Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Marimba Werewolves

This story comes full circle in quite a number of ways. After Shino's harp concert last week, I met her friend and percussionist, Tamao Inano, who was also classmates with my friend, Ayano Kataoka from Yale. I told Inano that Ayano would be coming to town this week and that we should all meet up. She emailed me the next day and invited both of us to an end of the year party thrown at a percussion studio in Yokohama.

When I got to the studio, I was feeling quite shy considering that I only knew two people. Tamao greeted me, gave me a big smile, and told me in Japanese, "Please come in. Everybody's very cute." No kidding. The majority of classical percussionists in Japan are female, and half the attendees at the party were students my age. I must have turned bright red at her remark.

Many of the teachers in the room were longtime friends of Ayano's. They all studied percussion together at Japan's best music school, Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku (Arts University). They were all super surprised and happy to see Ayano and were grateful to me for bringing her along. Everyone in the room was begging her to play a piece for us. It only took a little badgering before she picked up a set of mallets and stepped behind the keyboard.

Ayano is a monster percussion player. When I first met her five years ago, my percussion teacher said that she was on her way to being one of the premier classical percussionists in the world. She's done concerts all over the USA, Japan, and elsewhere, and has made a huge name for herself in the music world. I've seen her in concert with such greats as Emmanuel Ax. These past two years, she's been an artist in residence at Lincoln Center in New York.

On a personal level, Ayano has been a really good friend to me for many years. When I first traveled to Japan 3 years ago, I crashed with her folks in Chiba. I still write letters to her mother a few times a year too. This picture really captures her warm smile, amiable personality, and explosive laughter.

After Ayano wowed us with a quick and technical piece, the students in the room performed selections that they had prepared for a small informal concert. It made me quite nostaligic to see so many young percussionists in the room playing such difficult repetoire. Back at Yale and in high school, I singlehandedly concentrated on percussion and classical music. There was a time when I too was practicing marimba everyday for hours, aspiring to the same level as these young women. Since graduation however, opportunities to play classical percussion have all but disappeared, which caused me to switch all of my efforts to pop music. After seeing all of these wonderful players, I once again felt that inner urge that inspired me to take up classical percussion so many years ago.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Deeper Into the Tokyo Underground...

Almost all of the bands I have been following up until now have been amateur, at least in the professional sense of the word. I think Tatti and Chris Silva are the only guitarists who make a living as full-time musicians.

As of late though, my investigations have taken me to yet another deeper level of the Tokyo underground. You may remember the coda to my story about Chris from last week. After our jam session, I met an enthusiastic Japanese woman who was eager to tell me all about her band. Her name is Izumi Okawara and her group's name is Qypthone. We were in touch since that night and made plans to meet tonight and have a chat about our musical projects.

A week prior, she sent me links to her band's website and myspace, where I got to listen to samples of their music and get a better feel for the group. I also poked around the internet to verify her claim that Qypthone had a song on The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift soundtrack. As I said before, their music is in the tradition of The Pizzicato Five, electro lounge pop with a bossa nova groove and a modish flavor. If you check out their myspace page, you can see Izumi in the video dancing and singing right in step to the music, even her outfit exhibiting a touch of retro. Click here for the page. Also, check out my favorite song, Girl 100. Izumi told me that she wrote half of the piece. You can also see their official website at

I have to say that Izumi is a beautiful woman, truly in the Vogue sense of the word. She is tall and slender with a sophisticated sense of style and an inviting glare in her eyes. This was my first impression of her as well as the conclusion I've arrived at after becoming more familiar with her personality and musical style. I'm not one to judge female musicians for appearance, but in her case, the same qualities of her physical flare go hand in hand with the hipness of her music.

Tonight, we met near Gamuso-Chroma in Asagaya and went to a Japanese style bar to grab a little food and drink. Having done my homework, I was eager to ask Izumi more about her band, their international tours, and how they attained so much success. Again, she exhibited her eager spirit and went on for a long time with her musical backstory.

