August 8, 2010

2010 Summer Music Festivals

Day 2

Day 3

While on days 1 and 2 we took the full day, on day 3 we got a later start (exhausted?) and only started in the afternoon with the band to which I was most looking forward.

Usually R. and I are Summer Sonic attendees. This year though, we got three day tickets to Fuji Rock, a three day festival up in the mountains in Naeba, Japan. So I took Friday and Monday off work, and Thursday night we packed up. Early Friday morning (about 4am) we loaded up the Mini Cooper and headed out. It is about a four hour drive, and we rolled into Naeba at about 9.

To do a good stay at Fuji Rock, you really need to prepare. Things that are essential:

  • Rain gear. In our case, relatively nice ($100 or so) ponchos. It very likely will rain. You need to be prepared.
  • Rain boots. Even if it does not rain, there will be mud. Lots of mud. Ankle deep mud. So either wear shoes and socks that you don't want to use ever again, or get some good mud-proof boots.
  • Portable chairs. I recommend folding Coleman camping chairs, but you can also get by with smaller portable stools. Generally the deal is that you leave in the morning at about 10am, then go somewhere and set up a small camp. There are not benches or seat or bleachers, so you need to be able to spend a long time in one place. Either standing or sitting, but a portable chair will help either way.
  • Sun protection. Sunblock or long sleeves.
  • Bug spray. You are in the mountains.
  • Possibly a tarp of some sort.
  • Books? Something to pass the time.

Why would you want a tarp? Generally people set out a tarp like thing (normally in the US we would use a picnic blanket or something) take off their shoes, and use the tarp as a home base. No shoes though. They also will leave their stuff at the home base and maybe go out to other stages. You definitely should not leave anything valuable there, but I've left my folding coleman chair at the home base without any problems. So semi-valuable (< $40?) is probably ok. And you spend the entire day going from stage to stage (factor in about 20 minutes to get between the close stages, longer for the further ones) and stopping at the stands to get food.

Overall I find Fuji Rock to be a really tough time. I'm always deathly afraid of sunburns, so I wear long sleeves which means that I pretty much am too hot all the time. I also do very badly at sitting on the ground or in sub-optimal furniture, so end up with sore feet or a sore back, or whatever. I do like reading though.

So what did I see? The bands I checked out are on the left - all merchandised links to either Amazon or Amazon Japan - and the stand outs for me were:

  • Vampire Weekend. I've seen these guys a few times now. They remind me of my days in New York. I really want to see some of my favorite bands from those days come back to Japan (We Are Scientists, and Bishop Allen primarily) but have a really good sound and catchy pop tunes. They were one of the few bands that I dropped my stuff and went up to the stage for. Lots of fun.
  • I hadn't heard Atoms For Peace (or maybe they go by Thom Yorke's solo name? They are Thom Yorke and Flea primarily) before, but they were really good.
  • !!!. My friend, D.S. was the interpreter for them, and it sounds like it was a tough job. They put on a really fun show though.
  • MGMT. White stage was super crowded at that time and they limited entrance. It must have taken us like an hour to get there, but we did get there before MGMT went on. We also left a bit early because it would have sucked to try to walk back with the entire crowd. I suspect White Stage was so crowded because the act on Green Stage at the time was just awful (Chris Cunningham?) It looks like he is primarily a video artist, but when we were walking by his set I was really surprised that he would be closing on Green Stage. Dissonant, noisy, disturbing. I don't think that is appropriate for a Green Stage closing act. I might be wrong though.
  • The Cribs. A favorite of R.'s, and I like them now as well.
  • Mutemath was good. Fit very well with what I was reading at the time (Paolo Bacigalupi.)
  • Scissor Sisters. A bit rainy when they were on, but lots and lots of fun.
  • There were a bunch of acts that I didn't know but saw and liked. On that list: Them Crooked Vultures, Jamie Cullum, Kula Shaker, John Butler Trio.

I had a lot of fun, but I need to remember that every time I go to Fuji Rock it is exhausting. Tiring. If we weren't staying in the Naeba Prince Hotel (sharing a room with people that R. found on Mixi?) it would have been awful. I would never camp out there. There are other hotels you can stay at, but they often involve 40 minute or hour long bus rides from the Fuji Rock site. If the weather is good, and you can relax on the Green Stage hillside with a good book and nice chair, it is really fun though.

The Naeba Prince Hotel also has a nice public bath for 300 yen that you can relax into after a long day at the festival. It also sidesteps problems with 1. No door on the bathtub area in hotel room (wtf? Normally there is a door there so you can change before hopping in the tub.) and 2. with 4-5 people in a room, it can be a long process to figure out how to use the bathroom resources. The big (culturally very normal in Japan) sex-segregated public baths nicely sidestep that issue. Also, the Naeba Prince has a breakfast buffet. Nice.

2 Summer Sonic 2010

The week after Fuji Rock was Summer Sonic. Usually R. and I go both days to Summer Sonic - last year was the 10 year anniversary and they had a 3 day festival for the first time, and we went to all three days. If Fuji Rock is the advanced level Japan Music Festival (it is) then Summer Sonic is beginner to advanced level. You can commute to the festival on the train - it is out in Chiba and about an hour from Tokyo or a bit more depending on where you are at. The major advantage that Summer Sonic has over Fuji Rock is that most of the music festival is indoors. The only outdoor stages for Summer Sonic are Marine Stadium (large baseball stadium) and Beach Stage. The others are either indoors or under a tent (Island Stage.)

The lack of sun, and minor level of air conditioning really makes Summer Sonic easier to attend. You still have to be careful to drink enough fluids and not over-do it though.

This year I wasn't too excited about the Summer Sonic lineup compared to previous years but I was looking forward to Passion Pit. There were a bunch of acts that I hadn't heard of before, but ended up enjoying:

My two favorite acts were Passion Pit - I've liked them for a while - and A-Ha. Mostly because of "Take on Me", which I bet as a band they are pretty sick of, but still. Lots f fun. I hadn't heard too much of Delphic, a group that R. likes, but they weren't really my cup of tea. The last two bands, Pendulum and Orbital, weren't my thing at all. Dance mostly. I'm not much of a dance music fan. I did like the orbital two-flashlights-on-the-head thing.

Otherwise things were par for course for Summer Sonic. The main Corona booth (like last year) had a few stage shows with pole dancers, and there was lots of merchandising around music, alcohol, and clothing. There are some pictures in this Flickr set.

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April 24, 2010

Wilco at Zepp Tokyo

Last night R. and I went to see Wilco at Zepp Tokyo. Zepp is pretty large, but has a really good and clear sound system. We did a lot of waiting, and ended up with sore feet, but it was a good concert.

They played for over two hours, which was great, but I realized that a lot of their music isn't exactly rock out high energy music, and I don't listen to them that way either. I like to have them on when I'm coding at work.

Jeff Tweedy was interesting when talking with the crowd - he wanted to talk to and perform for the Japanese in the audience, but of course the Americans were the most vocal. He told them that just because we're all from America, it doesn't mean we are friends. He seemed to have a handle on (or dislike of, or interest in) the sort of concept of foreigners in Japan feeling entitled and special, and did not want that to become a theme of the show. I guess. Maybe I'm reading too much into it. It was some interesting banter though. A good laugh was had by all. I totally agree with the sentiment that just because we're from the same country that does not give one any right to assume friendship or intimacy; that is just crazy. You would never do that back in the US.

Next up: The Wedding Present. I'm super excited for that one. We also have Mika in the near future. Also, Fuji Rock.

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April 14, 2009

From SFO to Seattle

R. and I were in Seattle. Click "read more" to see a bunch of pictures and words about it.    read more (1775 words)
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March 26, 2009

Bishop Allen at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco

I am a huge Bishop Allen fan. I've liked them for years now, and saw one of their first shows in New York probably 6 years ago. Any chance I get, I try to see these guys play live. They are huge fun. On Saturday (four or five days ago) I flew into San Francisco to spend a week and a half in Palo Alto at work and it just happens that by chance, my faves Bishop Allen were playing a show in San Francisco last night! I finished work up a bit early and hopped on the train. Of course I went early since I wanted to catch up with Christian and Justin if they were hanging around. When I walked into the bar, I was shocked to see someone I wasn't expecting: Michael Tapper, who I know mostly as the drummer for We Are Scientists, but maybe a year or three back they parted ways. Sounds like he's been drumming for Bishop Allen, which is completely awesome, so I spent some time chatting with him. Later on I bumped into Justin and Christian, but I didn't have my camera handy then so no pictures.

