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...