Saturday, July 15, 2017

LAMP Acoustic Live in Nagoya K.D. Japon 2017/07/09

I was just reading a wonderful article about the resurgence of interest and subsequent repressing of Midori Takada's masterpiece Through the Looking Glass , which exemplifies how file sharing and streaming websites aren't as evil as they seem and can actually come full circle to benefit the artist.
The Japanese band Lamp has garnered a following outside their home country in the same way, through file sharing and outlets like Youtube spreading their chill, wistful 70s infused light pop music to eager listeners around the globe. Its hard for me to categorize Lamp's music by genre; there are touches of bossa nova, tinges of the infamous "city pop" genre, and 70s AOR, but whatever nomenclature you fancy their popularity rests on the interplay of male and whispery female vocals over pleasant light indie pop music. When I listen to Lamp I always think of a sunny summer afternoon, a girl wearing a one piece dress with an umbrella over her, and rain falling down on a window. The video for "Sachiko" off the band's latest album is the exact imagery that comes to mind: the beach, a cafe, scenes presented with muted hues of blue and green on grainy film from a 16mm video camera.While the band wasn't too happy about the fact that their music was being pirated and streamed for free on the web, they took the opportunity to capitalize on their namesake by offering their music for purchase digitally, repressing their out of print discography on CD, giving the vinyl treatment to some albums, and even taking to the road for a recent tour of Asian cities.

The latter is exceptional in that Lamp has never quite been a touring band (consequently, this may be why they were so opposed to piracy: unlike most bands, they had no revenue from merchandise or concerts) and preferred to take their time in the studio, releasing an album or EP once every few years. When they did perform live it was a big deal, not just because of the rarity of the event (I read somewhere they were all quite shy, too) but because of the ensemble needed to recreate their music onstage. Lamp consists of only three musicians at its core: Nagai on lead male vocals, Sakakibara on lead female vocals, and Someya, so their stage lineup demanded the group to organize an outfit for the stage that consisted of members to cover all of the other instruments. Skipping the hassle, the band recently embarked on a mini "acoustic" tour, with just its core members and one support member on stage to render some of the band's older material for the first time as a minimal live outfit. Given the chance, I could care less how the band decided to perform. I just wanted to finally see Lamp and since the tour took them to Nagoya this time I jumped on board and looked forward to spending another night at my favorite venue, K.D. Japon in Tsurumai.

The smaller personnel might have suggested a sound not as full or at its best but it actually suits the quiet tones of Lamp's brand of pop music quite well. The four musicians on stage crafted a sound that was quite close to the source material but was also unique in itself. Sakakibara and Nagai traded vocal duties while Someya remained on guitar, and the members frequently rotated on bass, acoustic guitar, and keyboard duties. Sakakibara also played the flute and the synthesizer keyboards, while others also contributed various percussion(shakers, triangle, etc.) throughout the songs. I never realized there was this much going on in their music but it all came together quite well and defined the band's attention to detail in their music and the care that went into rehearsing for this small show.
Sakakibara's voice resonated quite well and was beautiful to hear in person, even moreso since I had a seat in front of her. Someya had some stage fright but got rid of it after a few tracks, and Nagai, who provides the lead male vocals, soon expressed his frustration at some of the song choices for the night. Someya explained that only having songs with vocals by Sakakibara would not make for a well rounded presentation to the audience, but Nagai retorted that he particularly hated the song "Tsumetai Yoru no Hikari" (Light of a cold evening) and was convinced he would never sing it again in his career, despite cheers and laughs from the audience. I'm quite fond of the song myself but after hearing Nagai sing it live I can understand his resentment for the track: it's a strain for the vocal chords for sure. For those interested its the seventh track of one of my favorite Lamp albums.

The wonderful venue of choice is one that I've already said quite a little about in this blog before, but it really warrants another mention in the context of this gig in particular. K.D. Japon looks more like an old fashioned cafe than a live house. Its wooden structure made it feel like a cabin and its decor of unmatched little chairs with handmade cushions complimented the look. The second floor loft is accessible via a rickety winding staircase, and the entire place, situated under a high ceiling, was bathed in a warm orange light. The perfect atmosphere for framing the band's light acoustic sound, much more intimate and picturesque than a typical live house would be.