The first band was the Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band, who were ok. Next up was the Miniature Tigers who I really enjoyed. I will try to pick up some of their music when I get a chance. They had one song, "Japanese Woman Living in my Closet", about the incident that made the news a while back about a Japanese woman that was caught living in a man's closet for more than a year. I thought that was kind of funny. They have a nice melodius song, a bit of humor, and are perhaps a bit sarcastic, or at least twist convention around a bit for matching lyrics and song.

I really enjoyed paying $15 and seeing three bands. That is a real bargain compared to Japan, where I usually have to pay $50 and I see only one band. Michael was saying that he thought $15 was a bit steep, and I was just super excited about how cheap it was! I guess you really get used to the local market.

Bishop Allen was really good. I hadn't had a chance to pick up there new album, Grrr..., until the concert so I didn't know all the songs they played, but they also had some great songs off of their debut album Charm School (a great album) and The Broken String (another good album.) I recommend going to the Bishop Allen website itself and ordering from there - you will probably get the same price but more of the money will go to the band than if you buy from other places. They also sell the one-EP-a-month albums there, which are pretty fun. I think they are all generally of very high quality.

Christian Rudder
Christian Rudder



Tapper and I
Tapper and I. Look at those beards! He still has his hair though...

The music was great. They had a lot of energy, and were tight. There was a nice sound system, and the crowd was great. They were really into it. The people near me were actually really into (well, one girl in particular) and was dancing around like mad. I was doing a fair bit of dancing, jumping, and screaming myself. I hadn't seen these guys since they played my PhD thesis defense party (well, it was actually the closing show for the Tank in NYC, but that isn't how I remember that day) three years ago, and I've really missed the music scene I used to be pretty connected to when I was in NYC. The girl who was next to me even tried to get me to do some swing dancing type stuff (and I was awful at that when I was trying to take a few lessons back in Dallas) and (since this is San Fran., and she was pretty butch, probably of the feminist persuasion) forced me into a few spins. It was lots of fun. Apparently Bishop Allen has gotten pretty big when I wasn't looking because they really packed the place and people were really going nuts. I worked up a pretty good sweat myself. Two encores. The second was a spur-of-the-moment "Ghosts are Good Company" with Christian and Darby. Very nice.

After the show, I stopped by to chat with Christian and buy the latest album (gotta support the bands you love!) and then caught a cab back to the Caltrain station. I didn't make it back to the hotel until 1:30am, but it was totally worth it. I only wish that R. would have been able to make it. I'm sure we'll have a chance to see some of the bands that I love in the future too, but I haven't been able to convince BA to come to Tokyo yet. Well, that isn't true - Justin and Christian are really receptive to the idea, but they haven't been able to get any of the touring and booking stuff to happen. I'm starting to think that I should talk to some of my friends that have connections in the industry to see if I can get someone to invite them out. I would love to see them at Summer Sonic or Fuji Rock...

So if you don't know about Bishop Allen, you clearly haven't been hanging around with me for too long. Go hit up their website and buy Charm School - it is a great place to start and an absolutely amazing album.

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September 16, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: Some of my faves are on the soundtrack!

Just saw a commercial for Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and was super excited to hear a Bishop Allen song in the commercial.

I did a search, and the soundtrack looks awesome: my favorites, Bishop Allen, also my favorites, We Are Scientists, Vampire Weekend (great set a Summer Sonic 2008!), Band of Horses, Modest Mouse, NY locals that I like (but haven't seen because I moved to Tokyo before they played any shows that I knew about) Project Jenny, Project Jan, and The Raveonettes.

I need to see this movie for the soundtrack alone.
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August 10, 2008

Summer Sonic 2008 Tokyo Music Festival: Day 2

Beach stage entrance
Beach Stage Entrance

L. And I grabbed a quick bite to eat then went our separate ways. I really want to see Vampire Weekend so I went out to Marine stage. Since I'm almost out of money, I tried to use an ATM here but it said: can't complete transaction because it is outside of business hours. Japan: you are completely missing the point of ATMs!! (I've known this for a while now, but this is the first time that the ATM has refused to even give me money. I suspect that is because the machine was from a different bank, when usually I'll use the machines from my bank.)

Before going to see Vampire Weekend I had a bit of time so I went to check Beach Stage. It is a nice stage set up on beach, and since it is cool and overcast today (awesome!) it is a great chance to check it out.

Beach stage is pretty cool and looks like it would be a fun place to hang out. Unfortunately, the bands I want to check out aren't playing there. So I went down to the water and then headed to Marine stage, where I saw the last half of the Wombats show. I do like the Wombats - particularly "Let's dance to Joy Division". I also saw them a few months back at UK Anthems. That show is also coming up again in a few more months and L. is really excited to go again. The Wombats were really chatty and couldn't get over the echoes in the stadium. They kept talking about it.

Next up was Vampire Weekend. They were excellent. They look very young - I knew they were young, but still. Over the past two months I've been listening to a lot of the Vampire Weekend album and the Panic at the Disco album. Their debut is really strong. It really evokes images of college on the East coast - not New York so much as Harvard or Yale, but there is also some New York flavor thrown in there too. I was really looking forward to these guys, so I went up to the front of the stage, about three rows back, and danced like mad along with a few other fans.

The lead singer was really friendly and talkative. He got some good audience participation going on. Their album really does have a lot of strong songs for a concert, more than I expected. I really enjoyed their show and rank it up there with the Death Cab show so far, maybe even a bit higher because the songs are easier to sing along with. The sound was also surprisingly clear, and they really sounded good live. Clear and understandable vocals, sharp guitar, and very clean keyboards. Vampire Weekend has easily had the best use of keyboards so far (but that is something I like about the album too.)

After Vampire Weekend, the choice was between Mutemath and the Polysics, both of which I like. I know Mutemath's music slightly better though so I went to Sonic stage to see them. After my crazy dancing at Vampire Weekend I was tired so I took it easy and sat down for their set. It was a good set, but very loud so I put in my earplugs (they are a loud bass-heavy band by nature though.)

Also, before I got to Sonic Stage, I passes by Karaoke Sonic where someone was singing the Evangelion theme song. That isn't so surprising but the cosplay maid (from the adjoining Sammy Pachinko area) jumping, clapping, and cheering was. I asked her about it and she said that she loves Evangelion. Wow. I really thought that most women in maid cafes did it for the money, but maybe I am wrong and they really do love anime and manga themselves. This calls for further study!

After that was Crystal Castles on the Dance stage, who I know nothing about, but I loved the old Atari trackball Crystal Castle game, L. likes them and they have interesting promo clips, so I will check them out.

Crystal Castles was packed, and typical dance music: heavy bass, repetitive, and I couldn't make out a word the singer said. It was way too crowded for me, so I took off. I ended up at the side stage area where they had someone from the Girlsguard condom company, and a famous guy named Katou. They gave a presentation about STDs and talked a bit about that, which was good to hear.

I might skip "Does it offend you, yeah?" because it is back at the dance stage and I'm pretty tired.

I went to the restroom and faced one of my mortal Japanese enemies: the squat toilet. These things are near impossible for me. I can't even do the normal (for Japanese) squat move, so doing that while trying to use the bathroom is a crazy proposition. I've worked out a technique that is about as effective as the technique I developed for brownies in a toaster oven, although the results are not quite as appetizing.

Kaze to Kenkou no kai
風と健康の会 (The group of wind and health) miming a Perfume dance.

