Bakubeni/Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re/The Notorious MSG/Echostream/Quaff/Minirex/Falsies
On Heat--Knitting Factory--9/27/08
FETES (Far East To East Showcase), put on by KarateRice in association with The New York Animation Festival was a big night for us fans of Japanese rock. There was a good crowd, including lots of folks from the animation festival. The biggest negative was the guy running the lighting. Whenever a band got the slightest bit intense, his response was to turn off all the stage lights, except for the lights which shined on the band from behind, leaving the bands backlit, and regularly blinding the audience. As fans, we often say were going to see a band, but with that kind of lighting, most of the time we couldnt see them at all. It got worse as the evening went on. The other noticeable negative was that the evening ran late, and after midnight and THE NOTORIOUS MSGs set many people went home, leaving TSU SHI MA MI RE and BAKUBENI to play to a much smaller crowd. Throughout the night, the show was hosted by the silliness of Kaiju Big Battel.
QUAFF took the stage for their soundcheck, and exhibited the showmanship which is obviously one of their most winning characteristics. After their soundcheck they each received cheers as they left the stage. They soon returned, and rocked us hard with their synchronized movements and hand gestures, and their songs which regularly featured repetitive slogans. It was quite the show, with the bandmembers, except for the drummer, regularly stepping forward to the front of the stage, and leaning out over the audience. The band featured a drummer, a bassist, two guitarists, and two lead singers. One of the singers flourished a folding fan and wore a mask which he didnt remove the entire night. The other singer wore a jacket, which on the back read Quaff Or Die! The bassist and one of the guitarists seemingly had visual-kei hairstyles. Or maybe they were just styled after long-hair metal bands. Whether theyre a visual-kei band is not for me to say. There was some metal influence, though. Either way, they did put on one hell of a show, and the audience obviously enjoyed them very much. The singer without the mask seemed to handle the more melodious vocals. A number of cards were displayed, explaining that one of them was not actually human, was immortal, and so had been able to learn every song ever written. They then went into their cover song of the evening, Michael Jacksons Beat It. They regularly interacted with the audience, teaching us to recite various things in Japanese, and to mimic some of their hand movements. The audience was always happy to oblige. One of the Japanese phrases they taught us, fittingly enough, was Ousu! Apparently its an affirmation of being ready to rock. So, to QUAFF I say, Ousu!
In some ways BAKUBENI had similarities with QUAFF, and QUAFF were out in the audience to cheer them on. Jesus had told me earlier that both these bands were visual-kei bands. BAKUBENIs style, however, is much more punk than QUAFFs. Their music is, too. Still, they share many things with QUAFFs presentation, interacting a good deal with the audience, teaching us Japanese words and phrases, and turning slogans into chants. They also have a sincere joy of performance and rocking out, as did QUAFF.
Peelander-Z/Zazen Boys/Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re/Quaff/Bakubeni--Williamsburg
Wow! Two nights in a row! It was my first night in the Williamsburg Music Hall, and its a nice place. People had told me that it had been redesigned from when it was North Six, and that now it resembles a smaller Bowery Ballroom, and that the pillars that used to block the view are gone. Theyre pretty much right, too. What was especially nice was that tonight all of the bands were Japanese except for New Yorks premier J-rock band, PEELANDER-Z, who closed the night with a set that was basically a crazy party playtime! Fun was had by all, and again Kaiju Big Battel played MC for the show.
Yep, next up was QUAFF, who I also saw last night. They were introduced tonight as heavy metal, Japanese arena rock giants, and that description fits them perfectly. Again, they rocked things up nicely. Theyre an accomplished band. The two guitarists, two lead singers, and the bassist cover that stage as if swarming. They just dont stop moving and changing places around the stage. Its like a free-for-all. As a photographer, its really annoying. You see a nice chance for a picture, and before you can take it theyre moving around again. Theyre obviously having a great time doing it, and that fun translates to the audience. Their fun is an invitation to us to have some rockin fun ourselves. The cards came out again. Apparently its the singer in the mask who is the immortal alien, and has memorized all the earths tunes. I was expecting them to go into Beat It again, but tonight they did a very nice version of THE FOUR SEASONS Cant Take My Eyes Off You. It was nice that they were changing things up a bit for those of us who had seen them last night, and it shows what a talented bunch of musicians they are, beneath that party band exterior.