The band formed while she was studying English in Toronto. Guitarist and songwriter Takeshi learned of Izumi's talents as a vocalist and invited her into the new group he was forming, provided that she would return to Japan. Qypthone took its name from a UMASS scientist who did research into building a time machine (taimu masheen in Japanese). As the group gained presence in the Tokyo music scene, the members eventually had to quit their jobs and pursue music full-time.

Success came fast. Within a few years they had recorded three LP's and were playing throughout Japan, including the chic southern city of Fukuoka. Soon, they were on international tours of Asia, Europe, Russia, and the USA. Izumi told me about their cult following in South Korea, their jam packed shows in Germany (they had a German concert promoter), and unexpected success in New York City.

For Izumi, the New York leg of their travels had two significant experiences. First was her introduction to well known DJ, Ursula 1000, who became one of her close friends and musical mentors. The two would later tour and do concerts together with Izumi as a featured singer.

The second experience was an uncanny performance opportunity. Their first stop over in New York, prior to 2001, included a stop at the World Trade Center where they performed on the 107th floor at a party honoring The Pizzicato Five. Izumi said that there were at least 600 people in attendance and that the Olympian view was like nothing she had every seen. She joked that after her band's set, she tried to go to the bathroom but was intercepted by a swarm of new fans who all had bought albums and were begging for autographs. After telling me the story, she slapped her face a few times and wondered if it had all been a dream.

In awe of her account, I then asked Izumi about what impressed me most about Qypthone, their experience with film soundtracks. She mentioned that she was extremely surprised and honored to have a song on The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift soundtrack but was disappointed that the movie wasn't widely viewed. I told her not to worry, that even though the film didn't gain much exposure, it was still part of the immensely popular Fast and the Furious saga, a series that every American under 30 would know well. Indeed, I was learning to drive when the first film was released, perhaps a bad influence on me. From my American perspective, when she told me about this credential a week ago, it gave her instant credibility. I knew I was talking with an accomplished musician.

I was curious to know if Qypthone had songs on other film soundtracks. Izumi told me that one of their songs was used in a French action movie but unfortunately, the scene was ultimately cut. She said the director wasn't very popular and that I probably wouldn't know him. Of course this roused my curiosity, so I had to ask his name.

"Luc Besson," she replied.

My jaw dropped. I don't know if this was Japanese modesty at play or if she honestly believed that I wouldn't know his films. I mean, Besson is not a huge name in the American cinema scene, but he did direct a handful of knockout blockbusters, most notably The Fifth Element and The Professional (Leon).

The movie in question is called Wasabi (her facts weren't entirely straight; Besson was actually the producer). In the story, a tough guy French cop played by Jean Reno is assigned to protect a Japanese teenager, who by some freak of cinematic literacy turns out to be his biological daughter. I'd actually seen half of the film quite a few years ago. Now I'm intrigued to seek it out again and see if I can find the cut scene with Qypthone's music.

As a side note to the cinematic business, Izumi said that Besson was rumored to have made an appearance at one of the group's European shows, but she wasn't able to confirm it for herself.

Throughout the course of the night, I was able to piece together Qypthone's current status from our conversations. Like the leading members of many successful bands, Izumi's musical relationship with Takeshi was productive yet heated. She said the two of them were like siblings with strikingly similar personalities. They hold each other in high esteem, but when working together, small quibbles quickly arise into vehement arguments. At the moment the group is on a break while the two of them are pursuing solo projects. She says that they have been talking about getting the band back together soon and are in need of a new drummer. The prior member was a driving musical force behind the band, but now he works as a nurse and has too much responsibility to regroup. This could be presumptuous, but I suspect one of her motives in meeting me is eventually to hold a jam session and see if perhaps I could substitute at some point. Given my lack of professional experience, it would be tough, but I'm all in to give it a shot.

