Sunday in Sendai

I forgot to mention that Daniel Robson and members of スカートの中 came to watch 赤い公園 last night. Daniel was quite impressed by Akai Ko-en but still thinks their philosophy of prohibiting music and video from getting on the internet is idiotic. I think its badass that they want to build a core of fans based on the strength of their live performance alone and subsequent word of mouth. In fact, I had never heard of Akai Ko-en until May 2010 when three different friends told me independently how awesome this band is after watching them play live. Based purely on recommendation from these 3 Japanese friends I had a hunch that this is the band I should be bringing to Canada... and I did!!Of course I had a chance to listen to all their music and see some video footage first but none of their music and video is available on the internet and they've still managed to 1) sign a major label deal 2) get me to pay their way to tour Canada. So yeah, they must be doing something right!!

I never got the opportunity to talk to スカートの中 last night and rediscuss coming to Canada in May but it might be a good thing because right now I'm still trying to decide the optimal line-up. I also found out that there are at least five or so people in Tokyo who try to make it to every Akai Ko-en gig. I know this because they came all the way to Sendai (5 hr drive) to watch them and have gone as far as Nagoya and Osaka to see them play as well. That's pretty hardcore. A couple of them even contemplated coming to NMFT 3 in Canada.

Before taking the bullet train to Sendai I decided to have lunch at the steakhouse that Shouta, Rika and I missed out on last night. Steakhouse Satou is fairly close to Kichijoji station and is easy to find because of the massive queue of people lined up to buy meats and fried goods at the butcher shop below.

The regular lunch menu offers decent grade skirt or rump steak for 2000-2500 yen. BUT you can spend more (10000 yen) to get the highest grade (A5) Matsuzaka wagyu (filet or sirloin) which the owner will personally grab from the butcher shop downstairs. Grade A5 steak offers the highest degree of marbling. The steak is so marbled with fat the white overpowers the pink to resemble a frosted snow appearance termed "shimofuri."

The photo of the steaks above were actually those of the couple behind me. The taller filet in back and the larger, flatter sirloin in front. Since the filet is considered the most prized cut of meat due to its tenderness I went with the filet. I asked the owner if anyone's been crazy enough to order and eat both in one sitting and he said, "No!" So I stuck with just the filet.

The filet was so fatty it almost melted in your mouth and made chewing unecessary. It was really good but due to the paucity of actual meat it almost tasted like you were eating cubes of pure fat. I didn't have breakfast and the sirloin looked awesome so I went against the owner's advice and ordered the sirloin as well. I think he just didn't want to go back downstairs again to fetch the sirloin. hahaha.

The sirloin was actually tastier. It also had more of a charred gristle on the surface and was served in 3 different cuts to add more flavor and variety. At any other restaurant just one of these steaks would set you back ~$250 so 10000 yen ($130) is a pretty good deal for some of the highest quality meat on the planet. Since I flew all the way to Japan just for 2 days I figured I needed to eat something fancy enough to make the trip worthwhile.

After the steak lunch I dropped by Disk Union and picked up the new グーミ and 撃鉄 CDs.

The グーミ CD is fantastic. It's softer and mellower than previous releases but sounds more mature and just as intense. Tobita's drumming is incredibly creative and subtly complex with odd time signatures and unorthodox tones. The trio combine for sublime harmonies and a wealth of raw vocal and instrumental diversity without hiding behind electronic/post-production trickery. The re-recording of "パラノイドパーク" is probably my favorite track. Tobita's drums really stand out and the outro seems to thrust you into the shoes of a paranoid schizophrenic suffering peaceful yet unnerving auditory delusions. It makes me want to watch the movie (Paranoid Park) that inspired the song. "ペンギンペイント" is another standout track that's practically a child's lullaby but so painstakingly beautifully well crafted that it's impossible not to admire. I also love the bonus track "Document 2010/05/28 (demo)" because it reminds listeners that グーミ know how to rock out a bit. The sound quality is lacking since it's just a live recording of them jamming but it's still alot of fun to listen to and the lo-fi-ness adds to the appeal. I think my favorite songs by グーミ are still on the 3rd album "めが3っつ" but I like the direction グーミ are taking in writing more sophisticated, "mathier" songs. They're still one of my favorite bands to watch live in Japan.

Gekitetsu's first mini-album "Geki" is arguably my favorite release of the year. (next to the Akai Ko-en album I have that will come out in February with a few different songs). With the follow-up "Tetsu" they stick to the same forumla so it's more of the same goodness but unfortunatley the songs aren't quite as memorable. If you haven't heard them before they sound like a less funk, more punk version of Red Hot Chilli Peppers with a ton of humor, attitude and energy. Their CDs are worth buying just for the awesome basslines. Although I forgot to mention Gekitetsu in the "Planning Vol 4" post, they are actually one of the bands I want to bring to Canada most. You can argue the style of music they play isn't too different from anything found in N America but very few bands of the same ilk execute with the same degree of tightness/skill, energy and fun and with such infectiously catchy tunes and dance/mosh inducing power. They lack the musical complexity and off-beat progginess that makes hyacca's music so brilliant but they incorporate just enough creativity and tweaks to give the style some freshness. They subsitute hyacca's awesome nerdiness with larger than life machismo but with hilarious self-deprecatory humor that humanizes and prevents them from coming off as overly pretentious. Gekitetsu's music is BADASS, confident and powerful with enough technical chops to elevate the band from the pack below. And they're almost untouchable in terms of crafting the perfect songs to make you want to go nuts on the dancefloor.