When PEELANDER-Z did the song that replaces each member of the band for Bowling Time, the bassist of QUAFF was chosen to replace Kotaro, Peelander Red, on bass. Surprisingly the guest stars didnt do anything of any greater merit than when PEELANDER-Z chooses to replace themselves with amateurs, but the usual noise was fun, and everybody seemed to be having a good time, including the audience. The singer who doesnt wear a mask from QUAFF helped Peelander Yellow sing Ninja High School early in the set. After Bowling Time, while the guest star band was still playing, enough of Peelander Greens drumset to form a trap set was moved from the stage to the center of the dancefloor, and as he played, Peelander Yellow coerced as many people as he could to dance in a circle around the drums.
The Netherlands/The Object/Gelatine/Quaff--Knitting Factory--4/26/10
QUAFF opened up this show, and they opened it up with some real style. Janiel told me they started with the Ghost Busters theme. I hadn’t recognized it. They also played Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ later on. They are six guys: two guitarists who trade leads, two singers who trade lead vocals, a bassist, and a drummer. Two of them have red hair, two have black, and two have platinum blonde hair. These guys have a great look, being a relation to visual-kei, or, at least, they look like they are. Plus, they're young and handsome, or maybe even cute to beautiful. Somebody’s certainly spending some time on their hair! I’d have a picture for you, but they asked us not to take pictures, unless we already had permission. I didn’t know I would need permission, so I didn’t take pictures. They did say that after the show, if we wanted, we could have a picture taken with the band, which they would autograph, for only seven dollars. I decided to forgo the picture with QUAFF, and just relax and enjoy their show, and it was a show. There was a good amount of choreography, there were dance moves for each of the members in sequence. It was quite a show, and it was lots of fun. They had a song called ‘Call My Name’, or something close to that, where they held up signs of each of their names, so that the audience could learn them. There was a small group of young women over on the side, right at the front of the stage, who all seemed to know everybody in the band’s names already. So it gave everybody else a chance to catch up, but I forgot them all, except for one of the lead singers, who was named Shingo, and the drummer, who was named Hal. Shingo had a long, colorful sweatshirt that read “New Wave Punk”. They didn’t really sound punk, though, or even new wave. They did rock, though, and now and then they got some strong funk going, too. These guys can play! The bassist even played flute segments in a couple of songs. Mostly, though, they just concentrated on putting on an energetic, joyous show, and avoiding bumping into each other as they hustled around the stage. All those things they succeeded in doing admirably.
Qypthone/Himawari/Creme Blush/Spoozys/Peelander-Z/Condor 44/Fantasys
Core--New York -- Tokyo Music Festival--5/26/02
This night of the New York -- Tokyo Music Festival was quite the success. Lets hope it does become an annual event! The pier was a nice place to be. The wide variety of bands was intriguing. The MC regularly mispronounced the bands names, when he knew them at all, but thats a small complaint. The bands set up quickly and kept coming.
While QYPTHONE were setting up, I noticed a beautiful woman I had seen in the audience up on the stage with them, and I remember hoping that she was in the band. When they started she wasnt with them, but she soon joined them and turned out to be their lead singer. The rest of the band is male and were all dressed in black. Theyre made up of keyboards, congas, a stand-up bass, and a guy who played a variety of synthesizers. Occasionally the keyboard player would dance about the stage waving what looked like a small tapedeck, but Im not sure thats what it was. They played bossanova, and were obviously having a great time doing it. The audience was very much enjoying it as well, with many of us bouncing about with big happy smiles on our faces. With their modern additions to the bossanova beat, and the attractive woman on lead vocals, they reminded me of PIZZICATO 5. She looked every bit the fashion model, and the way she danced, doing the twist and various dances of that era, she looked very much as if she was doing a fashion shoot right there. Her vocals were little more than OK, but she won this crowd over immediately with her smiles and energetic dancing, and the party didnt stop until the band left the stage.
