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"!

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