I stopped by the Karaoke Sonic stage for a while to pass some time. I saw a group of three women, billed together as Kaze to kenkou no kai (The group of wind and health [風と健康の会]) - they did lipsyncing to three or four of Perfume's songs. It looks like one of the members has a blog (Japanese), so you can look there for more information. It was amusing. I took a few pictures with my cellphone. L. took my regular camera because it is smaller than hers (and she probably doesn't care if it got broken or lost) but I secretly believe that she took it to prevent me from taking exactly this kind of picture.

I decided to stick around for some of Karaoke Sonic because there are benches you can sit on, and they have a four guest panel of TV "Talent" - two of the guest's talent is having large busts. The bar for Talent in Japan isn't too high, but then again I don't think it is much higher in the US either. (The two from Cherry Pie, and have a blog (Japanese) if you want more info / a few pictures.)

I went out to get a burger for dinner - a Sasebo burger - it was big and pretty good but would have been much better without the cheese and with lots of ketchup. It looks like they also have a few shops in Japan, and plans to build one in my beloved Jiyugaoka area too! On my way back out I saw that Hard Gay and his sidekick had shown up. Also, apparently that mohawked punk comedian girl (Macchan?) sang the final song since she was hanging around.

After eating I went to Mountain stage and caught Justice. They seem like a real house-style dance band. Not really my cup of tea so I just sat down and waited for DEVO.

Man, if raves are like this they must be incredibly boring. Clearly I'm doing it wrong.

DEVO was great. There was a fun video before they went on, then they took the stage. It is amazing how similar their stuff is to house / dance stuff but there is fun stuff to look at, they play instruments, and they sing.

I had to leave a bit early before the end of the DEVO show so that I could meet up with L. at Marine stage (the stadium) because she snagged a great pair of seats for us to watch Coldplay. I generally like Coldplay, but I've heard a few interviews where the lead singer comes off as totally arrogant. The show was great though: really impressive set, lots of cool stuff going on, great sound, good selection of songs, good interaction with the crowd, lots of fun chatting, exactly the sort of thing that I expect from a stadium show. For the encore, Alicia Keys came out and played on the piano with them. Nice. They also sang a bit of a famous SMAP song, but I don't know SMAP well enough to remember the title - the one about the flower. (That probably doesn't help.)

It was a really great Summer Sonic. I did much better this year in that the next day, my feet weren't killing me. Here's my rundown of the best of the show (all IMHO only!)

  1. Vampire Weekend
  2. Death Cab for Cutie
  3. Coldplay
  4. Los Campesinos
  5. Cajun Dance Party
  6. I really wish I had been able to see Panic at the Disco and the Ting Tings, but you always end up with a few tough choices as Summer Sonic.

    I'm pretty sure we'll be back next year too.

August 9, 2008

Summer Sonic 2008 Tokyo Music Festival: Day 1

I went to Summer Sonic today with L. It was great, but as I wrote last time, extremely tiring. I'm both looking forward to, and dreading, going back tomorrow. For those that are interested, here is a link to the Summer Sonic 2008 timetable. You can play along at home by choosing the bands that you would like to see! Be sure to spend hours standing around on hard concrete so that you also are forced to take a few breaks to rest to ensure your sanity. Please remove any comfortable furniture for sitting, and rest by laying down on concrete, or if you roll a 15 or higher on your D20, sit on a backless bench or stool for a while. Enjoy the home version! (You must supply your own music. Make it very loud. Also, if possible find a few thousand other people nearby, and have them crush up against you. Randomly have them elbow and shove you everyone once in a while, and be sure to get a crowd surfer to kick your head at least once.)

Today I started out in Marine Stadium and saw Los Campesinos!, a group that I had not heard of before, but really enjoyed. They had a little xylophone and violin action. Unfortunately, the sound mix wasn't great so they didn't sound as good as I think a studio album would. I plan to pick up the album and check it out though. They certainly were fun to watch. The lead singer did a lot of hand waving and moving around to illustrate the songs. Once I save up a bit of money, I'll probably head over to Amazon's MP3 store and pick up one or two of their albums (or I'll rifle through L.'s CDs and throw them on my ipod, assuming I can find anything in her massive collection.)

It was almost like a theme that morning of overacting lead singers: the second group I saw was Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong, who I saw a few months back at the UK Anthem show. The lead singer, Joe Lean I suppose, is a real character. I imagine he is what you would get if you crossed Johnny Depp playing as Jack Sparrow with a rock band singer. I think they are an ok band, but are worth seeing just to watch the antics of the lead singer. Without the antics they aren't really as appealing to me.

Both the singers for Los Campesinos and Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong are very melodramatic and have a kind of prima-donna flair to them. I think that to some degree that is necessary to be a lead singer.

After that I took some time to go to the indoor part of the venue, where I saw Band of Horses at Sonic stage. They were good, but the tempo was a bit slow and I don't their stuff at all so I sat down and let the music wash over me.

After Band Of Horses we had a bit of a wait before Cajun Dance Party. I hadn't heard of this band before, but L. has their debut CD and really likes them. I thought they were pretty good, but also suffered the same problem as Los Campersinos: poor sound. I think their studio album should sound pretty good, so I will dig it up and give it a listen.

After Cajun Dance Party was a group called The Kills. Interestingly, they had not started about twenty minutes into their set. Something was up. Eventually the MC came out and said that there was a problem. The lead singer wanted to come out and apologize. She came out, looking quite distraught, and explained that for some reason the memory on their drum machine had been lost. They apparently could not play without their drum machine. I don't know their music, but it did make me think about what would happen if Echo and the Bunnymen lost Echo: they would probably be in trouble too.

So while everyone else left, L. and I pressed forward. We got up to the second row of people - L. is almost always within spitting distance of the stage barrier - and started waiting for Death Cab for Cutie. I really like DCFC, and this was the band I was most excited about. What really sucks is that he was playing opposite Panic at the Disco, who I also really like. Anyway, DCFC was really great. I expected Ben to be more nerdy, but he was really cool. I really liked the bassist too, and Nick (rhythm guitars) spoke a bit of Japanese (but well, more than just memorizing "arigatou" before the show.) At the end of their set I asked one of the roadies for a set list and he wadded it up and threw it at me. It bounced right off my hand to the area between the stage and the barrier, but then one of the security guys tossed it to L., who was really excited. She loves collecting that kind of stuff.

After Death Cab was a band that L. really likes, The Fratellis. I think they are pretty good, but they also rock pretty hard so I knew that standing in the first row was going to be a bit of a problem. It was, in fact, disastrous. I was pushed and prodded and knocked around. A crowd surfer (the first of the day, a surprise because Fuji Rock was almost non-stop crowd surfing) kicked my head, and that really hurt. Otherwise, the concert was good. After the Fratellis L. and split up again.

I went to go see the the Sex Pistols. It really amazes me that the Sex Pistols are back together. Musically I have never really liked their stuff that much, but I have always liked the movement that they represent. The idea that they would get back together and do a big tour for the man seems to be diametrically opposed to their 'screw the man' attitude. I have never seen them before, so I didn't want to miss this opportunity.

Everyone in the band looked OLD, which seemed unusual because everything I know about the sex pistols has them YOUNG. Johnny Rotten was quite the showman. He had a real diatribe against the Iraq war and GW Bush. He also said to someone in the crowd "Isn't that cute? The Westerner in Japan calling for Anarchy. Why don't you go back to where you came from and cause some? That's what we did!" - but it was in a fun way, not a mocking one. In the end as the opener to their encore they did play Anarchy in the UK. They also ended on that Radio On song that I have been hearing all over the place, and that Bishop Allen has been using as their sound test for a while.

Anyway, I really enjoyed seeing the Sex Pistols and Johnny Rotten was a trip.

My comments on day two should be up in a few days.

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July 28, 2008

Fuji Rock Festival 2008

A brief post to update you on what I've been doing lately. Things are incredibly busy right now -- I'm moving to my new apartment tomorrow and am currently packing -- so I am a bit overdue for an update.

L. is a big fan of The Cribs, an indie rock trio from England. They played the Fuji Rock Festival this year (on Saturday, two days ago) and even though she didn't really know too much about the other acts, she got two one-day passes for Saturday for us.

