Thursday, May 27, 2010

Live: Tokyo New Wave vol.1 @ Shinjuku MARZ/Motion (03/28/10)

As the the date of my trip drew closer I started browsing more and more Live house websites in search of concerts. I had never heard of Shinjuku Motion before(nor did I really associate Shinjuku with music) but it was on their home page that I discovered the Tokyo New Wave event. Some bands on the roster that I had heard of were Far France, the mornings and Sebastian X, but I can't say I was familiar with any of them. However, I had heard good things about each of these bands-especially about their live performances.

The weather on Sunday, the 28th of March, was horrible. The sky was as gray as the skyscrapers that loomed overheard and light rain fell occasionally. That day my host family, who I had stayed with nearly 2 years ago, took my friend and I around Tokyo. We ended up at Shinjuku with lots of time to spare before the concert. We hit up every coffee/tea/dessert place with no luck until about 10 "we're full"'s later we found a simple place to rest and have a snack. It was then that I realized how precious space was in Tokyo. It was then that I also realized benches didn't exist in the city.

For once, my feet were rested and my stomach was content before attending the concert. I was certain the place was near a hospital, and luckily a street map proved more useful than the one I had made. It was still about 15 minutes until the event started and the person inside Shinjuku MARZ told me I needed to come back. Thankfully, an arcade was right across the street and I was able to enjoy a game of Drummania XG, the only one in my entire trip, and finish just in time for the 5:30 open time.

After getting my ticket I slowly made my way down the steps to the stage of MARZ. It was a lot bigger than I had expected it to be(the entrance was already in a basement so how the hell did they manage to carve this huge space underground?). People started making their way down too as I looked at the schedule on the wall to try and plot who I was going to see that night:

I was certain I wanted to see Sebastian X, the mornings, whoever the secret guest was, Owarikara and Far France. I had never heard of the other bands on the bill but most of them were playing in Motion so I decided that would save me the trips. Far France was the last act to play in Motion and they also coincided with Owarikara's set. It was a tough choice but I decided to wing it and stay in Marz for now.

The Opening Act turned out to be Sasaguchi Sogo Harmonica. I later found out he was the singer vocalist of the thrird band to go on that night, Taiheiyou Shiranui Gakudan. He played a few songs on his acoustic guitar and harmonica, sounding great while performing but in the MC's sounding really antsy. He had time for only a few songs before Sebastian X came on.

(a really horrible picture of Sebastian X)

Marz was still a bit empty by the time Sebastian X was ready to play. I was somewhat familiar with their "Wonderful World" EP so they were probably the only band of the night I had heard material from. I sang along with their opening number "Tour Star People" and was pressured to dance along with the rest of their set. Sebastian X is just a really fun band to watch on stage. The bassist never seemed to stop dancing and swaying his guitar around stage and towards the end he looked like he got out of a swimming pool. The vocalist walked about the stage singing at the top of her lungs while making engaging hand gestures. The band was not just entertaining to listen to but a sight to see on stage. It was this kind of energy, not "playing by the rules" and being professional, that I presumed every Japanese band adhered to when playing live, that I wanted to see at a concert. I left the stage feeling sort of disappointed that the band came up first since the crowd wasn't quite there yet, but also feeling really confident about the rest of the night.

I followed a crowd of people up and out of MARZ and down the street to Shinjuku Motion to see Siamese Cats. Motion was in the same building as Marz was on the other end on the fifth floor. A small elevator trip was all it took to get from one venue to the next. As soon as the doors opened the merch table was right there and the huge, thick doors of Shinjuku Motion holding Siamese Cats, the first band of the night on Motion's lineup.
Motion was already full of people and I had to squeeze in to get to the side for a good look. Motion was less than half the size of MARZ; I think it was about the size of, if not smaller than, a school classroom back at home. Siamese were mid-set and I watched one or two of their songs before having to get back to MARZ to see the mornings. I can't say much, but I recall the band being very young looking but having some great sing-a-long parts in one of their choruses.