Japan Girls Nite: Gitogito Hustler/Bleach 03/Noodles/Falsies
On Heat/Red Bacteria Vacuum--Bowery Ballroom--10/21/07
Wow! What a night! This special Japan Girls Nite 07, brought to us by Audrey Kimura of Sister/Benten Records, is only happening once, right here in New York, and was lots of fun, but then, I knew it would be. The crowd wasnt that big, but it was OK for a Sunday night, and the crowd was enthusiastically enjoying themselves more and more as the night went on. Interested in getting an OK to photograph the event, I had warned Audrey that Bowery Ballroom was usually very strict about photography, so I found it humorous when I saw a bouncer, who had that night accused me of videotaping, pulling Audrey aside for videotaping her own show. Oh yeah, and I think every band told us that they loved New York, though one of the guitarists of FALSIES ON HEAT may have spit and pretended to heave shortly after telling us how much she loved our city.
RED BACTERIA VACUUM started things off with a roar of punk rock. It was like a jump start, a great way to begin the evening! At one point, for one song, they slowed down to an energetic pop speed. Everything else rocked at a good clip, and roared out of the gate and around and around the track. Theyre a trio, and were technically fine. They played their songs with energy and exuberance. The guitarist, sporting war paint, sang most of the leads, but the bassist regularly helped out on vocals, and when she wasnt singing, she was moving about the stage a good deal, and seemed to really enjoy shaking her long hair all over the place. Their material wasnt amazing, but it was a lot more fun than I had given it credit for when I heard their CD. The difference was obviously their performance. They were having a great time up there, and it was a joy to see.
Chatmonchy/Omodaka/Red Bacteria Vacuum/Omodaka’s/Jinny Oops!--Bowery Ballroom--3/21/10
Audrey Kimura and Japan Nite made their after SXSW stop in New York for 2010. It’s usually the highlight of the year for Japanese rock in New York. My guess is that once again, nothing will top it this year. Thank you Audrey, and my thanks to all the bands. It was another rockin’ Japan Nite! Why weren’t there more people there to support this annual event?
Next up was the return of RED BACTERIA VACUUM. They’re an all-gal trio, and they’ve tightened up a bit since the last time I saw them. Not only is their rock of a somewhat higher pedigree now, but they’ve expanded their variety and use of hooks. They even had some added tapes broadening their live sound. I only just barely noticed it, but at least a couple of times I spotted their drummer using headphones. Yes, there’s some added subtlety to their growing sound, but this is another rocking band. They rocked it up well, and were obviously enjoying themselves. The highlight was probably their early hit ‘Roller Coaster’, which they stormed through, slamming the classic hook home hard and joyfully. Later in the set the bassist decided to teach us all some Japanese. She explained to us that people in Kyoto greet each other with the phrase “Maidoll”, and insisted the crowd should practice with her, repeating, "Maidoll, Maidoll”. I suggest, as the band is originally from Osaka, and has since moved to Tokyo, she was probably having some fun at the expense of Kyoto residents, and at the same time playing with the brand name “Midol” at our expense, but who knows? Maybe I misheard, and it was Tokyo-speak for “My doll”. RED BACTERIA VACUUM, like almost every other band tonight, and at many Japan Nite shows, expressed their love for New York. They probably played the shortest set of the night, but RED BACTERIA VACUUM rocked us, and rocked us well. It was good to see them again!
RIDDIM SAUNTER set up, but by the time they were ready, the room had pretty much cleared. “We’re ready to start!”, they announced. That didn’t bring the people in, though, so the drummer picked up his melodica, jumped off the stage, and walked to the front door of Pianos back room. He opened up the door and started playing his melodica to the people out at the bar. A few of the others in the band began playing something, too, to help him out. As it turns out, though, with him standing in the doorway, no one could get in. When he returned to the stage a few people got the hint, and followed him in, and after that a few more, until eventually they had a fair crowd to play to, though most of them remained a good distance from the stage. The band started up, and they were a fairly energetic bunch--especially the drummer, who jumped around a good deal, and besides melodica and drums, he also played keyboards at one point. While he did that the bassist took over drums, and I’d say he was easily as good a drummer as he was a bassist. Oh yes, there was also a guitarist, a singer, and one guy who switched back and forth between flute and trumpet. The singer has a very sweet voice, and the music they play tends to be very bouncy pop. I was told later that there were some Caribbean rhythms smashed together with salsa, pop, and punk. So it was very bouncy and danceable, but mostly it was just very happy pop music, with lots of jumping about, and some trading of instruments. The one cover song they played us? Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. That’s the one that goes “Pave paradise/Put up a parking lot”. Once or twice the drummer and the singer came down off the stage. There was a good deal of dancing by then, stirred up by some of RIDDIM SAUNTER’s fans, and at the end of the show the singer and the flutist/trumpeter came down off the stage and helped to end the show joyfully and flamboyantly.