A little bit before midnight, we ordered a last round of beer and I mentioned that I had to catch the last train back to Ikebukuro around 12:20. Izumi actually caught the bill for me. I insisted on paying my share but she stopped me and remarked that once I have a full-time job here, I'll owe her one back. For such an in-depth story, I feel like I owe her quite a bit.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Diglight Classics Series

Shino Kataoka (片岡詩乃) has made it into my blog quite a few times. I met her my second week in Japan and it turns out that she was schoolmates with my friend Ayano Kataoka from Yale, a quite unbelievable coincidence. Read about it here

In November, Shino also gave me tickets to see her concert with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. It's because of people like her that Japan was quick to  open up for me. I wrote in an earlier post that she is a badass, and I definitely meant it.

Shino is a regular at the bar Diglight, the same place where Yugo, Tatti, and all the other bluesman I follow play every month. I think I've seen her there at virtually every concert I've been too. Yesterday, she organized a concert at the bar where she could finally show to us her musical prowess.  She is a wonderful professional harpist and it was a rare opportunity to hear classical music in a barroom setting, an oddly appropriate atmosphere. I imagine that many pieces that we view as 'classical' today (I'm thinking of Shubert and Beethoven) were probably premiered at some bohemian dive pub in Vienna in the early 1800's.
Shino played a few solo harp pieces, but for most of the concert, she was accompanied by other musician friends: a pianist, violinist, percussionist, violist, and flutist.
Even Yugo took the stage with her for one song and did his own version of an operatic aria, complete with his personal bluesy touch. With his long hair and coat tails, he looked like a one of the Three Tenors gone samurai.
With the New Year approaching, more good stories await. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Website Preview

An American Werewolf in Tokyo is going global!!!

Check out the preview to my new site:

Werewolf Guitarists

I have another guitarist to add to my Tokyo Top Five, Chris Silva. He's not Japanese, (Chinese decent, American and Australian background) but he's been gigging professionally here for years.

I met him at Cozmo's Thursday night open mic in Shibuya a couple of weeks ago. I did my usual guitar set, nothing noteworthy, but he complimented one of my tunes after I was done. He was scheduled next and plugged in his electric, a strange looking hybrid strat of a make I've never seen. It's upper horn was replaced by a rounded shoulder. He wowed us all with three original songs full of finger picking, slapping, soloing, and a little vocal melody. I was with Toshi from Sunset Drive that night, and even he was completely fixated on the talent before us that seemed to have dropped out of nowhere.

After Chris was done playing, I approached him and introduced myself, making sure to tell him that drumset is my best instrument. Our meeting was fortunate. I don't make it to Cozmo's often, and Chris said that as a general rule he doesn't like open mics. His belief is that as a professional musician, if you give away your talent for free, you're being taken advantage of. For Tokyo, I think he has a valid point. In the hegemony of the music world here, bands are at the bottom. In fact, most large clubs charge bands a fee to play. Groups can only recoup their costs if attendance is strong. I would say that Tokyo has got to be the hardest city I've ever seen to make it as a musician. Of all the talent I've been writing about, only a few characters are able to make a living from their art.

Chris and I have been in touch on and off since. Last week, he invited me to a jam session he plays at once a month in an Asagaya bar, Gamuso-Chroma. I had a hunch that he was curious to see if my claim to drums was the real deal or not. I arrived at the bar with a pair of sticks not knowing quite what to expect. It was a narrow, two story joint with a micro stage squeezed in upstairs. The place is run by gaijin but definitely seemed to be a decent Japanese hangout. Like the yuppy Roppongi clubs, the patrons at this bar were from Japan, America, and elsewhere, yet in contrast, somehow the place maintained it's authentic Tokyo vibe.

Chris was playing with another gaijin guitarist, Jeff. Each of them had a stratocaster wired though a monster floorboard of effects and synthesizers. Like Yugo, these guys knew how to make their electronics work.

