Here can be found live show reports, as seen in Tokyo or elsewhere in Japan by us and our contributors.
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Correspondent Nicholas D. Kent went to the "Godzilla Legend" concert held recently in New York. Here's his report!
"Godzilla Legend—Music of Akira Ifukube"
April 28, 2017 at Japan Society, NYC
For the past few years I had seen Tokyo concert announcements from time to time announcing a special concert called "Godzilla Legend" with performances by Hikashu. But I was never in town when one was scheduled. I was thrilled to discover that one of these concerts was set to take place at Japan Society in NYC, for the first time outside of Japan.
The man behind the project is Inoue Makoto, who originally played keyboards for Hikashu in the late 70s though departed as a band member in the early 1990s. He greatly admires the Godzilla film scores of Ifukube Akira (1914-2006). Ifukube composed the score for the original "Godzilla" in 1954 and wrote many but not all the Godzilla scores up until 1995 as well as a number of other Toho non-Godzilla giant monster films (Like "Rodan", 1956) that take place in the same fictional universe.
The Godzilla Legend concerts feature Inoue as musical director and Hikashu as the core band and then add guests to fill out the brass section (Tatsumi Kogorō, Gotō Atsushi, Yoshida Ryūichi) and featured guests Charan-Po-Rantan with sisters Momo and Koharu singing vocals + Koharu on accordion.
The show opens with the first scene's music from the first Godzilla film. There is a melancholy song sung by Charan-Po-Rantan which was originally sung by the sailors on the ill-fated ship the Eiko-maru who soon have a fatal encounter with Godzilla. The audience is launched musically into a number of classic Godzilla themes. One of the things I consider a "trademark" of Hikashu is the ability to perform a sort of freak out improv and then snap on the beat into a very tightly arranged melody. That's something that takes place a number of times and always impresses.
Besides the brooding suspense and rousing marches, a number of the films contain some sort of imaginary ethnic, sometimes primitive music. We hear some on King Kong's Island in "King Kong vs Godzilla" (1962) with Makigami Kōichi singing. Though a group, I'm sure Makigami is often referred to as Hikashu's frontman. During the evening he plays Theremin, does what I believe is Tuvan overtone chanting and occasionally plays a big gong and at one point a pocket trumpet.
The last show I saw in 2014 was Frenesi, and it was a very special one. In November Frenesi announced that she would put a stop (though maybe temporary) to her music career. Her last activity would be this concert held on December 27 in the Denshō hall of the Shibuya Cultural Center Ōwada. This seated hall seems to be more often used for traditional performances such as rakugo (Wikipedia), so it felt special to see a pop-oriented concert there.
For the last 2½ years or so, Frenesi's shows have always had a "school" theme, where Frenesi is the "head teacher" and those who attend are "students". Also for at least the same time she has been hiding her face from the public (Internet and photos), except in her shows where her fans are allowed to see her. The reason is unclear as she is really a cute and charming person, although this definitely works great in building a lot of anticipation for fans who get to see her show for the first time.
The show began as a kind of ceremony. People sitting in the front row were called one by one on stage to receive a pile of certificates, and once back to their seat they had to keep one and pass the rest to the person behind. Remember those school days? Yup, this is Frenesi school! The large square sheets were distributed to everyone. On one side was the certificate proving that one attended Frenesi school's end-of-business ceremony, and on the back was... Frenesi's signature cartooned face, just like the board she holds as a mask every time a photo is taken!
On November 7 was a show by Nomiya Maki (ex-Pizzicato Five) at Billboard Live Tokyo. With the title "Miss Maki Nomiya Sings Shibuya-kei Standards", it was the 2nd of the series that began the previous year, an effort in passing the word on great Shibuya-kei and inspirational songs so that they don't end up forgotten. Last year's show was to be released on CD a bit later, so this doubled as a release party. There were two representations in Tokyo on the same day, and I went to the later one starting from 21:30.
The weekend before the same show was also first held at Billboard in Osaka, so I spent the week avoiding any spoilers online. Still, as soon as I reached my seat I couldn't resist opening the booklet on the table, and before I realized I already knew half of the set list, oops! :) That just made me yet more excited to hear some of the songs listed there.
Maki's band was formed of a pianist/keyboardist (on Fender Rhodes and piano), the bandmaster on keyboards (Hammond) and percussions, a bassist and a drummer. Maki appeared in an elegant off-white dress, and started the show with Pizzicato Five's "Tokyo wa yoru no 7ji (The night is still young)", the obvious choice especially that the first set started at 7pm.
On March 19, Minekawa Takako played a solo show part of a cassette-themed exhibition. Held at Asakusabashi Tensai Sansūjuku, a multipurpose venue, the exhibition showed various artworks made using audio cassettes, and also boomboxes of all kinds were on display. The small venue has two floors, with a bar counter on the 1st floor and a tatami room on the 2nd, that's where the show was held.
After a little wait, guests were led to the 2nd floor, where Takako was already playing some tapes as BGM. She had remade a broken cassette into a cute hair accessory. It was a bit unclear when the show officially started, as people were still chatting while she had already began adding synth sounds over the tapes.
On December 5 was a show featuring The Scooters, and it was held at my favorite venue, WWW in Shibuya. Since their official come-back last year, after some 30 years, The Scooters have been staying active. This event also featured Juicy Fruits and Kōtarō & The Bizarremen.
