宇宙コンビニ: when you're craving onigiri, Calpis water and good music between Jupiter and Saturn
Three months ago I booked my year end trip to Japan for Dec 19-Jan 1. But in late October my friend Wes (aka one80) introduced me to a band called 宇宙コンビニ (uchuu konbini) which means 'Outer Space Convenience Store.' The band name alone was clever and cute and had me interested but when I saw this sampler video clip of their first album I couldn't wait to listen to them:
Wes described their sound as 'tricot but mellower' and hooked me up with the album. Well both uchukonbini and tricot are from Kyoto, have soft female vocals, and math/prog guitars so I can understand what Wes was getting at but to me the two bands have completely different styles. To me uchuu konbini sound like This Town Needs Guns with great female vocals.
On listening to Uchuu's album『染まる音を確認したら』I felt it was solid but I was a little bit disappointed because it was fairly homogeneous in style throughout the whole album and it lacked intensity and aggressiveness. Uchuu create a beautifully smooth collage of music with impressive technical instrumentation but it always maintains a serene and peaceful tone without crescendoing in emotion or musical ferocity. I can't help but compare them to Nagoya's viridian who also play beautiful, soulful music with female vocals but pepper their songs with plenty of emotion and intensity to add variety to the tone.
I like the clean instrumentation of Uchuu's music but I wish the guitarist would occasionally crank up the gain (not necessarily distort) and the drummer would attack the drums with more power from time to time. However, lots of Japanese bands have a much more aggressive, fuller sound live compared to their studio recordings so I was extremely interested in seeing uchukonbini play live on my next visit to Japan.
It turns out their last live performance of the year is in Tokyo Dec 18 at Shibuya Burrow… one night before I arrive in Japan!! So I changed my booking to arrive one day earlier (I wanted 2 days earlier to make sure I caught the show on time but couldn't due to my work schedule) and I booked a different hotel for the extra night that was close to the live house so I wouldn't lose time transiting.
Fast forward to Dec 17: My flight takes off at noon and I arrive at the airport at 1059am. I had already checked in online but I BARELY made the cutoff time to check in my luggage. They were going to shutdown the system for luggage check-in at 1100h and I would have been f*cked royally but I made it with 1 min to spare!! We boarded the flight pretty much on schedule at 1120h but then my worst fears came to fruition and the flight kept getting delayed due to snow and we weren't allowed to actually take off until 140pm. That meant instead of landing at Narita Airport at Dec 18 310 pm, we would be landing at ~5pm.
On the flight I watched Red 2, Cold Eyes, and The World's End. Just in case you were curious, hahaha. All three movies were pretty good especially The World's End ("What the F*CK does WTF mean?!!!!!) which I found funnier and crazier than Hot Fuzz (still haven't seen Shaun of the Dead but will asap given how amazing TWE was).
My flight reached Narita at 430pm! So not quite as late as I had expected. I breezed through customs and then waited to pick up my luggage. .. .. and waited .. .. still waiting .. .. about an hour later my one suitcase appeared.
Goddamnit!! Now I'm going to be late for sure. I got on the 540pm bus to Shibuya and arrived at my hotel at 715pm. The show started at 7pm with four bands in total.
I prayed that Uchuu Konbini weren't the first band. But I had a back-up plan!
My friend Jessica arrived in Tokyo a day before me. I asked her to go to the show and watch Uchuu Konbini in case I didn't make it in time. So at least I'll have an account of what they're like live from someone who's been to my NMFT shows.
I knew that Shibuya Burrow was close to my hotel but I didn't realize it was just across the street!! Score! As soon as I enter Burrow I get a call from Jessica asking where I am. I replied "Don't worry! I'm here I'm just buying my ticket" I can hear Uchuu Konbini just starting. Opening with the song 8films. So I walk inside the room and the place is packed! Shibuya Burrow is a brand new venue that just opened a month ago. It belongs to the Shibuya O-group family of livehouses O-east / O-west / O-nest / O-crest that the Tsutaya company just took over. It's also really tiny and I estimate capacity is 80-100 people at most.
I get another call from Jessica. It turns out she's lost and hadn't reached the live house yet. So I gave her directions over the phone "Do you know where Mark City is? You do? Okay then walk up the hill on the same side as Mark City until you hit a Family Mart and it's right next to the Family Mart, downstairs."