At first, they did a guitar duet of ambient free jazz-rock. The structure and harmony was unplanned and the tempo was unlocked like a fence gate in the wind. Each tooled with a loop station, delay, and synthesizers that mimicked the exotic as well as practical. Every few minutes, Chris would switch on his bass synth and loop a few riffs with his quick fingers.

It would be hard for me to put Chris' style of playing to words. He is one of those musicians whose ability has long exceeded the practical applications of his instrument. For such musicians, having already mastered blues, rock, and jazz, there is nowhere to go but within, to the inner domain of unimpeded creativity.

After playing a few extended improvisations with Jeff, Chris launched into one of his own solo compositions, a piece I heard him play at Cozmo's before. The harmony for the piece was lightly reminiscent of Bon Jovi's cowboyish anthem "Dead or Alive" yet his playing was full of Leo Kotke style finger picking. And to liven things up between phrases, Chris would throw in flourishes of electro heavy metal free jazz a la Steve Vai. His melodic sense of improvisation is truly uncanny.

You can imagine how overeager I was for my turn to play. As soon as the guys on stage looked at me, I grabbed my sticks and dove behind the tiny kit, assuming ready position. We entered the same free creative domain as before, everyone listening to the mutual vibes that would direct where the music and groove would take us. We played a few numbers.

After the set, I thanked Chris for letting me play. He replied that he was impressed that I showed up out of nowhere and figured out how to mesh with their style. I hope it wasn't polite musicians' flattery because I would kill to play with him again.

And this story/sequence of nightly events was topped of with a very cool coda. While I was on kit, I noticed in the small crowd a very tall slender Japanese woman checking out our set. When we were done playing, she approached me and told me in English that she liked my style. She was fairly excited, had more than a few drinks in her, and was telling me about her own band, Qypthone. Her group had toured all over Europe, the US, Korea, and elsewhere. They also had a song on the soundtrack to the third installment of the Fast and the Furious films! I confirmed this on the web. Take a look if your interested. They have a lounge vibe like the Pizzicato 5, one of the more famous bands to come from Japan.
Listen to Girl 100. It's my favorite tune on the page.

Monday, December 22, 2008

代々木公園 - Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi park, one of the first sites that I saw in downtown Tokyo 3 years ago on my first trip here. I remember it vividly. I met with Megan Crandell that afternoon, and she led me to the park where we took a quick break and chatted about Japan.

I went back this weekend for a stroll and was surprised to see a Santa Claus party. I'm certain most of the participants were drunk. When they saw my camera, a bunch of them instantaneously got together to pose for a shot. It was a mix of crazy gaijin and crazy Japanese...

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I was hanging out with Saki and Taka tonight and asked them about the Japanese title for my blog.


was my first guess. They said that this is better.


Pronounciation: Toukyou ni iru amerikazin no ueaurufu
Transliteration: An American Werewolf in Tokyo

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Proof of Ruby

I know what you are thinking. "Ethan, quit all your pretentious bullshit about hanging out with Japanese rockstars. I bet you haven't even left your apartment."

Well eat dirt 'cause here is proof of the man in action. Kayo is slamming some notes on bass and Toshi is to my left. You can see Shin in the background too.

And here is another picture of me with Saki, Taka, and Miyuki. I'm a friggin' Sasquatch compared to these people.

The Japanese are Lovely. The Japanese Are Demons

The following is the verbatim transcript of an email I typed and sent to my immediate family last week. At first, I didn't want to add it to the blog, but I had a few requests to upload this rather unusual story.

I call this piece, "The Japanese are Lovely. The Japanese are Demons."

It is currently 1:40AM on Friday night/Saturday morning as I start this story. By the way, 80% of the following occurred in Japanese.

Imagine a person you have more respect for than anyone in the entire world. Now imagine that person with squinty eyes. The person you see is Professor Takahashi from Tokyo's Keio University.

