Vanilla Beans band live with Kaji Hideki

Text and photos by Patrick Benny for Tokyo's Coolest Sound

バニラビーンズ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 (, 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.

First on stage was guest Kaji Hideki, who also played with a full band of four. Members were Sekine Takuji on lead guitar (of golf, he often does arrangements for Kaji), Katsuhara Daisaku on bass (of Kaseki Cider's back band Hugtones), Orita Yūsuke on trumpet (of jazz band TRI4TH), and Tsunakawa "Tsuna" Kazuyuki on drums (of The Keys).

Kaji Hideki and Vanilla Beans both sharing a Nordic Europe connection, he decided to play a set with several older nostalgic songs of his which aren't often part in his recent shows, such as "Weekenders" from album "Mini Skirt" and early B-side "Hey Hey Baby Pop". The set also included "Semla Song" and "Hello & Smile" from his latest album "Sweet Swedish Winter".

For 3 songs, he invited Yurina of jūsyo futei mushoku to sing chorus, as she does on some of his recordings. The high energy set closed with eternal hit "My Boom Is Me".

Set list: mimiuchi girl (unreleased TV commercial song) / amai koibito / Weekenders / Semla Song / Hello & Smile / Beach Boy no Jarmusch (B&W Marble Chocolate) / Hey Hey Baby Pop / anettai Girl / kimi to Summer to taiyō ga ippai / Too Much Too Young / La Boom ~datte My Boom Is Me~

Vanilla BeansVanilla Beans then appeared on stage. I had been really eager to see them backed by a real band. Rena and Lisa showed up in their new outfits for the upcoming single: matching aqua blue short dresses. As expected, their back band was very tight. At least some of the songs did use a backtrack with additional chorus and orchestration, but the band sounded full and the girls' live singing was clearly heard throughout the show.

I was expecting the set to mostly focus on songs from latest album "Vanilla Beans III", as I had read reports of the first show which consisted only of songs from this one, but I was really taken by surprise. Only 4 songs were from this album, and several earlier favorites were added to the set. It all began with "1969nen no Drag Race", a great cover of Ohtaki Eiichi (B-side of single "Choco Mint Flavor Time"). This continued with the album version of latest single "Non-Section", followed by the album's opening song "Skåne no hana ga saiteiru" (which I love!), and older favorite "koi no Theory".

I noticed that for older songs they often use mic stands to be able to do their usual dances, but for new songs they tend to hold their mics and move around the stage, which makes for a good rocking performance!

Vanilla BeansShortly after came "Muscat Slope Love", sung for the first time in Tokyo. This new song was written by Kaji Hideki, who Vanilla Beans refer to as "Mr. Sweden". It's a fast pop song wrapped with a ska feel. I can't wait to hear it some more once the new single is released. Next was "Love & Hate" for which lyrics were also written by Kaji.

Then came "Subcul(ture) Girl madoka" from the latest album (another of my favorites), and the set was closed with Pizzicato Five's "Tokyo wa yoru no 7ji (the night is still young)" which sounded really great played with a real band! I believe the tempo was a bit faster than usual too. Vanilla Beans had the whole audience shouting together "yeah yeah yeah, woo!"

Set list: 1969nen no Drag Race (Ohtaki Eiichi cover) / Non-Section / Skåne no hana ga saiteiru / koi no Theory / Choco Mint Flavor Time / Muscat Slope Love / Love & Hate / Subcul(ture) Girl madoka / Tokyo wa yoru no 7ji (the night is still young)" (Pizzicato Five cover)

There was an encore call, and Vanilla Beans invited Kaji-kun back on stage. Lisa then suddenly excused herself to go to the bathroom... lights were turned off and Lisa came back holding a birthday cake (actually a delicious-looking pie covered with muscats)! They sang together the new song "Muscat Slope Love" once again, in a rare version with Kaji Hideki! By the way, his birthday is actually on May 8, the day on which the single will be released. (Send all happy birthday tweets to @hidekikaji!)

I definitely want to see Vanilla Beans live again as a band, and it seems the next show will be held in July (no specific date yet). Meanwhile there's the new single coming out next week, with free in-store shows in town everyday from May 7 to 12! See live information below.

Larger sizes of photos in this report can be found at Flickr

For photos of this show, check out this article at Natalie.

Live information:
5/7 - Vanilla Beans free in-store live @ Tower Records Shibuya B1F Cut-Up Studio (from 19:00)
5/8 - Vanilla Beans free in-store live @ Marui City Shibuya 1F (from 19:00)
5/9 - Vanilla Beans free in-store live @ Tower Records Shinjuku (from 21:00)
5/10 - Vanilla Beans free in-store live @ Tsutaya Nakano-ekimae (from 19:00)
5/11 - Vanilla Beans free in-store live @ Ikebukuro Sunshine City Alpa (from 19:00)
5/12 - Vanilla Beans free in-store live @ Tower Records Shinjuku (from 19:00 and 21:00)
5/24 - "Niw! Records 10th Anniversary" Kaji Hideki w/ Quattro, Koncos, Kushibiki Sayaka Trio @ Shindaita Fever (Tokyo Gig Guide)
6/30 - Kaji Hideki, The Collectors @ Shibuya Club Quattro

Kaji Hideki "Beach Boy no Jarmusch (B&W Marble Chocolate)"

Kaji Hideki "amai koibito"

Vanilla Beans "Scone no hana ga saiteiru", "Next Step Up"
(This is from the first show of the band-backed series. That 1st show can watched entirely on YouTube!)

Tags: KAJI Hideki, Vanilla Beans (click for more info)

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