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?