Saturday, October 30, 2010

Risette's 15th Anniversary At The Loft

Grand Old Shinjuku Loft. That legendary Tokyo live house where Southern All Stars and Judy and Mary once played. I always get lost getting to it. Maybe I get distracted trying to steer clear of the colorful Kabukicho street people near the club—touts, Japanese and foreign, hosts in shining suits and mullets, and, sometimes, gangsters. The Loft is in the basement of an incredible building that is otherwise filled with adult entertainment establishments.

After walking down the stairs and paying at its caged ticket booth, you enter one of the ideal live houses of Tokyo. Mysterious vents and pipes crisscross its ceiling and unlikely pieces of Americana cover its walls (is my memory false, or was there a Miller Lite sign somewhere?). There's a bar with food separated from the live music area. And everything in it is stained with the memory of ten thousand rock shows.

Hearing that Risette will hold its 15 year anniversary gig at the Loft surprised me a bit because they seemed more of a Shibuya or Shimokitazawa act, but when I got there it made sense. A veteran band like Risette shines in an old club like the Loft. The music, the act and the atmosphere come together to create something you can only feel in that space.

One of the bands that Risette invited to play that night was a group that's been around for two decades called Yes, Mama OK. I'd heard of them and even own a tribute album for them but this was the first time for me to see them live and listen to their music. Instant conversion. Catchy rock tunes, abundant stage action, and general silliness—one of the members is a sax/harmonica player who chugged a bottle of wine during the songs where he had nothing to play. The vocalist and guitarist, Takeshi Kongochi, is also an actor, TV personality and the fourth best air guitar player at a Finland world championship, according to Wiki...

Risette itself played both an acoustic and an amplified set. Its singer Yu Tokiwa has a clear, sparkling voice that advantage Lucy's Aiko once said she wished she could put into her throat like a cartridge to sing with, and it mingles perfectly with the two, dueling lead guitars. Ex-Cymbals Reiji Okii guest-bassed for some of the songs. Not showmen like Yes, Mama OK that preceded them, Risette nevertheless charmed with the beauty of their melodies and the intensity of their performance. Not great orators on stage either, when they said simple thanks to the audience and the other bands, and Tokiwa said “Ureshiidesu (I'm happy)”, it felt like the most genuine appreciation I'd heard in a long time.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hoover's Ooover At The O-West

I have trouble with big concert venues. A phobia of sorts. Ax, Zepp, Tokyo International Forum...I'm not a fan of any of them. Visions of animals being herded through the slaughterhouse... But these places can't always be avoided. Some good musicians are going to be successful and play the big halls, and I still want to see them. Recently, finally, I got into Ego-Wrappin, and bought a ticket to see the popular group at a large venue. I even considered catching Perfume at the city's ultimate mega-venue, Tokyo Dome, until figuring out the tickets were long sold out. It's clear I need to build some tolerance to these places. So, in that respect, going to see Hoover's Ooover's Japan tour final show at the O-West was probably a good thing.

The O-West is, along with the O-East, Quattro and Liquid Room, one of the second-tier live houses in terms of size. It was pretty full with Hoover's Ooover fans. The band was dressed up as usual in hipster-looking dark jackets and ties. They alternated between rocking renditions of songs from their latest album, 0.025%, and somewhat inane chatter about topics such as competing to push the 'stop' button on buses (to be first, should one press it right after passing the stop before one's own, risking the driver thinking you're pushing for that stop, or should one at least wait for the announcement to begin? etc). It was also Hoover's Ooover's 10th anniversary—on a show held on the tenth day of the tenth month of 2010. During the song “Mamimumemo”, some in the crowd spun one arm over the other, imitating the girl character in the music video. For the encore, Masami came on stage wearing a hand-made Thunder God headpiece, consisting of a green afro and horns (they played a song called “Kaminari Moyou”—signs of thunder—about a girl unhappy about her boy friend coming home in the morning) .

The show seemed shorter than other bands' “one man” gigs I'd been to, at about an hour and a half, which felt like an extended regular performance. Maybe that's their style. It was good show, and the band especially shined when doing faster songs like “Mamimumemo” and “Collection”. But there wasn't the close-up view of the band at a small place like the Basement Bar, and the musicians themselves seemed to have less movement and expression, though that might have been because I was watching from the back of the hall. At a Basement Bar show a few months back, I liked the way that Masami whipped her body away from the mike after song phrases. I've been to lots of great gigs at the Basement Bar...little places like it are always going to be my favorites.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Yuyake Lamp At Azuma Soba Sake House

I wrote before about the Udon Rock of Asakusa Jinta. On Saturday night, I listened to Soba Pop.

The venue was Azuma Soba Sake House in Asagaya. Performing was Yuyake Lamp's Yunn on keyboard and Tamarou on cajon, the Peruvian percussion box.

The soba joint was designed like an old-fashioned Japanese house, with tatami mats and wooden pillars. The air smelled of soy sauce; kitchen noises accompanied the music.

As the crowd slurped noodles, Yunn sang and played the piano in that way of hers, as if it's only for her most trusted friend, as if the audience aren't strangers.

She said the office that produced the band's last CD (Yuyake Ballad) went bankrupt after the Lehman shock, so their next album will come out at first on iTunes. Yunn, who devours National Geographic-type programs on foreign cultures, marveled about how a financial crisis also brings the world together.

The soba that the waitress brought me was thin and al dente—on a normal night it would be eaten last, after getting through some sake and dishes like sashimi. The waitress was casual and didn't seem too concerned about formal manners. A straightforward, unpretentious Chuo line personality, I thought. (Tokyo has somewhat different personalities according to the area, I think.)

The only thing I wished for was for the audience to treat the show more like a party, chatting and drinking, and less as something serious like a Classical concert. A little hot sake, talk with friends, great jazzy pop music in the background, and soba to wrap it up—that would be perfect.