Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hoover's Ooover At Basement Bar

I'm wondering why I wasn't that impressed with Hoover's Ooover when I saw them live a few years ago. Writing about them in one of my early posts I said the band didn't connect well with the audience. Was that really the case? Or was there something in me that got in my way of enjoying them?

The reason I'm thinking about this is I saw the quartet on Sunday at the Basement Bar, and they were brilliant, a delight to watch, and they got the crowd going (well...relatively so. Except for a pogo-ing threesome in the center of the floor, the audience was a fairly subdued one. When one of the hoppers bumped into a guy next to him, the guy clearly looked annoyed).

They're one girl and three guys, the men in gangster black dress shirts and ties. The girl, vocalist Masami Iwasawa, was also in a black jacket but with a white blouse, and wore three red glass stones, one in a hairpin, another in her jacket pocket, and the last a ring. Her hair was medium-short and light brown, and I was surprised to see later several girls with the same look, it being unclear to me whether that was in homage to her or was the fashion of this scene.

Masami was a lefty who played a white left-handed guitar. Though the three guys were very skilled, she was obviously the center of the band, the one who writes all the songs. At the end of song phrases, she'd whip her neck and torso back to move away from the mike and swing with her guitar. She has a small face with little features, but her singing voice is a little deeper than you'd expect to come out of a face like that. It's a distinct voice that sounds earthy, maybe even muddy, if mud shined and could make you drunk. She can, at times, run through lyrics rapid fire, but it seems that that's just an extra vocal flourish that she does sometimes rather than the main attraction.

Between their hard-driving 50's-sounding rock and pop numbers, when the band talked they were almost incongruously laid-back and a bit silly. At one point, the bass Abe-san said how he bought a new digital TV because his old analog one broke down, but he didn't discover the malfunction until he saw a movie that was supposed to feature a yellow car, but the one on the screen was red. When he figured out his TV no longer displayed yellow, he says he went out to buy a sheet of yellow plastic to paste on to the screen. That didn't do the trick; it just made everything look dark yellow. So he bought the new TV. And so on.

Then, mellow talk done, they'd jump into their great songs, whose words sound like what a girl thinks, deep down, but rendered poetically. The only thing more I could have wished for was that they play one of my favorite songs of 2008, “An Overlap Between Literature and Real Life”, which I wrote about in a previous post.

This is a great band. Why didn't I think that back in 2004? One thing is that Hoover's Ooover was a different group back then—except for Masami, all the members have changed over the years. Maybe was that the way the band used to be? Maybe they became more confident? Maybe it was just a bad night for them? Or for me? Mysteries.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sexy, Retro 'Lady Spade' At O-Nest

Lady Spade dance to 'sexy and cute spy music'.

Lady Spade sing 'retro Japanese cabaret style'.

Lady Spade put on 'dramatic and cinematic entertainment shows'.

Lady Spade look like girls imitating 60's Japanese idols who were imitating Motown stars.

They go-go severely in see-through skirts.

They are serious, flirtatious, funny, retro, and out of this world.

They are jet-set superstars-in-the-making.

They stop mid-dance-pose to let worshipping fans photograph.

The Lady Spade are planning world conquest at their secret underwater HQ.


This was a dancing, outgoing crowd at the O-Nest. Twenty-something fans of techno and pico pico pop, they were a different breed from the usual introverted live house music nerds. Which is what I am, but it was still good to see young guys who are different, who don't see anything strange about expressing their excitement, and who smile at strangers, even foreigners.

DJ-ing between band sets was Yuppa of Hazel Nuts Chocolate. What a high it must be being Yuppa. An illustrator, who's also released two wonderful albums, Bewitched and Cute. A fashionable girl who, on the side, spins funky records as a DJ. Apparently living fully the life of the Tokyo young (though of course it must have its share of boredoms and burdens). Guys gathered around to dance and see her DJ selections. On the mike she asked everyone to buy the DJ drinks, and the guys brought her beer, cocktails on ice, tequila shots, lining them up in front of the turntables, and she went through them all.