RIN were doing a promotional appearance for their new U.S. release, Inland Sea, on Domo Records. The show was being professionally documented, and a full room of interested people were there to see them. The three women played traditional Japanese instruments, backed by a drummer/percussionist. The instruments included the koto, the jushichigen (a fourteen string koto--they normally have twelve strings), the shamisen, the biwa, and the shakuhachi (a traditional Japanese flute). Each of the three women switched between two of these instruments, and they all sang some. Part of the concept behind RIN is the mix of Japanese traditional instruments with Western music. The Western music was all piped in through the P.A. It was quite rich, to an orchestral degree, and with the various traditional instruments, it had the fullness of a movie soundtrack. Usually there was a good rhythm behind it, too, and the drummer/percussionist kept things interesting with a wide variety of percussion instruments. RIN were all excellent musicians, and the woman who played biwa and shakuhachi often did some playful strutting while playing one of her assorted shakuhachi. She had four of them to choose from. The richness of the instrumentation, and the fullness of the tracks they were playing along with, filled the room with a traditional feeling (the Western music) and with intriguing new sounds (provided by the traditional Japanese instruments). All three of the women added some wonderful vocals, that seemed to unite the two musics more than anything else in the sound. The only departure from these blendings of Western and traditional Japanese music were a shamisen/biwa duet without any piped in sounds, which, in truth, seemed to get the biggest reaction from the audience; and the last song where RIN was joined by Leigh Nash, a former singer for SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER, who sings three songs on the new release, Inland Sea. Her vocals did not have the wonderful effect that the bands vocals had, but she did give their sound a mature pop feel, which might very well expand their potential audience.
Rinken Band--Japan Society--4/10/02
I was invited to this performance, which is good, because I didnt know about it previously. The Japan Society has a wonderful theater, which Ive seen many movies in, but few performances. RINKEN BAND are in the world music genre, but are said to have added pop and rock to their traditional Okinawan music. The only noticeable influence of popular music was the use of a modern drumset, electric bass, and various keyboards. They also used traditional drums and percussion, but their lead instrument is an eletrified sanshin (a three-stringed plucked lute), which Teruya Rinken, leader of the band, invented and calls a cheren. The band performed in costumes inspired by traditional Okinawan costumes, and designed by Tomoko Uehara, Rinkens wife and the bands lead vocalist. It was wonderful to hear this music, which reminded me of music I heard at a Japanese obon festival. The music was quite beautiful when Tomoko sang, and full of spirit when the three male dancer/percussionists sang. The performance is well designed to introduce Okinawan traditional music to the entire family. It was presented with humor, and lots of audience participation, including a dance lesson which kept the audience on its feet for the last couple of songs. The audience repaid the band for this expenditure of energy by enthusiastically demanding an encore. My only complaint was a row of lights hanging from the ceiling above the stage which sporadically shone out at the audience. Over and over our eyes were allowed to accustom themselves to the dimness of the theater, only to be temporarily blinded whenever this row of lights flashed on and off at us. It didnt make the show any less enjoyable.
Guitar Wolf/Peelander-Z/The Spunks/Goggle-A/The Young Ones/Rocket
Jack Vaders/Volume Out--Japunks Jamboree #6 @ CBGB--11/18/03
That was a wonderful night, a kind of miraculous night, and with GUITAR WOLF on the bill, the size of the crowd grew very fast, and the palefaces may have actually outnumbered the Japanese! One of the nicest touches were the women who came out at the beginning of each set and held up signs with the Round number for each set on one side, and the name of the band on the other side. There were seven rounds in all, and, yes, it was a knock out. Thanks Japunks!
