21 June 2009

Cell phone exorcism

"Your phone is possessed", concluded a customer service agent at the first of the the two wireless Provider store locations I visited yesterday evening. She held my old Razr, as the digits "6...6...6" appeared on the screen.

Evidently, my phone was dialing the number of the beast.

By itself.


The device had been very adamant about reaching its Master all day, any time I opened it, which is how I reluctantly ended up at that store.

At first, I thought it was a wireless glitch: the Provider's other services are not exactly reliable. I tried calling tech support, but failed: getting through the automated options, as the Crazr stubbornly dialed "666", was impossible.

I recharged the device.


I replaced the battery.

The sixes were resilient.

More amused than irritated, I decided to send a text message describing the "LOLz" to a fellow fan of heavy metal thunder and, consequenty, all things diabolical. However, the combination of my typing attempt and the phone's satanic dialing resulted in the word "porn". I probably would have even permitted the device to continue its Bulgakovite pursuit, but undermining my token SMS eloquence with juvenile vulgarity was one "6" too many!

The agent struggled, as the Razr fought for life, refusing to be turned off and continually accessing the web as well as the camera. Eventually triumphant, she (the agent, not the Razr) recommended that I take it to a central store and submit it for repair.

There, a second Provider employee was equally perplexed, "I have never seen anything like this, and I have no idea what could be causing it".

"Not 'what', but 'who'!", I bit my tongue and whipped out a credit card.

And, even though I did not encounter a mysterious Germanic foreigner or a rotten-green Japanese lady from Miike's One Missed Call, I suspiciously glance at my new phone more often than usual.

14 June 2009

Playing with firecrackers

One of the main reasons for my visit to Japan was Buck-Tick.

This firecracker of a band had kept me both sane and entertained during the gruelling studies for my comprehensive PhD examinations, blasted motivating exercise tunes, and provided me with mellow wind-down music after late evenings at work. Recently, I've successfully completed that hellish academic rite of passage, improved my abs of steel, and even gotten back into traditional drawing. And, now that our misguided and intrusive local government forced all businesses to charge for plastic bags, the Memento Mori tour bag has become quite handy.

Is there anything Buck-Tick can't do?

I started this blog a week ago, edited it almost daily, but could not bring myself to publish it. Why has it taken me so long to pin down a brief record of a simple concert experience? Perfectionism? Laziness? A genetic Russo-Kartvelian susceptibility to be overwhelmed by Japan's exoticism, perhaps, not unlike Boris Akunin?

I have been listening to rock music since childhood, and, after exploring many dozens of bands, I'd like to think that I’ve developed a fairly discerning taste. With it, however, it has become progressively more difficult to find something new and worthwhile. Not too long ago (!) I discovered Bee-Tee's twenty-five years of material – the necessary critical mass, which pushed me to visit Japan.

A definitive sign of musical worth – the kind of worth that evades description!

If I were to tally up all the costs associated with concert tickets, air and train fare, accommodations, and, of course, merchandise, then this trip becomes the most expensive band-focused endeavor I've ever undertaken, even trumping last year's United Metal Maniacs in Germany. And, I'd do it again in a drumbeat.

I must've entered my late 20s in an entirely socially unacceptable way.

The 17.v.2009 Kumamoto concert and 24.v.2009 Hiroshima performance were polar opposites. A week apart, the former dumped stormy rain water onto my no longer painstakingly straightened hair, while the latter had not a cloud in the sky. Kein Problem: my curls, curves, and an "American Nightmare" dress made me stand out beyond being the only white woman in the audience in Kumamoto. (I was the only white woman at the Hiroshima concert too, but I opted for more modest black.)

Getting there was tougher than my ab workouts: a direct, twelve-hour trip to Narita; frantic luggage storage; a bus to Haneda; a domestic flight, and, of course, substantial sleep deprivation. I don't know if Sakurai likes Poe, but surprisingly huge, menacing black ravens seemed to follow me around Kumamoto. In addition to palm tree-bending storm and my first Buck-Tick concert, this southern city introduced me to endless mall arcades and a famous castle.