I first had the pleasure of meeting Professor Takahashi (I address him as Takahashi Sensei) after finishing introductory Japanese at the end of sophomore year. Some of the students in our class had the idea of taking our teachers out to dinner to celebrate and thank them for a good year. One of the teachers invited his close friend Takahashi Sensei to join us, since the professor was visiting the States that week.

At the time, I was preparing for my first trip to Japan and had many reservations about the upcoming experience. Talking with Takashi Sensei put all of my worries to rest. His personality was so warm and he was so enthusiastic about his home country. He even gave me great recommendations of places to visit, at least one of which I followed. It was one of the first times I realized that with a little effort, I could communicate in Japanese.

Three years later, during my senior year, Takahashi Sensei visited Yale again with his daughter Akane. We all went out to lunch and afterwards my friends and I showed Akane around town. Literally all of my Yale friends who met him got the same warm impression.

For the past 6 months, Takahashi Sensei and I were in touch over email. He was one of the first people I tried to get in touch with when I arrived here, yet he was so incredibly busy that we truthfully weren't able to meet until tonight.

This past evening, we met at the foot of a famous bookstore in Shinjuku. Once again, his easy-going and friendly personality was quick to put me to rest. You really should meet this guy. He is just so incredibly genuine. We started with the typical small talk about what we had been up to in the past few months. I asked him about his job and his family and he asked me about my trip in Japan and my experiences as a Yale music major. Then he told me that we were heading to a Japanese restaurant owned by his friend whom he has know since high school.

Here is where things start to get a little out of hand. We go to the restaurant and sit down. It is clear that Takahashi Sensei is a regular there since even the waitresses call him "Sensei". We continue our conversations about all kinds of topics for a while. A little bit later, the owner comes over, introduces himself to me, sits down with us, and orders us drinks and food.

We start talking about what food I like to eat. I barely had the guts to tell them I used to be a vegetarian so the owner orders all kinds of Japanese delicacies, raw cow liver, raw fish, pork heart, beefy stew, suction cups from octopus tentacles; things that make the inner Jew in me (and inner tree hugger) cringe with disgust. The two of them at least get the idea that these things are new to me and encouraged me to eat just a little bit at a time. I made sure to down a few cups of sake before I dug in to the real stuff.

For whatever reason, the owner of the restaurant takes a liking to me. He's literally talking non-stop about all kinds of things. I'm so incredibly confused that I keep looking at Takahashi Sensei to translate for me but Takahashi Sensei doesn't speak English fluently, so he can only transfer things into simpler Japanese! The night continues on as such.

Later on, the owner's daughter comes by and sits with us. She's slightly older than me (but looks 5 years younger as most Japanese do), has a bit of a nerdy yet attractive vibe about her, and is also extremely friendly. Once again, her father would relay all kinds of stories to me, yet she was forced to translate his difficult Japanese into simpler Japanese. The daughter and I had a few things in common. She too is artistic, likes manga and anime and the like.

I'm not kidding when I say the owner was difficult to understand. He had a truly interesting sense of humor, but it was definitely of the older Japanese style. He was telling me jokes that he told me were in the style of Rakugo, an antiquarian style of comedic theater enjoyed by the older generations. Each joke has a punch line, but once again, his daughter had to explain the humor.

As the night went on as such, the owner kept ordering more sake for me. Takahashi Sensei had business to attend to in the morning and left around 10PM. The owner's daughter took off around the same time.

I was left alone with the owner, a Japanese guy who I could just barely communicate with. Once again, every time I finished my glass of sake, he would instantaneously refill it and tell me more stories. By the time I finished the jug, he would shout out to the waitress for a new one. I put my hand up to refuse. "No, I've had too much." I said. You all know that my tolerance for alcohol isn't too much stronger than a teenage girl (Sarah ahem ahem). He would then insist. How could I refuse? The owner of a classy Japanese restaurant was treating me to drinks and food. Our belabored conversations continued.