One thing I like about this scene is the people seem into exploring older music. The Lady Spade and their old spy movie-sounding tunes and kayoukyoku. Also at the event was Motocompo, a duo in day-glo stripe fashion who play sing, guitar and keyboard 80's new wave-sounding tunes. And I found a flier of a unit called Salome Lips who describe themselves as a 'Heisei kayou band' influenced by 60's and 70's kayoukyoku, mood kayou and movie music (Heisei being the era of the current Emperor's reign, started 1989). Maybe from a somewhat different scene, but Asakusa Jinta also makes brilliant music that borrows from streetcorner brass bands and other 19th and early 20th century sounds. There's a wealth of beautiful, surprising music out there. Musicians and music fans ought to pay them a visit.


Salome Lips' flier, by the way, contained an interesting reference. It was an advertisement for a record of theirs to be released in March, called Theme of the Atami Hihoukan. The flier somewhat artlessly translates 'hihoukan' as 'sex museum', though it literally means 'museum of hidden treasures'. And what are these concealed precious things? The treasured parts of men's and women's anatomy that don't normally see the day of light. The flier says these 'treasure museums' were built in the late-70's and early-80's in various onsen spa towns. The Atami museum mentioned still exists, and this being 2009, has its own website, which contains a layout of the displays, including: whale reproductive organs, 'figures' showing the '48 positions', ukiyo-e prints, among other things. Piped in the background in the museum is mysterious mood music that the flier says is hard to get out of your head once you listen to it. Salome Lips, in their record, are doing an “unprecedented, shocking” cover of this music, according to the flier. OK, they've piqued my interest!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Lucymin* Field Report 2009-02-08

At the Que on Sunday night, after a show by a mellifluous male singer Takamori Yuuki and the joke-loving power pop quartet Stainless, advantage Lucy came on, the third and final act of the evening, and, at the risk of sounding a bit mad, I was totally swept into the performance from the first few acoustic guitar chords by Ishizaka-san. The song was 'Chikyu', earth, the first song I ever heard by this guitar pop group many years ago, in a compilation album called Killermont Street 2001. I remember being drawn into the song because of the bittersweet chords, played on an acoustic guitar with a sparkling sound, the interesting background noise of children at a playground, but mostly, the singing—a clear female voice, not that of an exceptionally skilled vocalist, but it had a free feel, seeming to be guided solely by the overflowing emotions of the singer, Aiko. A few more CD purchases, and I was smitten—the birth of a Lucy maniac. So, because it was my first, but also just because it's a classic, I've always gotten a thrill listening to 'Chikyu' played live.

Tonight's rendition, though, was something else. The five-person ensemble—vocalist Aiko, guitarist Ishizaka, plus another guitar, bass and drums—has seemed to have really come together after many months of making music together. Someone wrote on Mixi that when the musicians' eyes met while they played, causing them to smile, the person became tearful—I know how the guy feels. A band can be such a beautiful thing. A fog machine pumped throughout their show, and during 'Chikyu' the overhead lights turned dark blue while the spotlights faded, transforming them into what I imagined as dark sculptures in some marine kingdom.

The band are nice, charming, good-looking guys in person, but at times the stage beautifies them, so they are radiant. I think it reflects that they're living fully, ecstatically, for a short moment in that little space. After they played the rest of the evening's set—Hello Again, Weekend Wonder, Shiroi Asa, Memai, Shumatsu, and a new song written for that night, called February—I could've stopped by to chat, but this time I didn't, wanting to keep in my head for just a little while longer the image of them, a few yards away but in some different place, on the stage.


I didn't take any pictures, but here are good photos from another night.


*A Lucymin is a true advantage Lucy fan (it's a play on words—Lucy plus 'shimin', citizen). If you own all of their regularly available music, or have been to more of their shows than you can remember right away, or if you just really, really like their music, I think you can call yourself a Lucymin.