Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring, Tokyo, 2011

Radiation, hay fever-causing pollen and floral scents in the air—what a strange spring this is.

After the disaster, Tokyo streets are darker and the crowds are gone at night. Shops and eateries close early to save electricity. Bottled water and bread are gone from store shelves.

I haven't been to any shows since the quake struck, but I imagine they're more subdued, with a smaller audience. Going down to basement clubs while aftershocks are still frequent isn't an appealing prospect, and there's guilt about using electricity for performances at a time of shortage. Some musicians I know are already playing, some as charity events. But I'm not ready to go back just yet.

I've been listening to a lot of Judy and Mary, whose CDs had been gathering dust in my room before the quake. Maybe it's a reminder of a Japan that's gone, temporarily. Now people are serious, public-minded, careful. All good things, but I miss the excesses, the crazy city noise and lights, the drunk crowds, flirtations and jokes. And Judy Mary, as you see in this video, vocalist Yuki over-the-top coquettish, the guitar and bass hyperactive, distilled all that energy into the form of a band.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Eel Nests At The O-Nest

I didn't get Eel at first.

The first time I saw the girl who calls herself Eel perform live, she was opening for advantage Lucy, and as it was one of the first times for me to see Lucy and I was overwhelmed by the experience, Eel didn't leave much of an impression other than that the performance seemed wild and chaotic (...not necessarily bad things).

The years have passed, and now I'm a fan. Especially after listening to her great new album, For Common People, and a compilation of her earlier works called Kung Fu People Etcetera, I wonder why I didn't get into Eel earlier. Her cute vocals, catchy melodies and inventive noises are things I like.

I headed to the O-Nest for the Tokyo leg of her For Common People tour. While at past shows she's sung karaoke fashion to music from a Mac, this time Eel had a band for the first half, in addition to an ever-present interpretive dancer guy in a pink suit and feather boa. She wore aqua-rimmed sunglasses, a green-yellow hooded sweatshirt and shorts over pink sweatpants.

At one point in the show she said, “I actually quite like punk”, in what context I can't remember, and it got me thinking. Wasn't punk rock when it started out a funny, eccentric, experimental style, and the cliches we associate it with now are later developments? And musicians' unhappiness about what 'punk' was becoming led to post-punk and new wave? Maybe then, someone like Eel, from Osaka, cute, colorful, stylish, outlandish, eclectic, is truly carrying on the legacy of punk?

It's an idle thought, and maybe Eel herself wouldn't feel the need to be bound by labels (her website says her style is 'cute and funky pop with electric punk music as a base'). In the meantime, like in an early punk show of my imagination a lot of wackiness is happening on stage, five male 'dancers', including the pink suit man and a guy with a wig, a paper cutout mask of Eel's face and the Stars and Stripes bopping to her tunes, and for the finale, as many of the audience as can fit the O-Nest stage join them to hop along to her song “Jump”.