Finally, he asked me if I had any dates planned that night. I took the cue and said I was heading to Shibuya to meet some pretty girls (which was more or less the plain truth). He said I should drink more to ease up for them and didn't let me go till I finished what was left in my cup. As cool as he was, I didn't want to be stuck with him for the rest of the evening, and I knew he had his customers to attend to, so I finished my sake, thanked him for everything, and left for Shibuya.

I was more or less drunk as a skunk when I left the restaurant. I'm not sure if it was a good or bad feeling. Generally, I exhibit far more self control, but given the predicament, I felt obligated to keep drinking. I stumbled to the subway and off to the Ruby Room where a few of my friend's bands were playing. I arrived just after the show was over, which is like the rudest thing a musician can do. I ended up spending the rest of the night with Saki, Taka, Miyuki, Kayo, Toshi, and Toshi's mom (she's wicked cool, I swear).

Now, I'm going to sleep. I'll try not to throw up tonight. If I do, the creature that will spawn on my floor will be a mutant with a pig's heart, fish muscles, octopus tentacles, a cow's liver, and Japanese rice wine for blood.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Deaf Night (Finally Reviewed)

Finally, my long promised review of Deaf Night. Check it out!

I showed Akko the pictures I took of her band, Deaf, a few weeks ago, and she was really impressed. She told me she was hosting an all-night music event in Nishiazabu and that I should come and take pictures. The event was the 10th installment of Deaf Night, an all night party with a lineup of DJ's and rock bands scheduled from 10PM till dawn in Nishiazabu's Colors Studio. Like Sleeping On The Dayshift, Deaf Night was attended by the who's who of the Ruby Room scene. Between acts, I was hanging out with guitarist Jerry (who it turns out is endorsed by Fender), Kiyo who spins dub under the moniker DJ Smokiyo, and a host of other friend's and acquaintances from around town. There were tons of people in the audience I recognized but hadn't talked with before. Some of them kept eyeing me and were probably thinking, "I've seen that freakish Gaijin before..."

Being on the guestlist had its perks and downsides. Akko didn't hesitate to let me know that she let me in for a reason. Whenever I was standing around, she would come up to me, hold her hands up, and snap a few imaginary pictures. She was fairly stressed out running around and keeping everything in order and I could sympathize having run quite a few big shows myself. Anyway, I got the message and took tons of great shots. It's cool that my photos are gathering some attention but next time I'm definitely charging a fee.

First up was Kovsuke, a songwriter from Kyoto. Accompanying his guitar strumming and calm music was a video installation put together by his friend. On stage, his music was soft and his presence was shy and reserved, but it served the low key atmosphere well. The night was just beginning and he left a little room for things to grow. Later on, well past midnight, I saw Kovsuke kick up his boots a bit and get into some of the other acts. He has an international background and a cool dynamic. He also does Brazilian Capoelia which from my perspective gives his music a bit of a tropical flavor.

Next on the roster was Allies and Aces, an intense heavy metal/hardcore band. These guys certainly looked the part. The singer had chains and flannel and the lead guitarist had shoulder length hair, tight jeans, and a flying V guitar. Both of them also had monster chops. (I am always one to appreciate good sideburns.)

As I experienced yet again after their set, if you go up to the grungiest of Japanese rockers with full-on tattoos, leather, and metal studs, and tell them you liked their music, the will bow with the same humble pride of a Japanese grandma. I still get a kick out of it.

Up next was Android Beach Party, a band with gaijin on guitar and drums, and a Japanese on bass. Hands down, they had the quirkiest music at the event. Their lead singer, Chris, was like a punky David Byrne with a Zappa-esque sense of melody. One of their songs was particularly memorable, "Gamma Ray, Gamma Ray, Take me far, far away." It was from this tune that I started to get their music, but the track suddenly ended just as it was getting good. Most of their songs were short and quirky, rather than fleshed out, but judging by their stage presence, that was definitely the vibe they were going for.