The show ended in a flash with only about 13 songs plus an impromptu encore the band was reluctant to perform--I forget which song, too. After the gig the band offered numerous CDs for sale, the latest repressing of their vinyl of the album Zanzou out later in the week, and a chord book, plus they offered to sign anything for fans patient enough to get in line. This would take a while, so I decided to have a plate of the venue's curry and took it up to the second floor loft. Tasty as always, priced well(650yen is cheaper than the thieving chain restaurants), and highly recommended--but maybe not during a full house.

The band was nice enough to sign my copy of one of their older CDs, Zankou, which I explained to them was the only one of their albums I had yet to own, making it even more special to me. I regret not bringing all their other CDs from home...

Afterwards I completely forgot to get a picture with the band and ran back to the venue to get one. The band isn't particularly outgoing, but they were nice enough pose for a picture and chat. Given the odds of Lamp doing another gig I can actually attend, even if this ends up being the only time I see them live the occasion was unforgettable.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

WBSBFK / Sekaiteki na Band @ Kakuozan Larder 2017/06/10

I've always enjoyed seeing both huge, headlining acts and smaller indie outfits when I travel to Japan, but even if its rewarding to see these acts I've always seen on youtube or heard on CDs finally perform on stage, the entire process is a far cry from the tiny intimate shows I remember going to on Guam during high school. There was rarely a stage or any expensive equipment, everyone stood around the band performing, and even if things were very unprofessional,sometimes I kinda of miss this very DIY network of gigs that weren't governed by the live house system, even if it meant that the sound wasn't all that great.

Seeing Nagoya's post-punk underdogs WBSBFK and Sekaiteki na Band today at Kakuozan Larder brought back a lot of memories of going to these small, intimate shows that were just for fun. "I feel like we weren't performing in Japan," one member said in a discussion held right after the show. Then, pointing to the two red letters at the top of Larder's sign he continued, "I feel like we're in LA or someplace like that." Gigs this small, where the band is literally a foot away from you and isn't up on a huge stage, rarely happen here. 

Larder is a hole in the wall restaurant that serves up burgers, imported beer, and great american-style food right outside Kakuozan's subway station. It's blue walls are hard to miss. I found out about the gig by coincidence when I stopped in a few days before. The owners are really friendly, cool people, and besides the great food they play great music and have some really cool decor. The shop also sells its own merchandise in a small corner at the back, some gnarly designs that remind me of underground comic culture, and is all worth a look.

 Even after relocating the decor to the sidewalk there was barely enough room inside for more than a string of people lining the wall and sides of the counter with the band set up in the center. Equipment was minimal: the drums consisted of a kick, snare, and hi-hat, the guitar had a minimum amount of pedals, and the bassist was so close to the crowd he was ready to assault the girl in front of me as he grooved. It was hard to move, but it was so much easier to enjoy the music when it was just all right in front of you. 

The bands did away with MCs and the songs were short bursts of energy that soon began to melt into one another; it was easy for me to get too into the music and sort of zone out. The simple setup didn't hurt either of the band's styles too much: the bass was already really strong and even though I remember the bands using quite a bit of distortion on their guitars, it all came out so that less was more. Even the drummers made brilliant use of a kit that was just kick, snare, and hihat(though a tom was brought out for one set), and muted with towels taped on the tops.

I was upset to read a post in which a band I respected had taken a stab at websites like bandcamp that incorporate a "name your price" option for purchasing music. According to them, fans can't be trusted to understand the value of music made by professionals. Too many of them would underpay--or just not pay at all-- if that was an option. Yet the gig at Larder, billed as "pay what you want" on the flyer, seemed to do just fine. When the last song was done, one of the Larder staff passed around a plastic container and reminded everyone that the money was to help the bands finish up recording. The bottle was nearly full of paper bills when it finally made it back. Larder, too, seemed to do well and served up a number of burgers that night and tons of drinks, even without an obligatory drink order or added drink charge of some kind.

Shows like this don't happen to often in Japan, in Nagoya, and even at this little venue. Even if they aren't hosting gigs, Larder is always open for some cold beers and mouth watering variety of burgers(camembert cheese and pecans, anyone?), so if you're like me and craving for some good old American food, its a nice excuse to go up to Kakuozan.