Round two was The ROCKET JACK VADERS. Already there was a good sized crowd. They were a four piece band with two guitarists. The rhythm guitarist was a woman. They were not a tight band, but they could all play well, and they did rock. The lead guitarist traveled about the stage in an awkward manner, striking odd poses now and then with an arm or leg stuck out at odd angles. They opened up with a couple of instrumentals, but then added vocals to their sound. They went back to the instrumentals once or twice, but most of their songs featured vocals. The most interesting thing about them was that the band had a rough sound, but the lead guitar was played as clean as it could be, and gave me the impression of a kind of VENTURES sound. He was very good, and I havent heard a sound like that in ages. The contrast with the rough band behind him worked well. His odd movements looked good, too. The bassist was also quite animated. He jumped around a lot, and at one point took a dive on the front of the stage which took down two microphone stands and a bottle of beer all at once. Near the end of the set the woman sang a DEVO song. I was impressed enough that I immediately headed back to their table and picked up the CD they had for sale.
Benten Tokyo Presents Japan Nite: Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re/Pe´z/Ellegarden/Stance
Punks/The Rodeo Carburettor/The Emeralds--Knitting Factory--3/20/06
Australian Cattle God Records have started up a side label for Japanese bands, apparently in connection with Benten/Sister Records, called Benten Tokyo Records. This tour is kind of an announcement of that, with TSU SHI MA MI RE, who are already signed to Cattle God Records, headlining the bill. The audience was evenly mixed between Japanese and caucasians, and many of them were much younger than are usually seen at these shows, which is certainly a positive thing. Six Japanese bands in a row! Oh, and almost every band made a point of letting us know that they, Love New York! Im exhausted, and Ive only just begun writing.
THE RODEO CARBURETTOR, another trio, were up next. I wasnt familiar with them, but they had an impressive edge. They rocked it, and they rocked it hard. The drummer kept things lean and mean. The bassist kept a good pulse going, and the guitarist/lead singer sang with a vigorous theatricality, blasted out the rhythm in roars, and his leads were both rough and agile. They really only had one sound, but they did it well, and with his expressive singing, they kind of reminded me of an early, primitive WAKUSEI. His singing didnt stray far from hot-tempered, but I liked it, and I liked the edgy assault of their songs. A somewhat wider variety of material would help, but the thing they need to work on the most is that the two times the guitarist retuned, he turned his back on the audience, and the band waited for him, as did the audience. Their CD was the only one I bought tonight, and I look forward to hearing it.
I went to this because Hitoshi had seen them and liked them a lot. The place was packed, and the additional air-blowing fan they pushed in as far as the extension cord would allow, didnt help much. The band started up as I entered the club and played for about forty minutes. Its amazingly intricate music, and the sounds were surprisingly wide-ranging considering that its just a drummer and a bassist. The vocals are actually operatic, or mock operatic. Its quite strange. It took awhile, but after being assaulted for half an hour or so, I recognized the prog-rock aspects Village Voice had mentioned. Its true, its like they took the worst of seventies-rock (E,L&P and such) subtracted all the explorative jamming and played all the intricate breaks in a row at twice the speed while singing opera. Yeah, well, thats not really my cup of tea, but they did it unbelievably well, and with a humble joy of presentation. The crowd was enthusiastic and brought them back for three encores.
Japanese New Music Festival: Acid Mothers Temple SWR/Zoffy/Ruins
Alone/Ronruins/Zubi Zuva X/Shrinp Wark/Akaten/Seikazoku--NorthSix--9/3/06
The Japanese New Music Festival was Atsushi Tsuyama and Makoto Kawabata of ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE, and Tatsuya Yoshida of RUINS in various combinations. The only exception was RONRUINS, a project of Yoshidas which included Ron Anderson on guitar and vocals, and Jesse Krakow on bass and vocals. The majority of the people attending understood the situation. All the bands were there. They were just made up of the same three people, and many didnt play more than a few songs. At one point I was just going to do one report of the entire evening, but as it turns out, Ive divided my reports up for the different bands. Throughout the evening, the three principals regularly welcomed us to The Japanese New Music Festival. They did it so often, it became a running gag. All three of the principals sang in most of the bands, though Kawabata tended to stick to back-up vocals.
RUINS ALONE fittingly followed RONRUINS. Yoshida got a few breaks, but he was playing drums most of the evening, getting quite a workout, and doing a great job. RUINS ALONE was his shining moment of the evening. There he was alone on stage. Tapes including a wide variety of instruments played behind him as he sang and kept the beat to the intricate music of the recordings. Like RUINS music has always been, the changes kept coming, rapidly, and constantly, and Yoshida was ready for every single beat. He pounded those drums for several songs in a row, and the pace, though it varied constantly, never lost its frenetic energy.