I like the Cribs a lot, but I'm nowhere near L.'s level. Still, the Fuji Rock Festival is famous around here, and I've wanted to go ever since I heard about it, so I was happy to go. The plan was to leave early Saturday morning, driving L.'s Mini Cooper out to one of the parking areas, then hop the shuttle bus to the venue.

It was amazing how many people were there. I estimated that there was more than 100,000 people there, and the above Wiki link backs me up on that (at least that many came to one of the festivals.) I can not describe just how many people there were. The main stage, the Green Stage, is at the base of a gentle slope, and the entire face of the place was packed with people. There are a whole bunch of stages, and a nice walk between them. I wish we had more time though because we didn't even get a chance to walk the entire grounds of the festival. It might take about and hour to circle around the entire area I think. There is also a lot of art installations and so on around, and is just generally a really nice area. It would be really cool to just wander around and hang out there for a while.

It was supposed to rain on Saturday, but we got a patch of luck and the weather was beautiful. So beautiful that I had to wrap a towel around my head to ward off sunburn. You could tell the Fuji Rock Festival veterans from the newbies because all the veterans were wearing big old rain boots. I had on a normal pair of shoes (which were completely muddy and dusty on my return.)

We grabbed something to eat, and after that caught a few songs from The Black Market. They were ok, but nothing to write to your blog about.

L. then headed over to the Ganban area for the band signing session with the cribs. She wasn't able to get in the signing line though because they had stopped selling "official items" that qualified you for the signing event. She got a lot of pictures though. After that we decided to wander around and make our way over to the White Stage for the Crib's show.

We passed by the radio broadcast station on the way and by random luck they were going to do an interview with The Zutons, a group that Lisa likes. They are a five member band, with a Sax. We saw their set later, and it was really good, so I'm going to have to check them out.

The white stage is in a kind of rocky field, and not quite so big as the green stage. It still can accommodate a lot of people. L. wanted to be up front so we headed up to the stage about an hour before the start. We were right up against the railing. The show was great, but I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I wasn't crushed up against the railing, and for about half the show a guy kept hitting my head (accidentally) in his fan-based fervor.

We stuck around for the Zutons, who I really liked, and their crowd was less enthusiastic so I came away with fewer bruises.

We took a bit of a break, and then came back for Gogol Bordello, which is the only other band that I was really interested in seeing. I had heard a NPR show about them once, and they sounded really cool. They were completely crazy and awesome. I didn't understand much of what they were singing, but I was totally into the show.

The final act of the night that we caught was Underworld, which is a raver-type electronic group (guy?) that was ok for what it was. Not really my cup of tea.

The music was great, and now I really want to go back to a Fuji Rock Festival when I don't have so much going on at work and in my life, try to get a place to stay nearby, and really enjoy things.

The other big deal for me was not the festival itself, but getting there. I had to wake up early - 5am - to get to L.'s place, and then we got in her Mini and drove away. I got my license recently, but I have not had a chance to drive since then. Once we got out onto the highway, we switched up and I got in about two hours of highway driving. Things went pretty well, but I have to admit that it was a bit nerve-wracking, especially getting on the highway since the merge lanes here are very short. Also, things are in km/h so I felt like I was speeding all the time.

The way back was a bit more difficult because we got back to the parking lot sometime after midnight. Getting on the highway this time was a bit trickier because it was dark and I was worried about merging onto someone. L. freaked out a bit because I didn't merge in immediately. So now I think I have to get onto highways much quicker. The next three hours were fine because driving on the highway at 3am is pretty easy.

Once we hit Tokyo though, it started to get tougher. The streets of Tokyo are convoluted, narrow, and busy even at 4am. Following the GPS directions is a bit difficult too because the lady in that box keeps talking in meters, which I don't have a great handle on. It started to rain a bit too, and then I started to get nervous about turning the wrong way onto a one-way street. I made one wrong turn, but the GPS box re-routed, and I eventually made it home at about 4am. I didn't once drive on the right side of the road (left only!) and L. only thought she was going to die once, which is at least two or three times fewer than I expected for our first road outing together.

It was pretty surprising to me just how nervous I was about driving: I've been driving for sixteen years in America, and have always enjoyed it. Driving in Japan just freaks me out though. I'm comfortable with highway driving now, but I don't like the onramps and I don't like Tokyo city driving. I think I will eventually get used to it, but I don't know if there are going to be many chances to drive.

So, my quick update summary: Fuji Rock Festival was great, and driving in Tokyo freaks me out, even at 4am.
Blog · Japan · Music1 Comments

February 13, 2008

Arcade Fire Concert

I went to see Arcade Fire play Studio Coast in Shin-Kiba on Monday evening. It was my first time seeing Arcade Fire, and I didn't realize that they were such a large band. There were ten members up on stage: two horns, two strings (like, violins), three guitar-like objects (bass, guitar, banjo, etc.), one or two percussionists, and one or two keyboardists. Also, one accordion or some other random instrument that I could not identify that has to be wound up somehow.

It was amazing too that people rotated through the instruments. Very interesting to watch, and great music. Also, very, very lively. One member in particular was running around, jumping, stomping, just completely crazy.

It was a great show, I'm really glad I got the chance to go. I'm pretty sure it was pretty well known in the Tokyo area, in fact one of the blogs that I read (Jean Snow's blog) had a post on the show also.

Next month I'm going to catch the Stars and Broken Social Scene. Lots of Canadian bands. (I also recently bought the Weakerthans' Reunion Tour CD, as well as Magnetic Fields' Distortion, but they aren't Canadian.)
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December 19, 2007

A pro (sometimes) basketball player that is funny, writes well, and has great taste in music?

I've enjoyed Paul Shirley's blog entries written for ESPN, and now he has written a "Best albums of 2007" entry. This isn't really something you would expect from a pro basketball player, but I think he's got some real gems in that list.

Color me impressed. I also highly recommend reading Paul Shirely's stuff if you enjoy basketball. Check it out, you should be able to find it over on ESPN somewhere.
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December 12, 2007

The Enemy Concert in Ebisu's Liquid Room

My girlfriend likes the the UK Band The Enemy, whom she saw at Summer Sonic (I was off seeing other bands at the time.)

She picked up a pair of tickets to their show on Monday the 10th at Ebisu's Liquid Room and we went together.

I have their album "We'll live and die in these towns" and I like it. It is a good album with really catchy choruses and a surprisingly complex sound. They have some piano on some tracks, which I like. It strikes me as a really sad album, with a hint of desperation, but the music is often upbeat and energetic. It is easy to listen to, and a bit catchy. I'm not going to go out on any limbs and declare it super tops, but I liked it.

Their live show was very good though. They were a four piece: the three official band members on bass, guitar, and drums, as well as someone on keyboards. The bassist was pretty cool: he totally jumped in and crowd surfed at one point. People were going wild: lots of crowd surfing, which is pretty rare for these gigs in Japan. The place was really packed, and as with most of the bands that Lisa likes, these pretty boys drew a large cute young woman audience.

We grabbed a standing spot on the side of the liquid room with a great view of the stage since we were on an elevated platform and had a little counter to rest on. I'm glad we weren't in the center middle stage where we usually go, since there was lots of moshing and energetic pushing that night. It was nice to just relax and not have to shove against people for once - I get enough of that on the morning train commute.

Anyway, I wish I had some pictures or other nice media to go with this post, but I don't. All the venues I've been at in Japan are dead set against any sort of photography other than the official venue stuff, which they sell after the show. I should have snapped some shots after the show, particularly of a group of high school girls in their uniforms that seemed shocked at how sweaty they were. Maybe they've never been to a concert and ended up in the packed crowd before, but I've always found that in Japan if I want to dive into the crowd, I pack a second T-shirt to put on after the show ends since the first one will be completely sweaty.

Anyway, if The Enemy is coming through your town I recommend them. They put on a good show. Their album is pretty good too, and I think a few of the songs will stick around in my permanent rotation.
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October 15, 2007

Catching up on Music

Lately I haven't been listening to very much music.  I've been busy with work, then last week I caught a cold and was sick all week.  I still came into work, but left pretty early and slept a lot.  I'm finally just about over that, but work has gotten busy again as I have to prepare a talk for the TREC conference early next month, and there isn't much time to coordinate with my supervisor about it.  I also sprained my ankle a week ago, and haven't been running since then.  Usually I listen to some music while I run, so I've been missing out on my usual music listening opportunities.