I didn't know what to expect from the mornings. I had only heard they put on an awesome show but that can entail a number of things about the bands music. When the band came on and the noise built up I already knew I was in for a kick-ass set. The mornings totally tore up the stage, nothing was safe. The bassist of Sebastian X came down to watch their set and stood amidst the crowd at the front who were getting worked up into a fury. It was long before a mosh pit formed close to the front, and the guitarist jumped into the crowd. This probably happened two more times in their set, along with the vocalist jumping in for good measure. I can't quite describe the mornings music, but the first that can to mind was Polysics, probably because the singer had on some of those colorful shades and was dancing around the stage like a maniac all while wailing into the microphone in a super charged yell. Still I don't think anyone should read this and think that they sound anything like Polysics. The New-Wave influence is definitely there but the mornings just exist on a totally different plane. By the end of their set I was completely blown away.

When the dust settled(it really seemed like you had to take a few moments to recover from seeing the mornings) I decided to wait around for the next band. At the time, I had no idea that the opening act was the next band's guitarist and vocalist. I had no idea who Taiheiyou Shiranui Gakudan was and I didn't even try to make an attempt at reading their Japanese name on the flier(太平洋不知火楽団). But I figured, with so many characters in their name the band must have had something to offer.

Marz felt crowded again when the curtains came up and the band started playing. Even if I loved their first song, "Moshimo Boku ga Uretara" because it was a pretty chill, rock song that was probably the first of its kind that night, I assumed I would be in for a chill set after they set the mood with that number, but I couldn't have been more wrong. The songs that followed were definitely more rock and the "chill" atmosphere was replaced by pure fury. The vocalist had this raw energy that I really enjoyed, he could barely contain his emotions while playing and let them out in screamed lyrics and crazy stage antics. I would still classify the band under rock, but there was definitely something else going on with them, namely this ferocious rage in their songs, that set them apart. At the end of their set the guitarist threw himself and his guitar onto the crowd. The audience carried him all the way to the center of the club where he threw hung his guitar by the strap on a hook on the wall. He left backstage as the noise and distortion from the dangling guitar hung in the air.

I had been here for a few hours already and fatigue started to hit me. I knew that walking all those stairs at the Tokyo Tower were going to come back to get me, and here I was in Shinjuku Marz struck with a sudden urge to take a nap. Some girls sat on the floor at the side of the club and I decided to take my seat near the front in an empty spot on the floor. It felt good to sit down again. I checked my schedule and up next was the secret guest of the night. I had mixed feelings, hoping that it was some artist I already knew but also wanting to hear something new.

The club got dark, leaving only the strings of lights hung around the band's equipment to illuminate the room in a yellow, fluorescent hue. When Yomoya came on stage I had no idea who they were but when they played their music it created this un-escapable atmosphere in the barely lit Shinjuku Marz that enveloped me in its entirely.

After playing a few songs I finally caught wind of their name during their MC. I had heard of Yomoya before; the year before I had went to Okinawa and read in a magazine or two that their record had been named the best for a new band in 2008. I never took the initiative to listen to Yomoya but I was glad I got the chance to see them live that night.
I felt a lot better knowing who the band finally was and I think the fact that I had heard of them before made me more open to the remainder of their set. The band played this minimal kind of music, relying on simple vocals, occasional use of piano or synthesizer and a balanced rhythm section to create their music. It worked out extremely well and with just these four instruments I was surprised at what the band was able to conjure up. Their last song, "ameagari ato sukoshi", is nearly 10 minutes long and made for a mind-blowing final song. The build up eased into this epic chorus at the end of the song. The mood the song put me in was almost trance-like, and truly the highlight of that night.

Even if Yomoya had the honor of secret guest they still had to compete with Far France who started playing in Shinjuku Motion during the middle of their set, so their crowd wasn't as large as it could have been. I wanted to check out Far France as well, the last band to play at Shinjuku Motion, so right after Yomoya left the stage I headed to Motion with a bunch of other kids to see them.

