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.