dodging kitchen utensils and risking a stabbing incident, finally loses it. The opening lines have no subject ('I' and 'you'), which can be left out in Japanese, making them even more terse and masculine-sounding.

Even though the words are about violence, you get the sense that while the girl is angry (the song nevers says about what) she isn't seriously trying to harm the guy, and is instead making a point, at some bodily risk to him to be sure. Indeed, the phrase saying the girl “brought out” the knife—'mochidashitemita'—sounds quite tentative.

So the guy storms out after his Rickenbacker is made into a flying projectile, and then the chord changes, as well as the scene:

In the sky, shooting up and popping are fireworks
The summer night, seen from the veranda
Would I have been watching it now with you?

The girl is left alone in her room, with fireworks, the symbol of summer, visible from her window.

A couple of lines down, time has passed. She's gotten a haircut, trimmed her nails, changed her look in general, and along the way she's totaled a new car. And then, suddenly, she remembers her room used to be his too.

Chord change again, and she wonders whether he ever got that letter she dropped into the mail box, tripping twice on the way there. The night is ending, the morning is freezing, and she can feel herself becoming used to the loneliness.

So, the Rickenbacker is the 'rival' that took her boyfriend away from her, though she doesn't really mean that.

This isn't a perfect song—the first 20 seconds or so of the intro with drums could probably be lopped off, for example, because it doesn't do much—but it IS a vivid and living tune. Only 2 minute and 57 seconds long, the song contains a life that seems real, including the change of seasons—from the hot summer when the fight takes place to the lonely cold of the winter, when she's remembering him. As with most Hoover's Ooover songs, the music is catchy, and the singing heart-felt, but it's those out of a dozen of so Hoover songs I listen to has words that electrify, and this is one of them.


I just happened to realize the excellence of this song as I was listening to my iPod on the way to a Hoover's Ooover show at the Shimokitazawa Basement Bar. I repeated it. And again. And again. Pretty soon I was wandering the residential streets around the Basement Bar just so I could listen to the tune a few extra times before I entered the club. (And, happily, this song was on their set list that night.)


“Rival Wa Rickenbacker” is on Hoover Ooover's Tansansui mini-album. I've never seen a video of this song on YouTube, but there used to be one for “Tansansui” (which means 'carbonated water'), though it looks like it's been taken down. Here's a more recent video of the song “Timer”.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Goodbye, Kiyoshiro Imawano 2

By coincidence...or maybe not, maybe something drew me there...I was taking a walk along Aoyama Cemetery on Saturday, when I noticed a line of people. When I got closer, I saw that the line extended for blocks, and then I knew what it was. The queuing multitudes mostly looked to be people in their twenties to forties, though there were some teen punks with dyed hair. Some wore proper black suits and ties, while others were in T-shirts, some saying 'Kiyoshiro' on them. Many carried flowers, and I saw one girl clutching an old RC Succession LP in her arms. By chance I'd come to Kiyoshiro Imawano's public farewell service.

The lines moved slowly forward. I looked at people's faces, and most were smiling, as if this was some place like Bali where a funeral is a celebration. The queues twisted around for blocks around the cemetery—it crossed the Aoyama Bridge in one direction on one side, and the other direction on the other. News reports said that over 42,000 people showed up, and the service went on until late at night. Looking at the masses, it hit me—so, this is RC Succession, and this is Kiyoshiro... Although the crowd wasn't gloomy, seeing so many people there to say goodbye overwhelmed me, and at times I had to look away.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Goodbye, Kiyoshiro Imawano

So Kiyoshiro Imawano has left us, only 58, to jam on a stage somewhere with Elvis, Lennon, Kyu Sakamoto...

Kiyoshiro's band, RC Succession, introduced me to Japanese rock 'n' roll 20 years ago. My teen heart was thrilled by the most thinly-veiled sexual innuendo imaginable in their hit “Ameagari No Yozorani (To The Night Sky After The Rain)—along the lines of, the car batteries are charged, so why don't you want to go for a ride? I also listened to their live cover of “Ue Wo Muite Arukou” (or, Sukiyaki), before I discovered Kyu Sakamoto's original. Having been exposed to lame Japanese top-10 songs all my life, RC Succession's Japanese rock sounded so fresh and ground-breaking, during those young days of first beers and mischievous cigarettes...

When I moved to Japan, quite by coincidence my first apartment was near Tamaranzaka, the slope in western Tokyo that is the name of one of their famous songs. Around me were young guys who grew up listening to RC Succession—they were proud Kiyoshiro was a native son, and his music was real to them, including that bittersweet love ballad “Tamaranzaka”—it was everyone's secret song.

We always laughed at the lines in “Transistor Radio”: “I yawned so much in class, my mouth became big/ I napped so much, my eyes turned small”. When he's not bored in class, he listens to music from the Bay Area and Liverpool on the roof of his school.

And now he's gone. Truly, as a line in “Transistor Radio” says, I've never been able to explain this feeling well...So I think I'll leave you with a few of his videos instead. Goodbye, and thank you, Kiyoshiro.

