Live Review: 赤い公園 w/ NATSUMEN @ Shibuya WWW (2012.04.06)

Pure. Bliss. Since NMFT4 is in May I couldn't take too much time off work so I had to choose between going to EMI Rocks @ Super Saitama Arena where 赤い公園 stole the show or their record release tour final with NATSUMEN. Playing at Super Saitama was probably a bigger deal and I would have loved to seen them on such a grand stage. But they only played a short set of five songs then whereas at WWW they would be playing close to their entire discography, sharing the stage with one of my favorite bands: NATSUMEN, and most importantly playing a special song written by Tsuno Maisa which NATSUMEN and Akai Koen would perform together. It was a no-brainer to book time off around 2012.04.06 instead.

I arrived at WWW shortly before door opening @ 630pm but they had already started letting people in since the sold out crowd was piling up the hillside. Kubota-san (AK's manager) hooked me up with a backstage pass and I hung out in NATSUMEN's room. Ain is always so cheerful and loves practicing her English with me. I couldn't believe how laid back they were the whole time even two minutes before having to go on stage. Ain notified everyone they had to change the setlist and play a different song (turns out Maisa had made a song request) and not even that phased them in the least.

In NATSUMEN'S room there's a video monitor which shows the crowd and stage. I'm watching the monitor seeing the crowd pile in thinking "CRAP! Now I won't be able to get a spot up front." Tatsuhisa told me I could just watch from the guest section by the sound booth since it would be less crowded and more comfortable. So when NATSUMEN left to set up on stage I headed towards the guest section. It was a great view but all the way at the back. (note WWW used to be a movie theatre so it has a sloped view just like at the cinemas except they tore out the seat so it's standing only). NATSUMEN were still setting up so I decided to get a drink. Lining up at the bar someone pokes me from behind. It's ゆりえ (yurie) and なっぴ (nappy) from スカートの中. They were really cool and not too upset I hadn't included them in next month's tour. They're huge fans's of 赤い公園. Both bands often played shows together in and around Tachikawa, Hachioji and Shinjuku Red Cloth. We were still chatting near the bar outside when all of a sudden the opening notes to "No Reason.." blast out. Yurie had never heard of NATSUMEN but I told her she and nappy should get their asses in there and not miss their set. I went back to the guest section... way up front at the back. I watched for about 2.5 songs and said F*ck It, I should be up front! I managed to get reasonably close but had to stand in the staircase on the left. It was much better though actually being in the crowd. NATSUMEN... as always... were AMAZING! Their music is such a beautifully intricate tapestry of sublime melodies and controlled chaos and their performance was amplified by WWW's great acoustics. NATSUMEN improvised a little more than usual, esp AxSxE with some sick guitar lines. Tatsuhisa told the story of how NATSUMEN and Akai Koen were first introduced together in Canada and that if it weren't for some Canadian named Steve tonight's event would never have happened. Thanks for the shout out Tatsuhisa! The set was way too short: only six songs.

1. No Reason up to the Death 2. Whole Lotta Summer 3. Cicada Sing the Galaxy (as per Tsuno Maisa's request!) 4. Atami Free Zone 5. semi 6. Natsu no Mujina

Waitaminute, did they not play newsummerboy? Although Akai Koen were the main event there were plenty of people who came specifically to watch NATSUMEN. One of them grabbed my shirt to get my attention after NATSUMEN's set. She kept yanking my shirt and asking if I remembered her. Holy sh*t, it was Mariko Goto. She apologized for breaking up ミドリ before coming to Canada. But she was still interested in coming to Canada with her new band which includes support members AxSxE (Gt), Muneomi Senju (Drums; ex-Boredoms), Kazuhiro Nakamata (Bass; fresh!, ex-Downy) and Shunske Watanabe (Key; Schroeder-Headz, support for PUFFY). So Mariko Goto's new band might be taking part in NMFT vol 5 in October 2012.

Mariko Goto had never heard Akai Koen's music before so she asked me if they were any good. I told her that both Natsumen and Akai Koen are two of my favorite bands. Akai Koen's music is really poppy but they also throw in noise and a lot of weird sh*t which is what makes them sound so fresh and awesome. (sort of like Mariko's old band, ミドリ !)

During the break between sets I managed to move myself to a better position for Akai Koen. Guess who was in front of me? Yurie and Nappy. Yurie is such a f*cking joker! In Tokyo, there are always people handing out little kleenex packets with advertisement inserts. Yurie took out a kleenex packet she had received on the way to the show and laughed at how gay the photo of the guy on the insert looked. So she took the insert out and discretely plopped it into the hoodie of the guy in front of her, a total stranger. So the guy in front of Yurie spent the whole night with a photo of a creepy gay dude bouncing up and down in his hood without even knowing. Of course, if that guy reads this blog he can now kick Yurie's ass for the practical joke.