Having climbed the Alpine Salzburg fortress last year, I entered this castle with a smirk, but exited in awe. Despite the meticulously landscaped grounds, it was not difficult to imagine them covered in excessive flora, making the edifice seem even more impenetrable, as it had once been during the days of the Satsuma rebellion.

I was (willingly!) "double-scalped" for the 17.v fan club tickets months in advance by FDJP.com, a steep, but reliable purchasing service. So, I got to see the concert up close from the 7th row and shamelessly waltzed my Western booty to the front whenever the strict, but compact-sized bouncers were not looking.

I suppose, being a North American fan, I should also be particularly impressed by my unexpectedly superb guitar-pick-grabbing skills. After all, Buck-Tick Zone claims that obtaining autographs and the like from the band is extremely rare.

Getting to the Hiroshima concert involved a different kind of dedication: a 5-hour train ride on two Shinkansen from Tokyo; a mad rush to eat and a madder rush to leave my things and freshen up at the hotel prior to check-in time; a regional train on the JR West Sanyo line (thanks, Wikipedia station listings!); and wandering through Hatsukaichi suburbia with every environmentalist's worst nightmare - multiple Google map pages in at least two languages.

There, a broken Anglo-Japanese request for directions at a local 7-11 led to a friendly couple giving me a ride directly to the Sakura Pia venue. Afterward, a random fellow BT fan, Chiaki, led me all the way to the JR station through near-total darkness, despite the language barrier. Finally, unfolding the map turned into more courteous direction-giving during next morning's brief sight-seeing venture. Every time. A-Bomb-Dome-City truly became the most welcoming place in my Japanese experience. Even local turtles resembled the camaraderie between three tank drivers from a famous enemy - Soviet - WWII song.

In contrast to Kumamoto, I bought the Hiroshima tickets from Lawson late and on a whim and, as a result, sat far back. This time, I was able to take in The Spectacle in its entirety: Imai's token rhythmic stomping, the "Memento Mori" nightmarish video sequence, Sakurai's theatrical limp with a cane – worthy of timeless, unholy Woland transplanted to an equally timeless, holy Mount Misen...

The most surprising aspect of live Buck-Tick was not Acchan's newly grown facial hair, unfortunately reminiscent of Johnny Depp. (Johnny is no match for the Most Stunning Man in the World!) Rather, it was the fact that the band played almost the entire new album consecutively, with the exception of leaving "Galaxy" for one of the two encores and playing the perfect blend of rock and dance – "Baby, I Want You" – instead. Again, my rocker seniority did not save me from utter confusion. At least, while the set was identical in both cases, the encores differed. For example, "Romance" in Kumamoto was replaced by "Alice in Wonder Underground" in Hiroshima.

Any band that can make me, a seasoned metalhead, who avoids clubs like communism, get up, do the "hippy-hippy-shake", and dance my heels off for two hours non-stop, has earned my money and respect. Oh, and, above all – the motivation to engage in rigorous air miles collecting in order to attempt this insanity all over again.

01 June 2009

Japan Rock-out Tour!

For a seasoned rock fan, I attend very few shows. In fact, prior to my recent trip, the last one involved Iron Maiden in Montreal just about a year ago. Embarrassing, no? I have good reasons for this near-lack of rocking out, however.

Considering that this past year involved many an-80-hour week with my job(s) and my seemingly (?!) misguided decision to pursue a PhD, I've decided to reward myself with a visit to Japan. The latter was also geared toward getting my strong interest in that country's pop culture (music and film) out of my system. Alas, the opposite had occurred!

Three shows, three cities (Kumamoto and Hiroshima in the southwest and Morioka in the northeast), two bands (Buck-Tick and Sex Machineguns) in one week (!): Japan had the effect of viagra in my rock world! I shopped for records and visited the tiny, hole-in-the-wall, and all the more quaint metal bar, Godz, in Tokyo, the following week. Twice. On both counts.

Veteran J-rockers Buck-Tick deserve their own blog entry. So, I proceed with the second band, which I lovingly call "'Sexy' Machineguns".


In light of Anchang's unfortunate tendency to replace band members, including the last stellar lineup with Panther, I decided to catch these mainstream power/thrash/speed/glam, comical, "shrederrific", and generally over-the-top metallers prior to any more drastic changes.

