Saturday, October 14, 2017

Social Tower Market 2017 @ Nagoya TV Tower

As much as I dig going to shows in Japan, it can hit the wallet pretty hard after awhile: buying a ticket, getting a CD or shirt all adds up. That said, I can't say no to a free live performance featuring some bands that I was curious about. Social Tower Market is an annual event held in the large park area near the Nagoya TV Tower down town and had more than just free music. Both days were host to some awesome vendors selling a plethora of used goods, homemade curios, and other oddities. A variety of food and drink stalls catered to every taste and had a surprising variety of craft beer and select sake, to gourmet french fries and tacos. Count me in.

I only managed to see the last act of each day and on Saturday it was the band Tempalay. They played a quirky indie rock that was just as eclectic as their sense of fashion. It was interesting, though perhaps not quite my cup of tea.

The festivities continued after the last band finished at around 5PM, with music resuming under the TV Tower not far from where the stage was. I walked in on a little jam session these three talented musicians were having that totally blew my mind. Raw, open air music is really something.

After getting some refreshments, a different group had set up in the same spot as before. Quite psychedelic, airy, and avantgarde. It was a four piece with a bongo player...and I never caught their name. The drums sounded fantastic without any fancy microphones or acoustics altering the sound.

I didn't get a chance to arrive early on the second day either but made it just in time to see the one act I had been looking forward to the entire weekend: singer songwriter Satoko Shibata.

I didn't get too close but the cool acoustic tunes she played reverberated around the entire park and were perfect to relax to.

Pictured is poutine I got from a stand selling New York style french fries, basically fried potatoes with all sorts of topping. These french fries were so good I had to go again on the second day.

Yoshitomo Nara - For Better or Worse @ Toyota Municipal Museum of Art

I've already become accustomed to people bashing Nagoya for never getting events as good as Tokyo to the east or Osaka to the west, and even southern city Fukuoka having a better turn out when it comes to things to do. But it's not like Nagoya has nothing, and this summer I attended a few art exhibitions that actually boasted some exclusivity to my city, proving that maybe it's not always left in the dust. One of those was For Better or Worse, an exhibition of artist Yoshitomo Nara's work held at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art.

There is actually some neat trivia for why Nara may have chose this spot to showcase his work: although he is from northern Japan, he went to college here in Aichi prefecture, at an art school out in the sticks, and returned regularly after his sojourn in Europe to meet with friends and mentors He even made special note to mention that it was, indeed, not Tokyo where he found himself but right here in Aichi prefecture, an often passed over, boring old city. It was inspiring to read his words and to know that one of my favorite artists spent time here where I am now. Where I live now seemed not to matter, or rather, it seemed more meaningful now that I knew Nara had been here, too.

The exhibit itself didn't allow pictures of course, but it was an extensive exploration of just about everything Nara has done in his career, from early unpolished works, sculptures, and a large selection of his latest works. It was interesting to see how his signature character styles have changed and evolved over time. The first exhibit was a giant wall of records, extending from the floor to the ceiling, that inspired Nara and acted as his early "art collection," mostly 60s-80s era Western rock classics. On the other side were memorabilia and books arranged on wooden shelves that were also inspiring to the's good to know he was also a fan of the 80s starlet Tomoyo Harada. I was also impressed by the numerous installations. The fountain was bizarre, placed in a well lit room with only the sound of flowing water audible, but the cabin you could enter and observe was the most intriguing. I entered just as the stereo inside started to play "California Dreamin," a track fresh in my mind from watching Chungking Express a few weeks earlier. The guitar case on the floor beneath a particular painting didn't seem to pique anyone's interest but it was a bit hard to swallow for me: this belonged to the late vocalist of bloodthirsty butchers, a band Nara had drawn the album covers for. Honestly, I hadn't expected there to be this much of his work on display and I was thoroughly satisfied with the sheer amount of content available.

I had lunch at the museum's restaurant which wasn't bad at all. It was a fair price, too, at about 1500yen and included a great view of the architecture on the second floor of the museum.

Exploring the exterior of the museum and observing the architecture is something not to miss at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, especially on a day with clear weather like when I went. After wandering the galleries of paintings inside its refreshing and just as interesting to take a stroll around the building to see the care taken into its creation and the placement of art work on the grounds, as well. 

At the side of the museum was a separate complex that sat in a field of green. There were some interesting pieces laid out here as well. 

The walk back to the Toyota train station was pleasant. The inner city has no space for trains and instead ops for the invisible subways that run underneath. Trains still weave behind the buildings in Toyota city and pass by the road by the museum often. 