I just bought Radiohead's "In Rainbows", but haven't had a chance to listen to it yet.  (Well, I'm listening to it now.)  I think it is great that they are distributing their music themselves, and love the "pick your price model".  I thought I would pay about $7 or $8, but ended up paying 5 pounds plus their processing fee, and who knows how much that is in American dollars.  Maybe something like $13?  It is a bit more than I wanted to pay, but I completely support their move to a new business model for self-distribution.  I should mention that another favorite band of mine, Bishop Allen, also sells their stuff on their own website for very reasonable amounts. 

Inspired by Radiohead

One group that I've been keeping my eyes on, Hard 'N Phirm, has a new post on their website where they are distributing for free two songs of theirs that are Radiohead inspired: "Fitter, Clappier" (not so great, but worth a listen for the price) and "Rodeohead", which is very nice.  A kind of blues-grass Radiohead montage.  More than that you, you really should check out the video for their song "Pi".  The Youtube clip is below.  I think it is hilarious and a great parody of the 80s style "Electric Company" edumacational TV shows. 

Flight of the Conchords

Not too long after finding that Pi video (forwarded on by someone) I heard about Flight of the Conchords from the Hard N' Phirm guys.  I have their website's RSS feed in my feed reader, and it popped up one day and said I should check out the HBO show "Flight of the Conchords".  So I did, and I thought it was hilarious.  I thought it was great, and that my little sister would love it.  She always seems to hang out with people that are cool, but are somehow cool in spite of themselves, with a bit of a nerdy flavor.  That kind of describes the Flight of the Conchords guys pretty well, I think.  (Contrast this with myself: I am definitely nerdy, but have not even been able to attain the geek-chic style that has somehow popped up.  I just land squarely in the "geek" demographic.)  Since I thought Jana would like this stuff so much, I bought her the DVD for her birthday.  Sadly, her birthday is in October, and the DVD isn't shipped until sometime in November, but as long as she doesn't read this website she'll still be surprised.  Who expects a birthday present a month late?  (Outside of my sisters, mothers, fathers, and friends?)

For your enjoyment, I recommend that you check out the Flight of the Conchords song Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros.  It is very funny.  It is also probably findable on Youtube. 

Say Hi

Another group that I absolutely adore, Say Hi To Your Mom, recently changed their name to the shorter "Say Hi", and put out their newest album, "The Wishes and the Glitch".  The album is supposed to be released on Feb. 5th, but if you are up on the interweb stuff you can order it from their website and get it now.  It is a mere $7 for the digital download, which is I think a bit inaccurately named as the "Immediate Digital Download" because I ordered two hours ago but haven't received any download instructions yet.  I suppose they will show up within a day or so, but that doesn't quite fit my description of "Immediate".  More like, rapid.  According to the FAQ, you should get the link for the download from 12-24 hours after your order, or on Monday if you hit them up over the weekend.  I guess that means that they have a human approving the process somehow, which kind of baffles me since you really can automate the whole process.  It is kind of rapid I guess, but not nearly what I would call "Immediate".

Still, I'm a huge Say Hi fan, I absolutely love their 2004 album "Numbers and Mumbles", and like their other stuff as well.  I'm really excited to listen to the new one - even more than the new Radiohead album.  With Radiohead, I expect a good album.  With Say Hi, I expected something that could be only good, but might possibly be mind-blowing, or at least has a very good chance of being very specific to me and my life.  What I mean is that I can sometimes very strongly identify with Say Hi's music in a way that the more large-issue, big-world, Radiohead stuff doesn't reach me. 

Radiohead will not sing about being a 13-year-old kid hanging out with your friends dreaming of robots and spaceships.  Say Hi very well might.  Or he might have a song about falling in love with a girl, and then falling out of love with that girl, but not wanting to face it, and wanting to talk about spaceships instead of the relationship.  Sometimes I misunderstand and relate so poorly to women that I don't understand why a conversation about spaceship design would be a bad thing when we should be talking about failings in communication about our relationship. 

I really like the range that can come out of Say Hi.  Of course, not everything is gold, but I think having valleys to go along with your peaks makes life more interesting.

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August 12, 2007

Summer Sonic 2007 Music Festival: Day 2

On the second day I woke up a big later since I didn't have to go through the wrist-band exchange shuffle.  An uneventful trip back to the Chiba area.

"Blue Man Group"

The first "group" I wanted to see was the Blue Man Group.  They were up on the Mountain Stage, the largest of the indoor stages.  Blue Man Group have been around in New York for a long time, and I've always wanted to to see them.  The stage had two large screens to the left or right onto which they projected the action, so you could really get a great view from just about anywhere in there.  The show was surprisingly well suited to this kind of music festival: the drumming and stuff is great, the humor is universal, and they had a bit where they played famous songs (Devo's Whip-it, etc.) with little gags at the end.  They also had a kind of demonstration of useful moves that you can use while watching a show: head shake, hand pump, etc.  I really enjoyed the show, and it really set the mood for the rest of the day.

"Tilly and the Wall"

The first real act of the day was Tilly and the Wall.  I haven't heard any of their stuff, but I've heard lots of good things about them on the podcasts that I listen to - mostly Shifted Sound and NPR's All Songs Considered.  Also a few people over on the Bishop Allen forums like them, so I was interested.  They are also from the surprisingly active Omaha scene, and are connected to Bright Eyes in some way.

The most interesting thing about them is that they do not have a drummer.  They have a dedicated tap-dancer, and each of the ladies (there are three of them) had special little wooden stages set up which were wired for drum-like sounds.  It was really impressive.  They also seemed to be very happy to be in Japan, the lead guitars guy said that it had been a dream of theirs to play Japan, and he really sounded like he meant it.  Anyway, these guys are on my radar now, and if I get a chance I'm going to pick up one of their albums. 


Next up was Hadouken!  They are an interesting-looking group out of England which caught my eye on the schedule because of their name for obvious reasons.  Risa bought their album a while back and really likes them so she rushed way up front.  I hung back a bit, and then as they got going (and were much more heavy / rap / metal than I expected) it started to get pretty wild.  I stuck around for a while, but left early so I could catch another group that I've heard about from NPR that looked very interesting to me.

"The Polyphonic Spree"

The Polyphonic Spree is a large orchestral rock fusion band, with about 20 people on stage, a small chorus, horns, woodwinds and strings, and even a harp.  They have been accused of being too happy, but I don't think that is a problem.  I really liked their song, and seeing them live was pretty amazing.  They were a real high energy act.  They are definitely on my list of albums to get.  Actually, along with Modest Mouse, this was my favorite act of Summer Sonic.  Highly recommended.  I didn't really know much about them going in, but that wasn't a big problem: the orchestral format, with such a wide variety of instruments, was really interesting to listen to and watch. 

Most surprising, one of their final songs was a cover of Nirvana's Lithium.  It was a really good cover, and I really got into it.  Completely unexpected! 

Update: I just bought the Polyphonic Spree's latest album, The Fragile Army, and the Japanese version has three extra bonus tracks (good thing, since albums are so expensive here.  This one was a reasonable 2,200 yen though) one of which was that excellent Lithium cover.  I'm really glad I picked this album up. 

"Bright Eyes / Karaoke Sonic"

Next up was Bright Eyes, with Connor Oberst, one of the guys that really set up the Omaha music scene explosion.  I also do not know Bright Eyes' music well, but have heard a lot of their stuff on the podcasts that I listen to.  I was looking forward to seeing them a lot, but after all the standing around I had already done I was getting pretty tired, so I took a break.  Right next to the Sonic stage, where I've been spending most of my time, was a little break area with some benches and a secondary "Side Stage" area that was doing all sorts of strange things during the festival.  One of them was some sort of group of people that put on stare contents, Staremaster, in fact I think I saw a battle between Tsukika and Araki Tomoe, but I am not positive about that.  I distinctly remember avoiding watching a contest that had Love Sexy Otawaya vs. someone else.

Anyway, I should backtrack a bit to earlier in the morning.  I took a break before Modest Mouse and at the same sidestage they had a Karaoke Sonic setup.  I wandered by the registration desk, and one of the women there asked me if I wanted to sign up since there were still a few spots left.  I was really, really tempted: I enjoy Karaoke, and there are a few Japanese songs that I like to sing.  It would probably go over well.  At the time though, I had two misgivings: first, there were a bunch of bands that I wanted to see, and this would probably take some time.  Second, the only song that came to mind immediately was Dragon Ash's "Grateful Days", which is a great song, but I haven't been going to Karaoke at all lately. I knew that on the final third of the song I would stumble since it is a fairly fast-paced rap and that wouldn't be so cool.  So I declined in the end, but it was a close call. 

Well, later in the afternoon when I went back for a break I sat down and started to watch the Karaoke Sonic thing.  The big surprise came when they introduced the guest panel of judges, and included in the group was Razon Ramon of "Hard Gay" fame!  I know I've touched on it briefly before in this blog, but I don't really get Japanese humor that is on the television.  It just doesn't really seem funny to me.  I think there are cultural differences, and probably I just don't have enough background to understand a lot of the humor, but in general I am not impressed with Japanese comedians.  Hard Gay is another story though: I do think he is funny.  I mean, the main gag, that he is a totally gay guy doing completely inappropriate things in inappropriate situations, is fairly easy to understand.  I actually like that a lot of his schtick is trying to teach kids and do other good acts for people, all while being a complete gay stereotype that I don't really even think exists in Japan.  At least in New York, I know where I can go if I want to bump into leather-clad S&M gay men, but in Japan I think that stuff is confined only to for-pay sex clubs and does not surface in everyday society. 

I also kind of like how the character brings up some discussion of homosexuality in Japan, where it is just usually not spoken about.  I don't think people here are homophobic, they just in general don't think about things that outside the mainstream "group" dynamic.  So it is a bit interesting from an investigation of common social norms sort of theme.

Anyway, I was really, really disappointed now that I had not signed up for Karaoke Sonic.  Even if I botched my song completely - and a few minutes after sitting down I realized I could also sing Sorimachi's "Poison", the theme song to the GTO drama from many years back - I would still get a chance to meet with and talk to Hard Gay.  Also, compared to the morning, this afternoon session was packed: there were maybe a hundred people watching.  That would be kind of fun, to get up in front of all those people and sing.  Even worse, I decided to stick around to listen to the banter and see how well the competitors sang, and I am positive that at worst I would have come in second place.  There were only about six people (some of those were actually two people in pairs, but six competitors) and I would have gone a long way on "white guy singing in Japanese" alone. 

There was one foreigner from New Zealand, but he was pretty strange: he was asian, and kind of bad pronunciation on his song, a My Chemical Romance ballad about parades or something.  It was a pretty bad song to choose because it was slow, very repetitive, and boring: the beat wasn't fast, and it was really sappy.  Those are the worst songs to Karaoke (easy to do though.)  There was a Japanese guy who sang a British song from a group that was playing Summer Sonic, and he was good, but not great.  Two other girls sang a song from the 80s and went over well, and two more women - officially foreign ers from China, but they lived in Japan for quite a while - that went over well also.  The other memorable competitor was the winner, a Japanese woman who sang The Spice Girl's "Wannabe" with extreme vigor and vim.  She won, and I doubt that I would have done better than her, but I could have at least come in second, and I'm sure I would have had an interesting conversation with Hard Gay.  Man, I'm really kicking myself over that. 

Next time there is some sort of public Karaoke Competition I don't care what sort of objections I come up with, I'm going to enter. 

"Cyndi Lauper"

I wasn't sure what I should go see in this slot, but in the end Cyndi Lauper won out for the nostalgia factor.  I can't really say that I was ever a huge fan, but I heard a lot of her stuff on the radio when I was younger, and I wanted to see how she was doing now.  I was really surprised because the place was packed for her show.  I guess there are a lot of Japanese Cyndi Lauper fans out there.  I had never seen her live so I had no idea what to expect, but she was very energetic and chatty.  While living in New York she often went to some sushi bar where the guys there taught her some Japanese, and so she was using all the words that she could remember, just simple things like "genki" and "daijyoubu" and so on.  It was pretty cool though. 

She was running all over the stage, and in between songs would segue off into strange stories that I'm sure nobody really understood.  Even as a native speaker, understanding was an issue because these were really tangential and non-sequitur type things to say.  I guess she is in her 50s now, but she wore a short skirt, and playfully flashed her hot-pink panties at the crowd a few times.  It seems strange to think of someone at her age acting like that, but she was really having a good time, and so was the crowd. 

Her final song was "Girl's Just Want to Have Fun", and she went back behind stage and pulled on about twenty people from other bands and so on to dance with her.  It was really wild, the crowd was really into it and everyone was having a great time.  Her show was, surprisingly to me, a really good one.

"Cornelius Group"

Cornelius Group is another group that I've heard very good things about, but don't know much about myself.  They are a kind of downtempo, relaxed, media band that sets their music to experimental type movies and such when they play.  They had a pretty intricate set-up on stage with a big screen for projected video behind them.  It was very nice, but this kind of music and "experience" is something that I would rather be able to take in while seated, relaxing, and maybe with a drink or two.  The music that they play is something I wouldn't mind having on in the background, but not something to which I would want to devote my full attention.

"Pet Shop Boys"

The final band of the night, and the entire festival, was Pet Shop Boys.  I've always been a fan of the Pet Shop Boys, but not a rabid one.  The first CD that I ever bought was Pet Shop Boys' Actually, and in Japan at that (when my dad brought me here for like a week when I was 14.)  They also had a very intricate stage setup for video projection.  It was just the two Pet Shop Boys themselves, Neil Tennant who provides main vocals, keyboards and very occasionally guitar, and Chris Lowe on keyboards.  They also then had two dancers, all they did was dance, and two more backup singers, who also did a lot of dancing, and a total Diva female singer.  The others were, as you might guess, completely hot men who often went shirtless.  I'm sure the women in the crowd loved it. 

They put on a really good show with very intricate choreographed dance moves, and three costume changes.  Very impressive.  It was apparently the last night of their World Tour, and they really put a lot of energy out there.  They also sang that interesting U2 mashup cover of "Where the Streets Have No Name". 

Final Thoughts

I was surprised that there were so many good covers.  I guess the groups that I picked to see also have some sort of connection to the music that I remember fondly, so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise, but it was really great to hear the Cure's "Just like Heaven", Nirvana's "Lithium", and the U2 mashup cover of "Where the Streets Have no Name". 

After the entire weekend, I was just exhausted.  It was lots of fun, but really tiring.  If there are some bands that I like going next year, I'll try to go again.  It is for sure a good deal for the money compared to most live shows in Japan.  One other thing that I think is important is to start to familiarize yourself with the bands that you plan on seeing a month or two in advance.  I would have had a lot more fun had I been more familiar with some of the bands that I went to see.  Still, a really fun experience. 
Blog · Fun and Games · Japan · Music2 Comments

Summer Sonic 2007 Tokyo Music Festival: Day 1

Welcome to Summer Sonic
Welcome to Summer Sonic!
Walking to Summer Sonic
Walking to Summer Sonic
Marine Stadium
Marine Stadium
Beach Stage
Beach Stage
Marine Stage Crowd
Marine Stage Crowd
Nishioka Sumiko
Nishioka Sumiko
(日本語版 )

Summer Sonic is a two-day summer music festival held in Chiba's Makuhari Messe and nearby Marine Stadium.  It is a huge event, with probably around 80 bands playing over two days, and unofficial concerts on the side as well.  This was my first time every going:  I really wanted to go last year since We Are Scientists were playing, but I had a conference to attend and was back in America at the time.  This year, I didn't have as much of a connection to the bands, but there were some great acts, and it is a real value for your money compared to the standard Japanese live show fare, which is about $45 for a ticket to see one band (maybe two if you are lucky.)  The two-day Summer Sonic Pass was about $275, and you can see about sixteen shows if you are tough enough...

I had to wake up at about 7am to get to Makuhari.  It takes about an hour if you hit the right trains, or an hour and a half if you get the local ones, taking Oiimachi line to Oiimachi, transferring to the Rinkai line to Shin-Kiba, then taking Keiyou line to Maihama Makuhari.  At the station there were crazy numbers of people, and they were making announcements about how it is crowded, buy your return ticket in advance, etc.  Exiting the station there were lots of people with hand-made signs asking to buy tickets and so on.  Also, there were lots of older guys (almost positively Yakuza) doing ticket scalping trying to sell tickets.  They were also buying extra tickets.  I have no idea what the markup on this kind of thing is, but those guys were around for the whole festival.  I don't think they could have made that much money because I never saw anyone buy from them, but who knows.

It was a pretty long walk from the station to Makuhari Messe (the convention center), where I exchanged my ticket for a two-day wristband pass.  I wandered around for a bit and then headed over to the Marine Stadium since the bands I wanted to check out in the morning started on that stage.  It was crazy hot, probably about 36 degrees celsius very humid, not a cloud in the sky with a fierce sun beating down.  I had put on lots of sunblock since I'm whiter than a scared ghost, but I was still worried about getting sunburned.  Over at the stadium I walked around for a while, bought a Pokari Sweat and kept wandering around.  Completely by coincidence I ran into Lisa and Kana, who I knew were coming, but didn't expect to easily be able to find in the massive crowds.  We had more than an hour before the first act, so we headed over to the Beach Stage (literally on the beach!) where Lisa said I should be able to get a small towel from the Tower Records stand (to help with protection from the sun!)

"Onsoku Line (Speed of Sound Line)"

While at the beach stage we saw the opening act Onsoku Line, a three man group of rap-style music.  They were pretty good, and certainly were fitting for the beach stage.  It was lots of fun even though I hadn't heard of them before.

We headed over to the Marine Stage and got a spot very close to the stage - maybe like 6 rows of people back.  It was crazy hot.  I had my towel wrapped around my head and under my hat so my neck wouldn't get burned.  Almost everyone else did too.  Did I mention that it was hot?  Before the shows really started to get going, some dude came out to warm us up.  I didn't know who he was, but he was maybe half or something because his English was quite good, although the whole thing was mostly in Japanese.  After he did his thing (MC in charge) Nishioka Sumiko (you can see some of the other characters she has played, as well as a bit as her current SM Mistress character in this youtube video) came out and did a kind of routine.  It was kind of funny, but like most Japanese comedians the comedy comes from just shouting at people something vaguely inappropriate (you guys are all pig bastards!) She has a kind of leather-wearing Mistress like domination schtick.

"The Pipettes"

Next up was The Pipettes, a female singer trio from England.  They had a backing band who wore cute monogrammed sweaters, but the act is just the three women, who are singers.  They are like a blast from the 1950s, wore cute polka-dot outfits, and had completely choreographed dances with intricate hand movements for each of their songs.  The really funny thing is that their song lyrics were mostly completely at odds with their poppy happy sound.  They reminded me of Lily Allen in a way because of that.  I really thought they put on a great live show, although I'm not really interested in buying their album because musically I just wasn't grooving that 50s sound too much.  It isn't bad, it is just at the price of albums out here, I've got a lot of other things to spend my money on before I head after these girls.  I really did enjoy the show though.  Lots of fun.

"OK Go"

Next up was OK Go.  I knew of them because of their Youtube Video for Here it Goes Again, which is really great.  I didn't know much else about these guys, but they put on a good show, had some pretty heavy rock sound, and weren't bad at all.  I like their style.

"The Editors"

I first found out about The Editors when they toured through Japan with We Are Scientists.  I really liked them then, they reminded me a bit of Joy Division.  Actually, when I was chatting with Keith from the Scientists he introduced me to the guitarist and the bassist of the band.  They seemed like nice guys.  This time the guitarist was wearing a kind of Power-Rangers type shirt that really went over well in Japan I think.  The Editors put on a really great show, and the lead singer was crazy nuts with his strange arm movements and stuff.  He was twisting his arms around behind his back, moving around strangely, all that stuff.  It was pretty cool.  They really rocked it hard, and if you don't have their album "The Back Room" I recommend you pick it up.

After the Editors, I was exhausted from hours of standing in the hot sun, so we all headed back to the indoors Makuhari Messe area for a break and lunch.  I really wanted to check out Puffy AmiYumi, but instead I had lunch and took a bit of a break.  If I had really killed myself and ran around like crazy I probably could have seen a few more bands, but that makes things seem more like work.  It was more fun to relax and see the bans that I really wanted to see and not worry too much about scheduling, just try to have a good time.  Lunch also involved waiting in lines and just took too long.  I did have a nice lunch though: Fried Yaizu don, which was a fried maguro fish on rice.  It was really good too.  While the convention center was air conditioned, it was so hot and there were so many people that it wasn't really all that cool.  Still, after about an hour, I had finally cooled down a bit and quite sweating. That wouldn't last for long though, since next up was


Interpol was playing on the Sonic stage, a medium sized indoor stage.  I've always like Interpol since their first album "Turn on the bright lights" (still their best, IMHO) and since they are also a New York band I have a special place in my heart for them.  Their show was really good.  I was up front so had a really nice view, and they played lots of songs that I knew so it was really great. I really think that Editors and Interpol make a pretty nice pairing.

"Dinosaur Jr."

After Interpol I stayed at the Sonic stage for Dinosaur Jr.  I used to listen to these guys way back in high school, I would remember Eric and I in the car driving back from track practice after school with these guys on the radio.  They broke up a while ago, but recently the band has been re-formed with new members apparently.  I should have known this, since it is their style, but the distortion and feedback was just crazy.  The volume wasn't any louder than any of the other bands, but with all of the feedback the high pitched sounds were just unbearable.  I really needed some earplugs for this one.  I closed my ears and listened to the first two songs - including a surprising cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven" - and then went next door to relax and sit down for a while.

"Modest Mouse"

Probably the band that I was most looking forward to was (or second most, hard to tell) was Modest Mouse.  I really love their new album "We were dead before the boat even sank".  I was really amazed that Johnny Marr, the famous guitarist from The Smiths, was playing with them, and right up there on stage in front of me.  I never thought that I would have the chance to see Johnny Marr live, but there you are.  They played a lot of songs that I knew and just put on a great show.  One funny (or sad?) thing that happened is that the lead singer Isaac Brock went down into the crowd once, and when he came back up to the stage someone had taken his hat.  In between every song break he was talking about his hat.  First it was "Hey man, give me back my hat" and then it progressively got more aggressive like "Man, do you know how hard it is to find a hat that you like?" and "You can't just go taking people's hats for nothing!", "This isn't the Isaac gives away his hat 2007 tour!" and "Man, I don't care if you say you can just comp these things, it doesn't matter if it costs $20 or $1, you can't just go taking people's stuff" and finally "Fuck you in the face, motherfucker!".  I'm with him on that sentiment: that's just shitty to take some guy's stuff just because you want it.  It really sucks that fans act like assholes sometimes.  The show itself was really great though.  They put on a hard-rocking show, and sang a lot of good stuff, and oh my god, Johnny Marr!  It was great.  They were my favorite act of the day, and probably of the two day festival.


I finished things out with Travis I don't really know Travis well; I've heard them on the radio and various podcasts that I listen to, but I don't have any of their albums.  They really sounded great with a nice sound and very good harmony.  I am interested in picking up one of their albums, but I don't know where to start really.

After Travis, I headed home on the super crowded trains.  It took about an hour and a half, and of course the train was super packed.  By the time I got to the Rinkai line though I was able to sit down.  There is at least one good thing to be said about taking a super expensive line that normally people don't ride: you can sit down.  I collapsed into bed, hoping to rest up these old feet for another day of the same punishment tomorrow...

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April 12, 2007

Japanese traditional music, and modern indie Punk

Things have been busy at work lately, so I haven't been able to post much. Of course, since it has been busy there hasn't been much going on for me to post about. Last week though, I did venture out for two music-related events. I posted up a blurb on my Japanese Mixi blog, but I haven't had a chance to write up anything about it here in English.

First, on Wednesday I went with a friend from work to a classical Japanese concert. It was about an hour and a half long with five groups, which varied in size. The first one had about ten koto players, ten shyamisen players, and two shyachihachi players (a kind of Japanese flutes.) It was really very nice. I don't know much about traditional Japanese music, so it was a new experience for me. I really liked the Koto, which is a kind of large steel guitar type thing. The strings on all the instruments at the concert were really nice: gold or silver, bright and sparkly. The larger bass kotos had the gold strings. I really enjoyed the music, although I preffered the more traditional songs. One of the groups played a more modern song. You could tell because it was somewhat dissonant and jarring, and had pacing that made me feel a bit uneasy.

I much prefer to write these blogs posts soon after the event, because thinking about it now, I just don't give a good description up there.

On Thursday, I went out to catch noodles, (or their official website) a Japanese girl band that I caught when they came through on the Benten Records Japanese Girls Samurai US Tour back in 2004. I thought they were pretty good, and loved that they covered Depeche Mode's "See You". When I randomly saw that they were playing in Shimokitazawa, the new cool kids hot spot for the past year or so, I thought it would be a good chance to catch my first local Japanese band.

I found out that the noodles were playing because they recently performed the soundtrack for an independent movie, Love My Life, which is based on a manga (so I hear) and is a lesbian love story of some kind. I had seem some talk about the movie around on the web, and am intrigued, but am more interested in the soundtrack.

They played Shimokitazawa's Club Que. It is a nice club, kind of small but with a fairly large stage for the space. A few chairs on the walls for sitting. A bar with beer for drinking. A reasonable setup, all told. Noodles opened the show, and it seems like most people were actually there for the second or third acts (Foe, who I didn't like at all, and Platon I think who were pretty good.) I talked with one guy who came just to see the noodles, and he seemed like a big fan. Anyway, when noodles came out, they started up and it was a good show. Since I had seem them last time they had dropped a member, losing the rhythm guitarist. It didn't seem like a big loss though, since their sound was still coming through strong.

From when I last saw them, one thing that really struck me is that the bassist still never smiles. I remember her just staring down at the floor the whole time, pretty tame and relaxed. The lead singer was all over the place, strutting around, working the crowd, and smiling up a storm. Somehow the pair is appealing. The noodles are kind of interesting because they've played SXSW a few times, and a lot of their songs have English in them to some extent. It is a little hard to understand, but it is English, and they seem to have some sort of draw with the American audience; there were a few other foreigners in the club.

On the way out, I picked up their album "Cover me Shakespeare", but I haven't had much of a chance to listen to it yet.

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April 7, 2007

Fumie Hiratai's closing party / Viola performance

A friend of mine, Fumie Hiratai (平体文枝), is an artist and recently had a show at a very interesting book shop, the Morioka Bookstore. It is a cute little book store in an art building (the Inoue Building in Kayabacho) that has a bunch of old photo books and other random art focused books. There is interesting architecture stuff, strange magazines, and so on.

If you browse the Morioka Book store site about Fumie's exhibition you can see some of the paintings, which are quite nice. The closing show was about an hour long, and featured Satou Keiko (佐藤佳子) on the Viola, as well as sporadic accompaniment on some form of drums in the back. It was quite nice. I would have gone out with Fumie and her friends afterwards, but I had to get back home to continue work revising a paper that I need to submit on Monday so I skipped out after the performance. It looks like they are planning to hold some sort of exhibition performance in the Morioka bookstore each month, which is kind of nice. It is a small setting, has nice acoustics, and promises to be eclectic. Also, the price is right: this show was only 500 yen, future shows might be in the 500 yen to 1000 yen range.

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April 4, 2007

Little Barrie and Big Strides in the Liquid Room, Ebisu, Japan

Last night I went to see Little Barrie (with a Japanese Fan Site too) and Big Strides at the Liquid Room in Ebisu.

I really liked the Liquid Room. It reminded me a lot of the Mercury Lounge in NYC, a place where I've seen a lot of great shows. It was about the same size, perhaps a slightly larger stage area, and a nice lounge area up on the second floor (separated from the live music venue though.) I plan to go there more if possible, it is one of the nicer venues I've been to in the Tokyo area.

I really enjoyed Big Stride, but that could be because they have an upright bass, which is really interesting. No frets on those things, and they are massive. Just huge. Penn Jillette plays one of those things, and I really enjoyed his radio show podcast when it was still on.
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March 15, 2007

Kaiser Chiefs

Thursday night Risa and I had tickets to see Kaiser Chiefs. The crowd was again very lively, and pretty packed. As with most of the concerts I've gone to in Japan, the crowd for English and American bands was 60% female, maybe a bit more. The keyboardist for the group, "Peanut", really reminded me of my friend Alex, which was just a hoot all through the concert. By the end of the hour and a half show (for 6,500 yen!) I was drenched with sweat, and pretty tired from jumping around in the crowd. I've had a few of their songs stuck in my head since the show.
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February 20, 2007

Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo came to Tokyo, and I wasn't going to miss that for anything. They're touring in support of their new album, I m not afraid of you and I will beat your ass. I really like this album, and encourage you to pick it up.

They played at Shibuya's O-East, a fairly large venue. We got there fairly early, and since we had ticket numbers 103 and 104, we were just in time to pick up two seats on the balcony. I'm really glad we managed that since the place filled up to capacity, and it was really crowded. About halfway through the show a girl in the crowd fainted (possibly) and had to be taken out of the main floor. (She was fine afterwards though.) The show was really great, but as you would expect for a Yo La Tengo show, very low-key at times. Being able to sit through the ten minute guitar feedback songs was very nice. About a quarter of the way into the show, Ira invited three audience members up on stage to dance. It was pretty cool.

After the show Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley stayed behind to sign CDs that people bought at the show. Ira and Georgia were both very nice. I was really impressed that such a famous band would stay behind for CD signing and meeting the fans.
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November 12, 2006

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire / Jarvis Cocker!?

So this is a strange one. On the weekend I do a lot of work from home, programming, some stuff for fun (some programming on side-projects, translating manga so I don't forget how to like, read Japanese) and so on. I like to play bad movies when I'm doing this. So, I finally got around to checking out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this weekend.

Now, in all honesty, I do not like Harry Potter. I haven't read any of the books, but I did watch the first movie. I didn't like it. The main problem I had with it was that it didn't seem like Harry Potter himself did anything at all to merit being thought of as such a wonderful, great magician. As far as I could tell, Harry got by entirely because of gifts from his family and friends. He didn't seem to have any amazing courage or great ideas in the face of danger, and just seemed to go along with things as they developed.

The third movie seemed to be more of the same. I can't think of a single instance where he did anything of his own merit. He got into this 3-wizards competition because someone put his name in there. He won the dragon challenge because he was told to use his skill of flying, and in the end just kind of bobbled around and got through by luck. He didn't seem to have a plan at all. He found out how to open that egg because someone told him, and found out how to turn into a mer-man because of someone else as well. The only good points he showed is that he was willing to put his friends ahead of himself, but since he's just a shy guy anyway, that isn't really too surprising.

Even worse, it doesn't look like there are good role models in this movie either. I'm really surprised at how stereotyped and traditional the women are portrayed as in the movie. Also, how come it seems like none of these students know what is happening? If this school has been around for so long, and has a winter dance ever year, and that wizard competition thing, shouldn't they have known about it?

Anyway, I didn't really pay much attention to the movie until the dance. Because then I could swear that I heard Pulp, famous for Common People, a most excellent song, singing. Well, not really Pulp, but Jarvis Cocker for sure. After looking around, I found out that indeed, it was him! He got together with a pretty high-powered group, called The Weird Sisters, to sing three songs for the soundtrack. I've got to try to hunt those down.

So, basically, I still don't like Harry Potter, but I was really surprised to see Jarvis Cocker in the soundtrack. Pretty funny!

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