Transistor Radio

Ameagari No Yozorani

Ue Wo Muite Arukou

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Jazzy Advantage Lucy At The Que

Advantage Lucy played a couple of news songs at their Que show on Friday night, including a tune called “Teacup Ride”, and they had a jazzy feel, with swinging bass and drums. Aiko swept her fingers through a chime tree at climactic moments to color the music with glissandos.

It was an interesting new genre choice—the sort of jazz you might hear in a lounge—for a band known mainly for its sunny indie pop tunes. But I've always thought it's a misconception to think of advantage Lucy as just an upbeat guitar pop group—one listen to the longer, more complex tunes of theirs such as “Shiosai” from Echo Park, or the single “Photograph”, or “so” from Fanfare, etc. etc., would likely alter that view of their sound. They're a musically adventurous bunch.

Advantage Lucy are also masters of the pop ballad form. How many times have I listened to, and how much has my life been made richer by, pure gems such as “Koko De Oyasumi”, “Today” and “Nico”*? Ballads like those are miraculous unions of the most beautiful melodies and unforgettable lyrics. After so many listens, I'm still always moved by these lines in “Nico”: “Moshi kotoba ga hoshi yorimo/ kazoe kirenai hodo arunara/ tsutaerareru kamoshirenai kedo/ sonna taisetsu na mono dewa nai to omou (If words were more countless than the stars in the sky, maybe then I'd be able to let you know how I feel, but then I think it's not that important after all)”. At the Que show, they played the emotional, nostalgic ballad from Echo Park called “A Distant Day” (there's a Youtube video of the song here), and it was a gorgeous rendition as ballads usually are when they perform them live.


By the way, totally unrelated, and a bit in the past now, but this 'toy music event' described in Patrick's sounded like a lot of fun. Great report and colorful photos!

*“Koko De Oyasumi” and “Today” were B sides on their singles Memai and Hello Mate!, respectively, and they are also available on the best hits collection Have a Good Journey. "Nico" is in Lucy Van Pelt's Advantage Lucy EP.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wrench, Poodles At 'Abura Derabu' Event

My main mission of the evening attending a Shibuya event called Aburade-rabu (word play on 'abracadabra', I guess, but ending with Japanese pronunciation of 'love') was to see the band Wrench, who I've been listening to a lot recently. Their CDs are in the punk rock section of Tower Records Shibuya, but a more accurate genre designation may be something like Hard Electro Dance Psychedelic Stoner Rock. I especially like their ambitious latest effort, Nitro.

The event was a two-club deal, where shows are divided between two live houses and you can go freely between them. There are more of these multi-live house events these days, and they are great: they let you exit and re-enter the clubs (something not allowed in most venues), grab a bite outside if you desire, or procure cheaper beverages at nearby conbinis. This one was a joint O-Nest/O-West event, and Wrench was the second band up at the O-West. I wasn't sure how popular they were, so I decided to go to the O-West from the beginning to stake out a good spot if there was a big crowd (you tend to make these calculations when you've been to many Tokyo shows...).

On before Wrench was an instrumental band called poodles that played trippy, jam music heavy on African percussion and 'ethnic' musical instruments like the didgeridoo, the Australian aboriginal horn, and that long tube thing you spin around to make a whirring noise. The poodles' website describes their sound as an “earthy, tribal groove”. It was pleasant music, but I found myself wondering why, if they are into creating something new by mixing together instruments of various cultures, they apparently steer clear of Japanese ones. That's, of course, their choice. They're free to build music out of whatever sounds they fancy. But to me, it would be more interesting if the band added a taiko or some such to their sound, in the process making new music that also acknowledges their own heritage. Not really related, but I found out googling that there's also a Swedish glam metal group called the Poodles...

The crowd increased when Wrench came on next. The true believers stood at center front, next to the stage—they were mostly young guys in T-shirts, some of them on the chubby side. When the music began, they broke out into a mosh-pit dance that looked like a combination of hands-up-in-the-air Okinawan dancing and Harajuku rockabilly twist. You could tell they were intensely into the music—they danced like it was their last chance before the giant asteroid hits the planet. Or, it was like some cult's frenzied bacchanal.

Their prophet was Shige, Wrench's vocalist/keyboardist, who was bearded and reminded me vaguely of a smaller, Japanese James Hetfield. To his sides were the skinny, serious-looking guitarist and bassist; whenever Shige stuck his head out of his Korg/synthesizer/gadget headquarters, he'd pump his arms into the air or otherwise get the crowd going while shouting out the lyrics, and the fans would go even wilder. Their musical signature was rapid, repeated riffs, sometimes relayed between guitar and bass, and played over a flood of feedback—an interview I read said the band was into Goa trance music, though to me the harsh but orderly passages seemed almost martial, like the marching music of some super-disciplined, psychedelic robot army. (The YouTube video above should give an idea of what their shows are like.) The whole thing was an exhilarating spectacle, one I wanted to see again soon.