Saturday, September 24, 2011

Caraway, Reminding Me Of The Old Days

Once in a while there's a show that reminds me why I became so crazy about guitar pop around 2003, almost a decade ago now, when I sometimes went to several events in a week. This time it was Caraway, themselves playing for the first time in three years as a band. They're led by Swinging Popsicle's Osamu Shimada, the Beach Boys-loving guitarist that reminds me a little bit of Buddy Holly because of his spectacles and wholesome looks. Off stage, he is down to earth and polite, with just a hint of a charming mischievousness. On stage he's different, giving it his all, connecting with the crowd with his sound and humor.

The event was Guitar Shop Restaurant at the Nishi-Ogikubo Waver, and the flier for it featured a girl in a white dress, floating in the clouds holding a bunny and a kitten. Over drinks one night before the show, my friend DJ Kamaage and I chatted about this picture, which maybe reflected how a younger generation thought of guitar pop, but didn't feel right to us. Guitar pop isn't just sweet and gentle music. Some of us fans think it's a successor to the original punk rock, trying new things, with a Do It Yourself attitude. Or, as says, "Pop Kids everywhere know that the true spirit of Punk Rock lives on not in the mass-marketed "alternative" scene, or the sub-metal caterwauling of testosterone-poisoned grunge-rockers, but in the simple and pure efforts of kids banging out sweet delicious songs on cheap guitars. "

A certain feeling of being on edge can be seen in the live shows of bands like Caraway. In a different way, another group on the set that night, Three Berry Icecream, shows the true guitar pop spirit, creating beautiful, short tunes with accordion, viola, xylophone, just because those are the instruments that band leader Mayumi Ikemizu wants to use to create sounds.

This was a 'sold out' event, at a tiny venue I'd never been to before. Fortunately, and unusually for a Tokyo show, the audience could exit and re-enter the venue freely, which was good, because the place was packed. There's a relationship between how much you love a show and how much discomfort you are willing to put up with, and these days in my case the love really has to be there to stay at an uncomfortable event, whereas Tokyo audiences seem to be able to put up better with the lack of space, or maybe they just love the music more. Or, I might just be turning into an old grouch. It was good, though, to be able to go outside and walk around in Nishi-Ogikubo at night, a dense neighborhood of eateries and bars, including a huge yakitori joint called Ebisu that occupied multiple storefronts in one block.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Asakusa Jinta & OldFashion At The Kurawood

The Kurawood in Asakusa is such a nice live house, with a friendly vibe. I recommend it highly for any music-loving visitor to Tokyo, since you won't want to miss Asakusa in any case (and for that matter, anyone who lives in Tokyo should go too).

Kurawood's bar sells, in addition to the usual beer and cocktails, several types of shochu, sake, Denki Bran--'electric brandy'--that specialty of Kamiya Bar in Asakusa, a liquor that tastes like sugar and herbs dunked into brandy, and bar food, including oden for 300 yen, which is a good deal.

Hung from the ceiling of the stage area are paper lanterns that darken when shows start. They're inscribed with the characters for Sanjya festival, a big annual event in Asakusa.

I headed to Kurawood from Asakusa station, and the evening was autumnal, with a cool breeze swinging the branches of a willow tree next to an old restaurant with a black-tiled roof. The night's show was organized by Asakusa Jinta, so I knew it would be good.

The first group I saw was called OldFashion, an energetic, swinging outfit with three sax players, a wood bass, two guitars and a drummer. Nattily dressed in jackets and ties, OldFashion was one of those groups that was inspired by old jazz and pop. They reminded me a bit of Ego-Wrappin and Crazy Ken Band, and I liked them a lot.

Next up was a funny band led by the 'Mick Jagger of Adachi ward', and these guys really learned their stage show from Rolling Stones 101, complete with a lead guitar with Keith Richards mannerisms.

Then Asakusa Jinta came on, and the floor erupted into joyful dancing. An especially excited kid turned around and apologized when he bumped into me, and I felt bad because his hops and swinging dance and arm pumps were what I felt too, inside. Though by about the middle of the show, the music was so powerful, I jettisoned my inhibitions and joined him and the other fans in dancing.

One of the things that makes Asakusa Jinta great is that they've made music that sounds both retro and new, mixing western and Japanese styles. Others have tried this too, but I don't think as successfully. And they're master performers, fun and engaging to watch. It's a stupid miracle that you can still see these guys right up close at a little place like the Kurawood.