First on stage was Juicy Fruits, another band from the early 80's that has reappeared a few years ago. The renewed Juicy Fruits features two original members, singer/guitarist Iria and drummer Takagi Toshio, and two new recruits, a guitarist and a bassist from the neo-GS scene. They gave an impressive show, mainly of their early hits but also playing a new single released earlier this year. Singer Iria skillfully plays most lead guitar and solos herself. All members also sing chorus, making the chorus of "Jenny wa gokigen naname" (the band warned younger listeners that it's not a Perfume song) sound just like it should! I didn't know much of their other songs, but the show gave me new favorites.
On Friday July 12 was a show of Playtime Rock, the Nagasaki-based band of Takanami K-taro (ex-Pizzicato Five) (blog). Nagasaki being part of the Kyūshū island in the south of Japan, it's a rare treat to see them on stage in Tokyo! The show was held at the very nice Saravah Tokyo in Shibuya.
BANK played first. The 5-piece band is led by Nakamura Dai, and members include Hirami Fumio (ex-Love Tambourines) on bass and Ōhashi Nobuyuki (Pate, ex-Bridge) on guitar, both of who are also part of the recently formed Misola. The two other members are Suzuki Bō on drums and Kitami Nao on keyboards.
During their set were constant ocean wave background sounds that helped freshen the atmosphere after the recent hot days (it's was over 35C on that day in Shibuya!). The guitar-driven pop songs all felt very good. I especially enjoyed the drums that used a bass drum, hi-hat, and what looked like a Roland SPD-SX sampler that produced many cool retro sounds.
Next up was Playtime Rock, main members Takanami K-taro (guitar and vocals) and Ichiba Mina (flute and vocals) were accompanied by guitarist Hirami Fumio (BANK, Misola), bassist Sally Kubota (Sally Soul Stew, Love & Revolution, ex-Phantom Gift/Les 5-4-3-2-1), and drummer Tsuji Mutsushi (ex-Oh! Penelope).
On July 5th was the 4th edition of Vanilla Beans' series of shows with a live band. Every time they share the bill with another band. Last time was Kaji Hideki (report), and this time was Nomiya Maki (ex-Pizzicato Five)! Vanilla Beans just keep strengthening their Shibuya-kei connections. Actually they have been covering Pizzicato Five's "Tokyo wa yoru no 7ji" and "Baby Portable Rock" for a while, so this time's bill allowed for a lot of anticipation. As always the show was held at rock venue Shinjuku Loft.
So first on stage was Nomiya Maki & BIBA, that's her unit with guitarist Bravo Komatsu (who previously toured the world with Pizzicato Five) and visual artist UJINO. Ujino had first collaborated with Maki for a show at the Luminato festival in Toronto (Canada) in 2010. At the back was DJ Noboru, Maki's longtime hair & make-up companion.
The show started just past 7 o'clock, opening perfectly with "Tokyo wa yoru no 7ji". Maki appeared in a white one-piece dress, the front had a trompe-l'œil print of a pink dress. The sound was loud and on top of it were added live guitar, and Ujino's spacey bleeps coming from his huge shiny phallic green instrument (excuse the description, it's what it is!) that has coachwork making it look like a scooter.
On Saturday June 22 was an event presented by blue marble, a band that released first album "Valerie" (Amazon) four years ago to then sort of disappear. This was to be their first official show ever, and some 50 fans gathered in a small venue named strobe cafe (ran by the Strobe Records label) for something they had been waiting forever.
The show started with a guest performance by mishmash* Julie Watai. I had been wanting to see them for some time but this was the first occasion for me. Their stage setup has musician Mishima Toyoaki (long-time programmer for Cornelius) on the left, with two MacBooks and a lot of cables dripping from his desk. On the right is drummer Tarawo, and in the center stands Julie Watai holding a vintage-looking microphone. Julie wore a white dress she made herself.
The electronic music and effected vocals sounded quite like the packaged version, though some synth phrases were played live. The biggest difference to the recordings was the powerful drumming that added loud breakbeats, making for a completely different experience. The large screen behind the stage showed each video and lyrics in sync with the music.
Until recently, Vanilla Beans had always performed their shows "idol style", singing karaoke over a backtrack of the music. Last year marked their 5th anniversary, and then came 3rd album "Vanilla Beans III" which featured a steady band of four musicians. Following the release, Vanilla Beans started a series of two-man with always another band playing as the opening act, and Vanilla Beans backed by a live band of their recording musicians. Vanilla Beans, despite their "idol" branding, keep surprising by doing new things out of the common.
On May 1st was the 3rd show of this series, and the front act was Kaji Hideki who is producing their upcoming single "Muscat Slope Love". The event was held at rock venue Shinjuku Loft. This evening was definitely going to have a high dose of Shibuya-kei essence.
I had booked my ticket on Vanilla Beans' free official mobile site (vanillabeans.jp), which offers a newsletter with early info about upcoming events. Being a member also lets you collect "beans" when you go to their events (I got 5 this time), and those beans can later be used to attend member-only events, etc. Upon entering I was also given a numbered "special fan pass" featuring a photo of the girls in their brand new costumes for the upcoming single.
On Friday April 19 was the 133rd edition (!) of electro-themed event series "Joy Ride" that started in 2006. That's an average of 2+ events per month! I went to this one especially to see CTO LAB., the all-star band of polymoog (Elektel), Okada Tohru (Moonriders) & Imai Kentarō (Aprils), who I felt I hadn't seen in a while. Although I hadn't heard of the other acts before this show, I found myself enjoying all of them very much.
soyuz project is the solo project of Fukuma Hajime (ex-P-Model). Actually it used to be a unit with other members, but after a split-up he turned it into his solo project. His set consisted of him standing in the middle of 3 tall stands, respectively holding a laptop, a small keyboard and a mixer, and in the center of which he stood controlling each device in turn.