Akai Koen kicked off the show with a little skit/spoof. They turned their entrance on stage into a high school pep rally. They were even carrying signs on sticks displaying the name of their former high school in Tachikawa. Fans up in front got to keep the bulky signs as souvenirs.

Before coming to Canada, Akai Koen were fairly shy and introverted but now they're oozing with confidence and love to joke around and interact with the crowd. Their manager, Kubota, says the NMFT tour played a huge part in their development but I think the girls always had this fun side in them that just needed a little time to bloom.

Here's the setlist:

It was my first time hearing "世紀末" played live. It's the last song on their debut album. A straightforward pop ballad that wouldn't be out of place as the ED for a shounen anime like Naruto or BLEACH. I actually like the song alot and I'm glad I got to see it performed because I doubt they'll ever play it again except maybe at one-man events. For me the highlights were くい and のぞき穴. The harmonized intro to くい as well Nao's frenetic drumming at the end were breathtaking and のぞき穴 is such a fun, dance/mosh-inducing song. Other favorites were 副流煙, もんだな and ナンバーシックス. It sucks that they didn't perform 急げ since I love that song and I'm still trying to figure out one particularly tricky guitar part. Of course they ended with a blistering version of ふやける.

For the encore they premiered their new PV for the song: ランドリー The video starts off cute and sweet with the four girls in Candyland. Then it gets progressively weird and twisted. Hikari gets her nostrils severely abused in this video. Surprisingly, the funniest part is the cameo made by the three annoying dudes from the 透明 PV. Still I hope they're not in every video from now on.

Compared to the PV for 透明 where you barely saw the girls at all and their faces were shrouded by darkness and hair, they're clearly visible and the center of comedic attention in ランドリー. The new PV is trippy, interesting and a step-up from the first. Unfortunately, EMI isn't able to spend much money in promoting the band in terms of making nicer videos and getting them into summer music festivals. For the girls' sake I would love to see them blow up and do well financially but I also wouldn't mind them not becoming pop idols (which is actually something Maisa would love to see happen. Maisa loves AKB48, Perfume etc and isn't ashamed to admit it.)

After the PV came the biggest treat. Maisa wrote a new song called "Mad Blue" ("Mat Blue" ?) It took her just one week to write but another two weeks to finalize the arrangements for all 12 musicians in Akai Koen and NATSUMEN. The two bands didn't have much time to rehearse the song and it showed a little bit during the performance. Both Maisa and AxSxE admitted there were a lot of flubs. Still when the two bands connected the result was sublime. The overall melody was definitely something similar to what AxSxE would come up with. It wasn't as intricate as a typical NATSUMEN song but that's to be expected since NATSUMEN take a huge amount of time to write their songs with constant jamming, re-writing, overhauling and tweaking to get it just right. I think Tsuno Maisa did a fantastic job composing such a difficult song in such a short time frame. But to be honest I'd rather listen to a new Akai Koen song rather than something like "Mad Blue" Still it must have been a great opportunity for Maisa to challenge herself and I'm sure her songwriting will benefit from this experiment. I heard the rehersals for "Mad Blue" were pretty rough with quite a bit of arguing involving Maisa trying to compel all the members to execute their parts correctly and more earnestly. The rumor is that there is already a studio recording of "Mad Blue" Tatsuhisa even announced during an emcee break that "Mad Blue" might be released as a single. And I wrote in my previous post that the song was ~10min long but it's actually closer to 5min.

After the performance of "Mad Blue" the audience cheered for another encore but the venue started playing background music which is the usual cue to go home. The audience clapped louder and the venue reciprocated by playing its music three times as loud. We all got the hint and started exiting.

In addition to スカートの中, tricot had also come to watch Akai Koen. When tricot and Akai Koen saw each other... it was pandemonium. 7 girls all shrieking at the top of their lungs. Akai Koen actually started dancing and singing the chorus to 爆裂パニエさん

It was hilarious. I wish I had it on video. But I found out from Maisa something even more interesting. tricot actually cover Akai Koen's song "katamari" (at shows?) but throw in some ridiculous changes to the chorus. Katamari is a pretty dark and serious song but tricot's version is playful and zany. Maisa already has the lyrics to tricot's version memorized.

The members of tricot are also huge fans of ミドリ so they bugged out when they ran into Mariko Goto. By the way, tricot (like スカートの中) were also still friendly with me even though I was such an asshole in taking them off the NMFT vol 4 tour (there were multiple reasons!). So I just want to reiterate that the members of tricot are the nicest, coolest people you could ever meet in the music industry and I hope they blow up and become successful enough to tour any country they want not just Canada.

After tricot were done taking pictures with Mariko Goto, I asked Mariko what she thought of Akai Koen. She was pretty blunt and said that she they were "so-so" for most of the set but she did like a few of the songs near the end. I would have assumed Akai Koen were right up her alley since Mariko loves pop and groups like ねごと, Perfume and メロン記念日.

After the show it was time for an uchiage!! We went to a buffet restaurant that served all-you-can drink alcohol 24/7.

We stayed all the way up til 5am.