Picking a fairly little (300,000) town of Morioka in a northern Iwate prefecture was geared toward seeing the "Sexies" in an intimate setting - second row of a small, smoke-filled club, towering over the majority of fans. There was another unplanned benefit. Not only war Morioka gorgeous - with its rock-splitting cherry tree and castle park, but the Shizukuishi resort area and lake Goshoko were both pristine and almost people-free this time of the year.

The ticket was purchased at Lawson (a convenience store chain) prior to the trip, and seating was all-floor. I am unsure whether my being the only Westerner among the fans helped me push to the front without any problems. The band only played a couple of songs from their latest, Cameron, like the single Hitozuma Killer. So, I got to enjoy all the expected "hits", including total rockers like Aijin 28 and German Power. When he played the latter, Anchang, as cartoon-cute as ever, pronounced "Russian power" with a thick accent. I was tempted to point the finger at myself. "Come on...Canada kara kimashita! Roshiajin desu! Be impressed!", I mentally repeated carefully memorized lines.

The stage show was both highly entertaining and bizarre. All the members wore matching band jerseys and performed tricks throughout – well-choreographed and perfectly in sync. These larger-than-life moves, popularized in the 1980s, looked odd, yet dedicated on a small club stage. Anchang's solos both impressed with their technical virtuosity (more than anticipated!) and flashy visuals.

Sex Machineguns also had the tendency to play multiple songs in a row, then talk. A lot. Too much! Especially the rather aggressive, tiny Shingo ☆ with his all-too-silly blond spikes, which soon fell apart from sweat. Based on the band members' and fans' laughter, I'm sure these intermissions were very entertaining. I, on the other hand, knowing only a few polite words and numbers in Japanese, stood "looking like a ram staring at a new gate", as we, Roshiajin, say. A complete idiot, in other words. So, when Anchang described the fiasco with EMI Music Japan, I was very proud of myself.

While my lack of linguistic prowess was expected, the metal etiquette was not. First, just as the band performed in sync, so did the fans. They often chanted and gestured "Sex Machineguns". In sync. Yes, apparently, there is a pseudo-sign language gesture for the band's name. Second, specific parts of specific songs led to other (specific!) kind of gestures. Again, in sync. They occasionally headbanged too - from side to side only - no windmilling action there! I sure do hope that my traditional fist-pumping, horn-throwing, and full-on head-banging did not translate into, "This band sucks!", because I enjoyed the performance immensely!

Finally, the lack of scene insignia at a mainstream concert did not surprise me, nor did all the school girls in summer dresses. But, a grandmother with cotton balls instead of ear plugs?! This grandmother turned out to be better prepared than I was: I experienced ringing and muffled hearing for days after the show, despite my vast rocking experience. I am now very curious as to what the metal etiquette at underground shows is like.

Tokyo metal bar, Godz

Yasuyuki of Abigail / Barbatos / Cut Throat / Tiger Junkies / (live) Sigh fame (and sporting a very stylish BASTARDATOR shirt), graciously introduced me to the Tokyo metal bar, Godz, in Shinjuku. The latter operates from 7 pm to 5 am, has a decent record collection, and a giant TV screen. The drinks, however, are expensive. And, North Americans not used to smoke-filled environments, like me, will suffer!

As soon as I walked into this bar, I was impressed by the fact that many of its patrons looked like regular business people. The music selection, unfortunately, featured poor mainstream bands: Yasuyuki commented that it gets more underground as the night progresses. The choices seemed to have been indicative of the regulars and the bartender. One exceptional patron in a sharp gray suit and with even sharper cheekbones exhibited good taste with a Faith No More request. We, the fatigued representatives of kvlt, left prior to hearing our own, and thus did not get to "stoooop the chemical invaaaaaaasion!"

Visiting central Tokyo a few days later, I snuck into Godz again for one drink. This time, the bar met me with old school thrash blasting through the speakers and the new Iron Maiden documentary, Flight 666, lighting up the screen. So, I got to reminisce about last year's Toronto concert and my tortured article on "Rime"!