Check out Larder on Facebook and Twitter, and the bands WBSBFK and Sekaiteki na Band.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Imaike Go Now 2017 Day 1

A friend gave me a heads up about Imaike Go Now during one of my Japan trips and it just so happened to fall on a free day, so I arranged a short outing to Nagoya with the help of the almighty JR Pass. If someone told me I would be living in Nagoya years later to catch the event again, I wouldn't have believed them. But there I was, taking the subway a few stops over to Imaike the morning of the first day of the show.

The event was a single day gig in 2015 but this time around they had it going for two days. Other than that, the live houses were the same and the mix of bands also similar. It was rather uncanny having traversed these same streets and live houses before, only now the neighborhood is much more familiar to me.

Chiina @ 3-Star Imaike
I arrived at 3-star Imaike to get my wristband and see the first band of the first day, Chiina. I wrote about Chiina previously when I saw them in Tokyo and they've come a long way since then, releasing a few new records that I still haven't heard and collaborating with a bigger ensemble they call the Chiina Philharmonic Orchestra. I don't think I recognized any of the songs they played at this gig so perhaps that's why they didn't seem as fun as when I saw them right after they released the fantastic Granville, but they still played lighthearted folk music that made the audience smile.

HINTO @ 3-Star Imaike
Sparta Locals was always talked about among people in the overseas Japanese indie music loving community but like many other groups, they just never happened to make a big impact on me. The vocalist/guitarist of the band went on to form Hinto and while I never listened to them either they turned out to be quite good on stage. Lots of girls were in the audience but I couldn't see what was to attractive about the guy. I guess they really like the twangy guitar sound they happen to be known for.

Open Reel Ensemble @ 3-Star Imaike
The next act I went to was in the same club but this time the floor wasn't half as packed and people merely lined the walls, uninterested. But when Open Reel Ensemble revealed their repertoire of instruments--three old film reel machines hooked up to a central sound board unit--people began to take interest. The three fiddled with the machines like they were turntables, stopping, and rewinding various segments of a track. At one time they sampled the call backs of the audience into one of the songs, using the reel to record and play back our voices in sync with the track. The music was fantastic--I always enjoy electronic music live more than I think I will--and seeing three guys busy running back and forth to stop spinning reels and adjust the sound deck makes for quite a performance. Definitely a unique experience and a breath of fresh air from all the rock oriented groups I saw.

Klan Aileen @ Huck Finn
The two members of Klan Aileen dished out some abrasive, dark sort of rock music that doesn't sound anything like the straightforward sound their studio recordings have. All of the effects stripped away they come across as a lot more dynamic, the drummer pounding away and the guitars blaring. Then again, maybe it was just because I saw these guys while standing in front of the speaker...Anyway, they were definitely fantastic live.

Mass of the Fermenting Dregs @ 3-Star Imaike
I couldn't let the night go by without seeing Mass of the Fermenting Dregs. Natsuko on the bass is legendary for her stage antics and the band also puts on a stellar performance--it was hard to get a picture when they were all putting so much energy into playing the music. It had been so long since I actually put on a MotFD CD that I couldn't hum the melody to any of their songs but like magic I would suddenly find myself familiar with all the songs they belted out. I found myself engulfed in the soaring soundscapes as much as I was in waves of nostalgia, recalling just how much I used to listen to this band years ago but was only seeing live for the first time. It was a great way to end the night, and I came out of the club feeling like I got a lot more than I expected.

Triple Fire @ Tokuzo
There was still time to see one more band and I chose to see Triple Fire, a sort of comedy-band that didn't really take itself too seriously but proved to be really popular. Their vocalist staggered across the stage muttering more than he was actually singing while the three bandmen behind him were dead serious about the music they were playing. I can't describe their sound very well, but it was very calculated--nothing like the singer who was rambling on aimlessly to their accompaniment.