Akai Ko-en's manager offered to give me a ride up to Sendai (5hr drive) with the band but I didn't want to wake up so early and took the shinkansen (bullet train; 90 min ride) instead.

I made it just in time to check into my hotel in Sendai, take a quick shower and boot it to Enn, the live house where Akai Ko-en, te', OLDE WORLD and mudy on the Sakuban would be playing their show. Akai Ko-en went on first. There was a crowd of about 80 people by my estimation and >80% of them were females. Seriously. :) If it weren't for the 5-6 dudes (including myself) who came up from Tokyo the ratio would have been even more skewed towards the finer sex. Akai Ko-en killed it! They were motivated by seeing so many females in the crowd. Most of the audience likely had never heard of Akai Ko-en before. The crowd reaction wasn't that energetic but after the set you could hear everyone in the audience mentioning how impressed they were and a slew of them bought CDs and got autographs from the band. The set list was:

1. 副流煙 2. 急げ 3. ナンバーシックス 4. もんだな 5. のぞき穴 6. ずっと 7. 塊 8. ふやける

te' is easily the biggest name band on the bill but since it's mudy's record release party and it's better to separate the two instrumental bands, te' ended up being the 2nd band to play. Most of the girls in the audience were wearing te' T-shirts and the crowd reaction was 10 times more lively than what Akai Ko-en received. But that doesn't mean te' put on a better show, it's just that they had come to the show to watch te' (and mudy) and didn't know what to expect with Akai Ko-en. I'm sure the 2nd time they see Akai Ko-en the crowd reaction will through the roof.

This was my first time watching te' in such a small venue. I had seen them twice previously at O-East during Zankyo Matsuri 2008 & 2009 and earlier this year in Odaiba during Synchronicity. It's definitely much more impressive watching them up close in a small live house. These guys (along with MONO) really put Japanese post-rock on the map and I have a ton of respect for this band but their live show is too homogeneous for my taste with tendency for songs blending together. Maybe if I knew their material better I'd be able to appreciate their live show a lot more but as far as instrumental bands go I like bands that incorporate more melody eg sgt., NATSUMEN, toe, mudy. All in all, te' performed a really energetic and powerful set. I didn't take any video footage but they finished it off with the classic:

OLDE WORLDE went on next. OLDE WORLDE is actually the musical stage name of one person: 沼田壮平 (Numata Souhei) who sings (in English) and plays guitar. I'm not sure if he plays all the instruments by himself on studio recordings ala Lenny Kravitz, Kid Rock etc but for the purpose of live performances he plays with a proper band comprised of support members. I had seen OLDE WORLDE perform once before at Shinjuku MARZ and his music was a bit too "run of the mill" folk-tinged pop for my tastes. Also, his high pitched voice and English pronunciation weren't my cup of tea. So when I decided to skip OLDE WORLDE and take a break, Maisa Tsuno (Akai Ko-en) was a little disappointed in me for not staying since she really admires his music. I stayed in the entrance/lobby area talking with the "Akai Ko-en fanclub" but there was a video monitor where you could see and hear the bands on stage playing. The first few songs by OLDE WORLDE had the acoustic-folk style I remembered him playing at MARZ.

But then he proceeded to switch up styles throughout his set with songs like: Time and Velocity

So I decided to head back inside and watch the rest of his set. He even played a funk-filled song where he dropped rhymes like a veteran emcee:

The last song he played had him returning to acoustic guitar but even I had to admit it was an extremely beautiful song highlighted by incredible vocal dynamics. Maisa was on the verge of tears after hearing this last song. I concede that OLDE WORLD is incredibly talented and his music is much more multi-faceted than my initial prejudiced opinion of him from the one show at MARZ. Maisa wants me to bring him to Canada. He certainly did shatter my expectations and I have the utmost respect for Maisa's musical tastes (and talent!) but a guy performing folk-tinged indie pop/rock in English is rather mundane from a Canadian music point of view no matter how well executed. Sorry Maisa!!

Last up was mudy on the 昨晩. They took the power and energy of te' and added performance enhancing steroids as well as plenty of melody and insanely catchy hooks. They had the nearly all-female crowd going nuts dancing and waving their fists. Although Akai Ko-en didn't seem to be quite as impressed.

Since it was a CD release tour for the latest album "mudy in squall" most of the songs they performed were obviously off this album. PERSON! PERSON!! ユアイヘ

They also played older songs I instantly recognized like "moody pavillion" "youth" and "パウゼ"

I thought they were great but the fact that Akai Ko-en weren't too impressed gives me second thoughts. The other things going against them are: - they have 5 members + 1 manager = 6 people - three members play guitar so I'd need to rent three Gt amps when most bands I like tend to need only one - there's no girl in the band... j/k!! But Zankyo would definitely help me big time in promoting and getting the word out unlike any label associated with bands on previous NMFT tours.

All I can say is that I haven't confirmed mudy on the sakuban for vol 4 but I still like them a lot and will strongly consider them. So there's still hope for Adam in Vancouver. :)