Thursday, November 25, 2010

Asakusa Jinta One-Man At The O-West

Walking to Shibuya listening to Asakusa Jinta on my iPod, I had one of those moments when I suddenly remember I'm living in a strange little country called Japan. In the middle of the most fashionable town for young folks, I was going to see a band that got its inspiration from early-20th century Japanese popular music.

One of the lovely things about Asakusa Jinta is that even though their music references old styles like enka, chindonya and jinta music in addition to punk and rockabilly, young punk kids who probably have little familiarity with those sounds get off on the music anyway. At their 'one-man' show at the O-West, the front-center part of the audience was occupied by a few dozen kids who slammed their bodies together during the fast numbers and rested during the slow songs. They passed around a mini-keg of Asahi beer that the opening band started up on during their last song and then donated the remainder to the Asakusa Jinta audience. Will listening to Asakusa Jinta expand these kids' musical horizons, inspiring them to dig through old records? But I don't want to sound superior, this band has done the same to me. When I hear their sound a crack appears on the shell of my musical knowledge, and what's beyond it is so bright and rich with possibilities that it makes me tear up a little.

For all their seriousness as musicians, on stage they're wholly devoted to entertainment, in a way few other Japanese bands can equal. At first, lights hit the huge Asakusa Jinta banner on the rear wall; two band members come on stage waving the group's flags; and then it's all action, the horns pointing skyward, the tubist marching through the audience pounding a bass drum, the leader slapping a meta-framed double bass with explosive precision. The band talked about how, B-Ken, the mohawked euphonium player, who is the most hyperactive member on stage, diving into the crowd at one point, got nerves before performances. He sits in the dressing room looking pale and making barfing noises. He's following in the tradition of great artists like Elvis and Koshiji Fubuki that suffered from stage fright before coming on to electrify the fans.

The two-and-a-half hour show, one of the best I've seen in a while, was one where just being there changes you a little, and the world outside feels more alive and colorful.