Uchuu Konbini sound almost exactly the way they do on CD. Which is good in the sense that they're extremely talented and tight but also a bit boring in that it's exactly like the CD. But during 8films they did improvise and speed up the tempo almost 50% for part of the song and then slowed it back to normal. That was really impressive. After 8films they followed with "tobira" exactly the way they do in this awesome PV:
During "tobira" I realize Jessica had tried to reach me another three times so I call her back and she's still lost. It turns out there are about four Family Marts near Mark City. There are no in-out privileges but I manage to talk the door person into letting me go outside to find my friend. To make matters worse it's freezing cold and pouring outside. It took about 10 mins but I finally found Jess and we booked it back to the live house. I was a little pissed at Jess because I went through so much trouble to reschedule my flight and hurry like crazy to get to the show and because of her I was missing the one band I came to watch that night. But it wasn't her fault and I apologized for initially being a bit of a jerk. By the time we got back inside we caught the final one and a half songs with the last song being "Pyramid"
Singer/bassist Emi has a really soothing, beautiful voice. While singing she keeps the basslines very (VERY) simple but when free from vocal chores the lines get a little trickier and she even does some tapping from time to time. Both guitarist Daijiro and drummer Yuto have prodigal talent on their respective instruments.
I was hoping uchu konbini played with more intensity during live performances but from the 3.5 songs I saw (Damn you Jessica!) there was very little difference from the clean and soft tones on CD. My impression was that uchuu konbini were VERY SOLID but not mind-blowing. I'd definitely go to see them again but not quite sure they're strong enough to invite to NMFT6.
Jessica's verdict: "I think.. so far they're the best band I've ever seen live!"
Wow. Really? That's actually pretty cool. I'm glad she liked them…. wait! Hold up!! That means they're better than any of the NMFT bands she's seen to this point!!!!
To give you a little background on Jessica's musical tastes: first of all she's 20 years old, Chinese-Canadian and studies graphic design. She's been to NMFT 3 and 5 but during NMFT3 she only caught Akai Koen (looks like she has a history of arriving to shows late! hahaha). Her favourite bands are Tokyo Jihen, Oreskaband (haha!) and Soutaiseiriron.
So I clarified, "So Jess, you thought uchukonbini were better than chi-na?" --> "Umm.. (hoping not to offend me).. well they're both really good… but yeah!" "How about Kinoko Teikoku? ---> "Oh.. that's tough… I guess… hmm… well I guess Kinoko Teikoku are still better." "Akai Koen? --> "Hmm… Ummm…. ohhhhh.. Akai Koen"
So Uchu Konbini are unequivocally one of the best bands Jessica has ever seen and definitely up there with Kinoko Teikoku and Akai Koen. I think she likes Uchu Konbini's music more than Kinoko Teikoku and Akai Koen but the latter are better at performing live (more energy!).
Jessica was also really surprised at how young uchukonbini looked. I figured they were all 23-25 and benefited from asian genes. But it turns out they're closer to 19-21. We also found out that two years ago Daijiro, the guitarist did a 6 mos student exchange in Kingston, Ontario near Queen's University in Canada. AND the landscape on the CD cover is supposed to be the Canadian Rocky Mountains! (likely Lake Louise)
We chatted with the band, Jess got her CD signed and we also took some photos with them. Here's Jess and Uchukonbini:
After talking with the band I liked them even more. Jess plays bass, sings really well and is the same age as Emi so she they got along famously too. I told them about the NMFT tour in May and said I would think about inviting them but are there are lots of other bands under consideration. Jess already thinks they'd be perfect for NMFT.
Right now I've confirmed Happy!Mari, group_inou, and jizue for NMFT6. Tricot would like to participate but they've politely declined and will be doing a nationwide Japan tour instead. Uchukonbini would give the line-up a nice relaxed change of pace. Jizue are also smooth, soulful but they can also be loud and intense so I don't think Uchuu are too similar to jizue. Emi's beautiful singing would also be a nice contrast to group_inou and Happy!Mari's vocals which may take getting used to. They're also a very new and young band so it would support the notion of bringing the "next" music. Hyacca, thai kick murph, matashita89, otori, 逃亡くそタわけ are other bands I'm considering. I was planning on bringing Kinoko Teikoku again in NMFT7 (Oct 2014) but since they already have lots of new material I could bring them even earlier in May. Right now guys outnumber girls 9 to 1 so I'd prefer the 4th band to have some female content to balance things out but quality takes precedence over gender. Tricot would have been perfect to round out the line-up but I'll come up with a suitably kickass replacement.
Tonight, Dec 19 I got invited to watch sgt. at Tsutaya O-nest. Should be an awe-inspiring show!