Chris C.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Guitar Pop Restaurant vol.35 ~It's a Shiny Day~ @ K.D. Japon 2017/05/20

The Shibuya-kei sound, enshrined by leading groups like Flipper's Guitar and Pizzicato Five, hasn't quite been making as much noise in recent years. Once the second wave of artists sprang up, spearheaded by the now renowned producer

Yasutaka Nakata and his group capsule(plus soon to be super stars Perfume), things looked like they were making a second wave and third wave of artists...but then Nakata started hitting the house and club music scene and the rest of scene seemed to fall by the wayside. Shibuya-kei was...dead, so to say, but an underdog was secretly keeping the flame burning in the most unexpected places: video game arcades.
Konami's Bemani line of rhythm games are mainstays in arcades and the pop'n music installment has since its earliest inceptions had its roots in the sort of shibuya-kei style music (as well as just about every genre given its focus on slapping buttons, no relation to actual instrument, allowing the producers more freedom. A core of artists made music for these games and remained active outside too, while other groups who were well known in music circles would occasionally loan their tracks to the game. Nakata himself lent a song at one point under his polyphonic room pseudonym, and bands like three berry ice cream collaborated often, comprised of members of the core shibuya kei group "Bridge". Meanwhile bands like risette released regular CDs while putting out songs for Konami periodically, and . Cymbals licenses

It's not wonder that a love of rhythm games, shibuya-kei, and the artists within would eventually come together to assemble an event called Guitar Pop Restaurant, now in its 35th installment and going strong. The event puts together groups of the shibuya kei genre and groups from rhythm games, often groups that rarely if ever play live shows nowadays. Its a real treat if you're a fan of both, but a real hassle given that the events only happen a few times a year and my trips to Japan never really match up. Last time I made a reservation to an all-day installment, an extra special Guitar Pop Restaurant featuring the likes of Hideki Kaji, a big name for sure, but couldn't make it in the end because of schedule conflicts (I spent the entire day packing for my trip home and making multiple trips to the post office near my hostel in the rain). I gave up on the idea given the event's central location of Tokyo, but was astounded when they announced a gig scheduled here in Nagoya, a rare occurrences for sure, and one in my favorite venue K.D. Japon.

This special event was host to a plethora of young vocalists and the talented composers attached to the latest versions of the pop'n music series. The songlists for these games are hard to keep up with and I confess to not being familiar with most of this fresh talent that Konami has picked up, so I made multiple trips to my local arcade to brush up on some of the names I saw on the roster while brusing my hands trying to get used to smashing those big round buttons again. ]
The real treat, especially for someone more keen on older music from the Bemani series, was the finale: Kiyotaka Sugimoto, a name that might not be familiar with too many music game aficianados but whose music is surely familiar to all. Sugimoto has composed and remixed dozens of tracks across Konami's rhythm game series under all sorts of pseudonymns(DJ Simon, Doctor S, etc.) rarely using his real name. He has also performed as a part of the aforementioned second wave of Shibuya-kei guitar pop acts with his band orangenoise shortcut(another name familiar to rhythm game nerds) for a number of years before disbanding. I grew up his Beatmania 5-key remix work, the most challenging in the game, as well as his guitar pop compositions in the older pop'n music entries, and this would be the first time I could hear him perform live.


The night's performances took the form of a pairing of a vocalist with a composer accompanying them on piano, although the show saw a few occasions of crossovers and collaborations. After a short DJ set by Toranosuke, consiting of guitar pop/shibuya-kei tunes, the first act took the stage.
mami is a regular contributor to the new pop'n music series and she was backed on the keyboards by Yuuji Yoshizawa, a composer and keyboardist who often goes by the moniker red glasses. When he switched over to the pianica, m@ sumi took over the keys, another talented young woman who has contributed compositions to the pop'n music games and collaborated with various other vocalist on the bill.

Besides the finale, vocalist Akinari was the only other male vocalist on the set last night. His vocals appear on a number of pop'n music tracks composed by red glasses, and Yuuji is shown here accompanying his vocals with piano, probably when he sang a version of the hit by Hoshino Gen.

NU-KO had a bubbly personality and a cute idol voice to match and I enjoy a lot of the bubbelgum J-pop she does for the pop'n music games. Out of all the artists at the event, I think she is one of the more well known.

Before transitioning to m@sumi's projects, the two composers paired up for an instrumental duet on the keyboards, playing some Bemani classics to the delight of the audience.

After this, m@sumi got behind the keyboards with vocalist rino, performing as a duet under the moniker plastic penguin.

Finally, the headliner Kiyotaka Sugimoto from orangenoise shortcut and percussionist Kouji Yamada. Sugimoto performed a lot of new compositions he has been releasing under his solo moniker, but he squeezed in a particularly catchy song from orangenoise shortcut's Bubblelights album, "Truth."

After Sugimoto performed, the organizers presented a cake to the two wonderful composers who both celebrated their birthdays the week of this event.

The finale was a gathering of the entire cast on K.D. Japon's tiny stage, performing some encore songs like rhythm game idol group HinaBita Bitter Sweets' "Chocolate Smile," with vocal duties shared among the entire vocals cast, much to the chagrin of the reluctant Sugimoto who was a little put off by the idol songs demands on his vocals.

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.