After a whole day of standing and running around I didn't realize how tired I was until I got home and it dawned on me that I would have to do this all over again the next day.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Cherry Blossom Report: Nagoya Kakouzan Nittaiji temple 2017/04/08

I passed by the Kakuouzan station on my bike and saw plenty of signs for travelers looking for Nittaiji, a famous temple in the area that I had never heard of. Right outside the subway station is a slight incline and the temple is located at the top. The hill is lined with many old style shops, cafes, and restaurants making the walk to the temple all that more enjoyable.

 In my mind was a little temple in a small clearing at the top of a hill but instead the complex was massive and the buildings all looked very new. Kakuouzan is a small town and I had no idea anything of this scale lay just a few minutes walk from the station.

Nittaiji is famous for not being associated with any particular sect of Buddhism. It was built as a sign of friendship between Japan and Thailand, and in particular is coveted for supposedly  having some of the remains of Buddha stored inside. Creepy. Or holy. Find out more at the temple's English website.

The pagoda located just outside the temple was impressive. It started raining when I got there so I had to take pictures from under whatever covering I could find but I would love to go back to take more pictures. The cherry blossoms were blooming nicely at the base and continued down a small slope.

I can't imagine what education is like in this nursery school.

Cherry Blossom Report: Nagoya Heiwa Kouen (Peace Park) 2017/04/07

 Much of this week's cherry blossom viewing was dampened--literally--by daily forecasts of rain. I visited the park just before a downpour and didn't get to enjoy the tranquil expanse of greenery and cherry blossoms for very long--neither did I take many pictures, but the park comes highly recommended, though probably not from the walking-route I took up a steep incline from Motoyama station. The walk from Higashiyama-Kouen (Higashiyama Park) station should be much closer and convenient for the Sakura garden, pictured below.

The rainy forecast deterred most would-be picnickers, so the grounds were clear of the blue stuff and rather quiet despite being in glorious full bloom. The entire area was vast and a welcome departure from the linear little riverside path I took the previous day along the Yamazakigawa river.

Cherry Blossom Report: Nagoya Yamazakigawa 2017/04/05

One of the most popular cherry blossoms spots in Nagoya is the Yamazakigawa riverside, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it located a few stops away from my dormitory. The Path of Four Seasons is often cited as the best place to see them, located a 10-minute walk from the Mizuho Undojo Nishi/Mizuho Athletic Grounds West station on the city subway's Sakuradori Line. The river, however, extends for kilometers both north and south, and the path of cherry blossoms runs all the way down much of its length. Instead of taking the subway, I decided to start further up and work my way down the river.

After taking these pictures I realized it was so close to my dormitory I might as well return my bike and enjoy a walk instead.  

Few cars pass on the narrow road next to the river and pedestrians often spilled into the street while viewing the blossoms. They seemed to continue on forever. 

Instead of the bolstering laughter and cheers from the inebriated participants at Tsuruma Park, the Yamazakigawa riverside was a calm walk in cool weather the entire way down. Many people were taking their dog out for a walk or having a stroll with the family. Those who did stop on the way did so on one the steps that lined the sides of the riverbank with cherry blossoms above.

It runs across quiet residential areas instead of the main road so the atmosphere is very relaxing.

By this time I had reached the Mizuho Athletic Grounds and you can see the stadium right by the river. The route also seems popular with runners.

I was told that the path used to be lined with street stalls like this one in the fashion of just about every other park and flowering viewing spot I've been to. Nowadays, the streets are clear because vendors were banned by the city--perhaps for the good, as the route was much easier to walk. A handful of these roasted sweet potato stands seem to survive.

Some interesting bell shaped flowers. Let's not forget all the other flora making their appearance in spring. 

At night the lamp posts turned on, illuminating the path down the river.

My stroll started at the Yamazakigawa river parallel to the Sakurayama subway station, through the famed Path of Four Seasons, and ended as I got close to Aratamabashi subway station. I walked all the way back up to Sakurayama, but those not so ambitious could always take the subway back to where they need to go, via the Sakuradori line or Meijo line at Aratamabashi station.

I tried fiddling with maps, but instead found out that the route I took comes quite recommended and was already on the Mizuho-ward's official homepage. The river runs parallel to the Sakuradori subway line so any part of the river is accessible so long as you head east from Sakurayama, Mizukuyakusho, Mizuho Undojo Nishi, or Aratamabashi. I've posted it below: