So what superlatives are there that can’t be used to describe Tokyo adequately? This is a city on the grandest of scales. It’s immense size, its unparalleled variety, its profuse populace, its enchanting charm, and it is Awesome! The maddening machinations by which it takes to keep a city as such operating is astounding. Yet it’s so easy to forget that when you’re just a lone integer walking about in this Mundo de Mathimatica. OK, I just made that last part up but I think you get the gist. Of course I love Manhattan and the entire metro area but Tokyo is a different vibe. Our gig is in one of many areas or ‘ku’ in this city; Shimokitazawa. This is our second time here. We played here on the last tour and it definitely has a more aggressive vibe than the other club we used to play in Meguro. We navigate in through the narrow streets to get access to the club and load in. Another rainy gray day,*geeze*, one of our wettest tours I can remember. We’ve got one of the same opening bands on the bill tonight – Made In Asia – and another band I’ve never seen – Quorum. We’re in first cuz’ as goes with the biz; last band on – first band in. The stage crew is only 3 people – FoH engineer, Monitor engineer and LD, Lighting director. Two girls and a guy. Super-efficient and pro as they come. Love it here. It’s rare to see a slacker over in Japan. Our equipment set up and our sound check done we settle in for the hours before the first band starts. So while there’s a pause in the action let me back up a bit and explain some protocols and observations I’ve adopted and taken mental notes of this time around in my time in Nihon.
I still exercise on a fairly routine schedule. Work out in my room if such space is afforded, I can exercise in the most extreme conditions of spatial economy if required, or I’ll get out and go for a run. Today it was a run cuz’ this is a really small room. So before I go planning is required and I take a look at the surrounding area on my cell phone map apps and decide or estimate a running route. I could do the easy way and just pick a street and go one-way for 30 to 45 minutes but I want to see a bit more and I choose the ‘scenic’ option. Tokyo streets are on a complex scale that Euclid himself could not have imagined. Even when you have a Garmin or of the like, mistakes and wrong turns are inevitably committed. It’s amazing to think just a generation ago there were drivers that knew these roads with profound precision. Take for instance when the sarin gas attacks happened in Tokyo back in the Spring of 1995, none of the modern navigation or communication accoutrements were available to the public at large and you had the average citizen and taxi drivers mobilized to help transport people to hospitals during the morning rush hour. Even finding the hospitals was a Gordian Knot in itself but it was done and so few people died compared to how many people were exposed. (For further reading on this subject I recommend Haruki Murakami’s book on this tragic event: Underground) So I’ve set a kind of overview for a route and tried to burn in my brain the street names I am to turn left and or right on to complete this big circle I am attempting to run. I set off and I start my usual efforts to read as much as possible while I am running. I’m not a complete rube though, I do take my phone with me.
Now for the protocol bit – there are so many bikes in use on the streets and sidewalks in Japan that it is a must that if you’re going to go around someone to pass them while running or walking, you must always look over your shoulder behind you for bike traffic. Especially if you’re running with ear-buds in because then you can’t hear them coming up behind you. I haven’t had any close calls as regards to run-ins but I’m pretty diligent about looking behind me. Be aware of your surroundings. Also, when you come to a traffic light and it’s says don’t cross then don’t. Even if it appears as an innocuous intersection you just wait it out. Everybody else is, so just try to be a good world citizen and respect their country’s laws. Nothing bespeaks a condescending and dismissive attitude towards other people as when you start displaying disregard for the simplest of rules in society. All right, I shall descend from my soap box. Oh and another thing, since they drive on the opposite side of the street here as they do in England, it’s proper to walk on that side of the sidewalk too.
Now for an observation – Japanese people when given permission to cross the street under the protection of the ‘green light’ do so with absolute confidence and the haughtiest of airs towards oncoming traffic. People are just so naturally ignoring the cars that are waiting to take turns. They aren’t even increasing the speed of their gait so as to let drivers and traffic carry on to prevent the backup that invariably happens at traffic lights. It has to be said though there is slight tacit complicity that the drivers take part in because I also notice that the first in line to take a said turn on red will usually wait till the last person is out of the crosswalk only then will the car proceed. It is also not uncommon for a pedestrian to step into the crosswalk at the last possible second before turning red and insouciantly saunter their way to the other side all the while engaged in an animated conversation on their cell phone exhibiting extreme temerity while every driver is waiting in the slips but takes it in with quiet humility and a zen-like approach to what I can only guess is anger management. I find it highly amusing actually.
Time for the doors to open and the first band up. Quorum hits the stage and they’re the classic rock band set up – guitar, bass, drums and singer. The image made more replete with the guitar player opting for a ‘sans-shirt’ appearance. They’ve got a great heavy rock feel to them and the singer is now carrying the mike stand in a 45 degree angle to his side as he sings in true front man status. I’m having fun watching these guys. The guitar player is confidently blazing his licks and the bass player – Ma ka ka – which means very red, is decked out in a total red outfit. Kickin’ Butt and taking names. They’re also young and good looking so the front row of girls is standing and applauding after every song. Now in momentary reflection I think I was way too cerebral in my early musical ambitions. Gotta admit, something to be said about an adoring smile from a girl in the front row. *sigh*….oh, where was I?…right the show.
Now it’s time for Made In Asia and I get to see them play again. Really like this band, and what’s not to like about this drummer?! The true battery of the band she is. Shiho chan ga SAIKKO–! I took a bit of slow-mo video of her so to further exemplify her energy. Duran is in good form tonight and Maryne is thunderous on the bass. Great show!
It’s our turn but not before our MC for the night, my good friend Shimpei san who is also a highly noted music journalist here and usually gets all the top rock artists interview assignments, he is giving away some prizes to the crowd. There’s 4 items; two door stops from Vox that are shaped like Wa-Wa pedals, a tuner that’s encased in a faux Tuna can, obviously playing on the word play with how tuner is spelled in katakana and probably a nod towards the Canned Heat album – You Can Tune A Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish -, and lastly a stomp box. The winners are determined by a variant of the ‘rock-paper-scissors’ game we know, but here it’s called – Jankein. There is only two options in Jankein, rock-scissors, and it is hilarious watching the contestants whittled down to 4 winners. The grand prize is a SL Lead pedal from Xotic, exactly what I use. I have signed all the gifts and as the contest is going on I’m arranging my pedals on stage and when the MC announces what the grand prize is and adds that it’s what I use on stage I add to the presentation by holding up my pedal while I’m kneeling during my preparations. A completely off-the-cuff moment but it was there for the taking.
We start up and the sound is good and I’m feeling good, the group is sounding good and we take off. It’s a good crowd tonight, almost 100 people and the club looks comfortably full. We’re building musical momentum. After the show I visit with some of my friends I’ve made over the years and chat amiably with the fans at the merchandise table. It’s funny since because I speak a little more Japanese from the stage that fans are coming over and engaging me in Japanese. Sometimes I don’t know the exact words to reply in a colloquial fashion but I can mish-mash something together and get my intention across to them. I still have a long, long way to go in conversing properly but I’m sure enjoying the journey learning. The after party is at the club and it’s just the opening bands and a few friends and or wives. I’m still able to be conversant and they all try out their English too. It was a really good time. As Yoshi and I left the club, the owner knew there was a steady rain outside but in true fashion of hospitable decorum, an umbrella was provided to each of us and the owner escorted us outside, flagged down a taxi and stood there in the rain waving good-bye to us as the taxi sped off.
Hard to beat nights like this.