The place was packed, again, and I stayed in there for 2 or 3 of Far France's songs. I was really anxious to see Owarikara, the night's final act, but Far France had a pull to their music that kept me there. It was really high energy rock and the band never seemed to stop kicking ass with every song they played. I looked next to me and the same girl I had seen early when I checked out Siamese Cats was standing in this exact same spot, rocking out to Far France. She looked totally engrossed in the music and I didn't think Owarikara was going to pull her out of there. But my time in Motion was up, and I wanted to check out the final act of the night.

I stopped when I got back to Marz to pick up Yomoya's CD at the entrance. I had hung out up top where the bar was before, too nervous to buy one of Sebastian X's CD. I had debated whether it was in my budget to or not, and even had some second thoughts of purchasing Yomoya's CD, but the night was too awesome to pass up all this recorded goodness. I decided to go back for Sebastian X's stuff later.

By this time most of the people had come back to Marz to see Owarikara and the place was full in the front. I settled on a spot in the middle to watch them.
I can't quite describe Owarikara's music. Their website describes it was Psychedelic rock but I don't think it leans all the way toward the Psychedelic side. I've heard many good things about them live and even right away you could already tell the band was giving it their all with their performance. A few times during the first few songs the keyboardist nearly jumped off his seat. The club was packed form back to front, the most it had been since it opened that afternoon. Owarikara's music was something you rarely see in Japanese rock. Psychedelic Rock or not they put everything they could into performing live. They didn't just play their music, their music played them; they let their own music affect them which gave them this ability to make it amazing.
The entire crowd was into the performance and as they ended the bassist(or guitarist, i don't know) and the keyboard player as well as his keyboard found their way into the audience and back to the stage. I was in awe.

After Owarikara played an encore or two Tokyo New Wave had finally come to and end. The crowd headed up the stairs and I checked the time on my watch. It was a little past 10.
I walked up the steps to the lobby and bar area of Marz atop the stage level. People were crowded into the spaces between the merch tables and the bar and people squeezed to get out the door. I mulled things over before I went to the merch table and got a silly idea. I didn't want the night to end "just like that" and I knew I wouldn't get another chance to talk to these bands for who knows how long. So I shuffled through papers and took out the nights schedule and went over to the corner to Taiheiyou Shiranui Gakudan's merch space.

I asked their singer for a copy of their album and to get the member's to sing on their little spot on my paper. The bassist was amused at this, and told me to stay put while he looked for the singer. The singer came back, dragged by the arm by the bassist, looking piss drunk and wondering why in hell someone wanted his autograph. The bassist was laughing, but I think they were totally cool with some weird foreigner embarking on this stupid task.
I later went over to Sebastian X's little table and waited until they were done talking to some other folks. The vocalist was doing all the talking while the other members just stood by and the drummer noticed me on the side and asked what I needed. I grabbed their CD and a shirt and asked them to sign the paper as well on their name as well. The vocalist was totally engrossed in her conversation but when the bassist interrupted to get her to sign she turned towards me and gave me the biggest hug ever. It took a while for what happened to settle in and I probably looked really embarrassed when she eventually signed the paper. They were really cool people, and I think they asked me if I was one of Steve's
I saw the mornings up there too but the drummer, I really wanted a signature from, was chatting with the piss drunk singer from Taiheiyou so I passed up the offer. On my way out though, I noticed the singer from Yomoya chilling at the exit next to the singer of Far France and I asked them both for a signature on their band's names. They were both kind of amused at this request as well(I think the guy from Yomoya asked the dude from Far France if he even had a signature).

After this, I felt like going home. I had accomplished something for the night, even if it was just a meaningless paper, but it was probably the coolest thing I got that night. These bands were all in the running of becoming Tokyo's next biggest underground act, if all them weren't already.
The streets of Shinjuku were crowded even if it was almost 11 at night. Since I took a different route to get to the live house I tried to remember the route I drew from google maps and follow it back. I weaved through the endless crowds of people and on to a cramped, late night train and back to my hotel. I could still feel the warmth of Manatsu's embrace on my tabacco scented jacket if I thought hard enough.


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