お勧めLive Houses: The best places to watch shows in Tokyo
A while back at Keikaku forums someone asked for advice on the best indie music venues in Japan. Clubs that on any given night "are likely to have some cool bands playing." Our friend and Tokyo journalist/DJ/label owner/artist and frontman of a couple of his own bands, Ian Martin responded:
No such thing as good venues in Japan really, just good gigs and events. In Tokyo, Shibuya O-Nest, Akihabara Club Goodman, and Shinjuku Motion have lots of good gigs, but it's really hit and miss. Tokyo Gig Guide is the best English language resource for gigs, so just look through that closer to when you're over and see which bands look interesting (most bands in Japan are on Myspace so you'll probably be able to check out their sounds there).
In any music scene in the world, the best clubs don't have good gigs every night. That's because clubs compete for talent, talent is limited and people's tastes differ on what they might consider "good." Although Ian is correct that you should prioritize the line-up of bands playing at a particular gig over choosing a venue esteemed for its crowd, atmosphere and sound; I would say some clubs are routinely better than others primarily b/c their booking agents do such a great job at quality control.
Tokyo Gig Guide is indeed an awesome resource, but primarily for its listing of venues moreso than its list of upcoming gigs. That's just my opinion b/c almost all of the gig listings are posted by webmaster Craig Exton (Shingo of the Mornings posts his gigs as well). Craig mainly posts experimental, folk, weird-pop, electro gigs and any prominent Western bands coming through Tokyo. A couple years ago I'd say almost none of the gigs I would go to were ever listed on his gig guide but our tastes are converging a little bit more nowadays.
In fact, I am going to Japan one week from now. This is my live show itinerary: 14 東京カランコロン / This is Panic @ Shimokita Basement Bar (I arrive in Tokyo on this day. If I had more time I'd take the shinkansen to Osaka to watch sgt. and ROVO with my homegirl Haruna) (Also, Tokyo Karan Koron might be a lil upset I didn't pick them for NMFT vol 3. They f*cking rule and I'll bring them some time later) 15 Synchronicity @ Yokohama Bay Hall with: Zazen Boys / Soil & Pimp Sessions / Mouse on the Keys / 385 / uhnellys / te' / Sokabe Keichi / Jabberloop and tons more. There'll be live painting, film and dance and a whole lot of festival sh*t going on. 15 thai kick murph / Kulu Kulu Garden / H Mountains / はこモーフ / Yoshimura Hiraku / ヤーチャイカ @ Shinjuku Motion (I'll have to leave Synchronicity early to make this show. A dope show at Motion beats any large scale festival any day of the week!!) 16 hang out with family 17 ^^ 18 チーナ / Kominami Yasuha / ふくろうず / 蜜 / wonderver @ Shimokita Basement Bar (Merpeoples are coming with me to this gig. Planning the Canada tour with チーナ.) 19 グーミ / circe @ Shibuya O-nest 20 viridian / Dacota Speaker / keytalk / BAND A @ Osaka 2nd Line 20 BUGY CRAXONE / noodles / Pillows @ Shinjuku LOFT (if I don't go to Osaka) 21 Kyushu Pop Fes @ Shinjuku Motion (F*ck Yeah!!!) (This is Ian's gig) 21 Stim @ an all-night party somewhere in Meguro (my friend Haruna is coming all the way from Osaka for this. She's tagging along with me for KyuPop and then we're going to this party afterwards). 22 susquatch vs Half-Life @ Shibuya Cyclone (we will be up all-night drinking after this show. which will be hell since I will have pulled an all-nighter with Haruna the night before.)
LMAO!!! Is that supposed to be maki-chan 2nd up from the bottom right? Holy crap, if I was her I'd kill the artist that made the poster. I mean she's ブス but not THAT ugly. hahaha. j/k Maki!!
So out of the 9-10 shows I'm going to the only one listed on Craig's Tokyo Gig Guide is Ian's KyuPop Festival. And that's b/c Ian listed it on there himself. Craig does an awesome job with his site, but if you go by his Gig Guide alone, you'll be missing out on a ton of great shows. Which is why I think the live house listing is the more important resource on his site. The only problem is there are ~510 live music venues listed. Who the hell has the time to check the schedules for all those clubs? In terms of indie pop/rock, punk/HC and post-punk, 90% of the best shows are played in less than 20 of these venues.
So in this recurring thread I will be thinslicing Craig's list to show you what I think are the best live houses in Tokyo for indie/underground music. I will not be covering large venues like Shibuya Ax, Zepp Tokyo, CC Lemon Hall, O-East etc. Occasionally they'll have good bands playing but they are concert halls with zero personality not old fashioned clubs in the vein of CBGBs (R.I.P), 9:30 Club and Gilman St.
The best way to plan an itinerary for watching shows in Tokyo is to (in order): 1. Check the homepages of your favorite Japanese bands and determine if they have any gigs while you're in Japan 2. Check the schedules of the best live houses (which I will list). They will often have a section called "pick up" which lists the recommended shows in the upcoming weeks. The listings often have band pics (so you can see if there are any cute girls in the band. hahaha.) As Ian suggested, if a band catches your eye you can check out their Myspace page to hear what they sound like. I also recommend searching on Google for Youtube vids of live performances. 3. Scan through the listings on Tokyo Gig Guide. 4. Check to see if there are any decent music festivals like Tokyo Boredom, Swan Song Council etc. Corporate music festivals like Rock In Japan, Countdown, SummerSonic are lamer than Rebecca Black with a leg length discrepency and leprosy but that's just my opinion. I would MUCH rather watch a show at a small live house than at a massive convention center or outdoor park with tens of thousands of people. If you're going to watch a band at a massive music festival, you might as well buy the DVD later and watch it on a TV screen while dancing with your friends in your living room. It's practically the same, you won't get sunburnt and bitten by mosquitos and you'll save hundreds of dollars. :)
This guide to Tokyo's best live houses will obviously be biased towards my musical tastes but I genuinely feel they are the main ones you should concentrate on. The emphasis will be on indie/underground pop/rock/punk music. If you're more interested in bands like Girugamesh, Asian Kung Fu Generation and AKB48 then I can refer you to a decent psychiatrist. So stay tuned as I start posting info on some of my favorite live houses in Tokyo.