Saturday, March 13, 2010

Nagira Ken'ichi & Asakusa Jinta At O-West

It's a common belief in Japan that when the weather warms up in spring, the weirdos come out of the woodwork, emerging from their shelters against the cold. Having lived in Japan for a while I have to say there's some truth to this.

During his Thursday night show, folk singer Nagira Ken'ichi talked about one such 'early spring person' he'd met recently. The man, dressed in a salary man outfit, conducted a flag raising ceremony—on the train. He pulled out a Rising Sun flag from his bag, and singing the national anthem—'kii, mii, gaa, yoo'—unrolled the banner. Then, declaring that the flag raising has ended, and again chanting the anthem, he rolled it up again.

Nagira said that everyone on the train except him acted as if this was a normal occurrence, which sounded so Tokyo to me.

Nagira was accompanied by two others, and they all wore cowboy hats—Nagira said he was “born in Asakusa, and grew up in Mexico”—not really true, but maybe a way for him to say how influenced he was by country music. He sang in deep and thick voice black humored songs about subjects such as how expensive funerals are, pinkie-less gangsters and a little girl playing with her older brother's bag of 'white powder'. Nagira is apparently one of the few guitarists in Japan who is adept at Carter Family picking, something I'd never heard of before, which Wiki explains as: “a style of fingerstyle guitar named for Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family's distinctive style of rhythm guitar in which the melody is played on the bass strings, usually low E, A, and D while rhythm strumming continues above, on the treble strings, high E, B, and G.”

In addition to being an underground folk singer, Nagira is an actor, TV personality, comic speaker and essayist. He's also a friend of Asakusa Jinta vocalist and bassist Osho, who Nagira said he often scolds, for reasons not elaborated. I doubt he criticizes Asakusa Jinta about their stage performance, though, because they're terrific.

I've written enough about these guys, in my opinion one of Japan's greatest musical entertainers now, but their show at the O-West was again excellent, explosive, totally involving. They'd put up a huge banner on the back wall, and on the sides of the stage two paper lanterns. The show was to mark the sale of a DVD about their UK tour. And Osho said that the band has been banned from playing in most places in the town from which they get their name, Asakusa—he said the cops are called even if they just set up their instruments outside; maybe some town folks don't like their loudness—but that they found an old hall in the center of Asakusa where the elderly do karaoke now, and they're playing there on April 3. I'll be there.

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