In the front line, Android Beach Party had some serious musical ability. Matching Chris' unique sense was the Japanese bass player who is actually an instrumentalist in the Tokyo installment of Blue Man Group. After the show, he was eager to prove it to me when he pulled out his camera and showed me a photo of his head in full on blue facepaint. On the other hand though, the drummer was a bit sluggish and stiff. I think they would have been better off if I jumped in for a bit.

Like Allies and Aces, my camera was finding the next band, Triol, just as photogenic. The lead singer had a knit cap and leather jacket, as if The Edge from U2 turned Japanese and joined The Ramones. The bass player, Jun, is a Ruby Room regular, and I must say, for being in his early 20's or so, he has a sick handlebar mustache. Of course, Triol wasn't all looks. They had some sick straight ahead rock music to back up their visual vibes. I know I'll be seeing them again.

It was well past 3AM by the time Deaf took the stage. Since Akko arranged the event, she had a great following waiting all night for her to play. While Ruby is significantly tinier and more intimate, Colors Studio has a way better sound and lighting system, which in turn was a really good match for their ambient and noisy style. The colorful lights were turned low and would slowly morph as the music progressed. The lighting at Ruby, in contrast, is can I say...well, just ruby.

Backtrack a few posts to find out more about Deaf. One of my friends said they are the most attractive band in Tokyo. I thought the comment was a bit sexist, but I appreciate the point since it is always cool to see girls in rock bands. Female rock musicians are quite literally outnumber at least 10 to 1. Unfair considering the prowess of some of my favs; Pat Benetar, Stevie Nicks, etc...

Appropriately, the last band scheduled for the the night was Sleepy Head. It was pushing dawn when they plugged in and we were all holding our eyes open. I'm pretty sure this wasn't irony since their music is a mix of ambient sound and shoegaze rock, a vibe well matched to the daze I felt for having stayed out all night.

They are well matched to do a set with Deaf. Both groups play the same style of rock but fill different niches. Deaf's pieces are generally minor mode and sparse while Sleepy Head utilizes denser layers of major mode harmony. The flowing sonic texture of good shoegaze music is truly intoxicating.

All allegiances and middle school truces aside, Sleepy Head was the best band in the lineup. Indeed, I picked up their demo quite a few weeks ago at another show and have since been meaning to see them play. I wasn't let down in the least, but I do hope to see them again soon at a more reasonable hour.

And finally, after what I would bill as a successful night of Rockin' Out in Japan, I made it back to my apartment and snapped this picture at sunrise.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Best Feeling

I have to say, nothing compares to the feeling you get when accomplished musicians you really look up to admire your music.

I've written so much about Kei and his band Bankin Garu, one of the finest local groups I've been following around town. Of all the underground groups I know personally, they have the best stage presence, the most refined sound, and the most professional vibe.

Tonight at Ruby, I was lucky enough (or doomed) to get the slot right after them. They played amazing as usual, treating their three-song open mic set as if it was a real concert. I was literally shaking when I took the stage after them. I tuned up, took a deep breath, and went for it.

My first song was B.B. King's "How Blue Can You Get." When old black guys get together and talk about how white people can't play the blues, they actually are talking about me, but overall I wasn't doing too bad. I could feel the audience grooving to my laid back 4 beat phrases. The guys in Bankin Garu were just getting seated at the bar and I got a few nods of approval from them.

As soon as I finished the blues, I dove right into Elvis Costello's "The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes," a song I really love but always have had a hard time playing well. To my surprise, I was completely commanding the attention of Kei, Shin, and Atsushi, who were sitting three in a row at the bar with their eyes fixed on me, nodding along as I played through the changes. I could tell on the spot that they were just as into the song I was. The good vibes were mutual. All of my butterflies were gone by that point and I just put my all into the rest of the set.

Honestly, what could be cooler? I've always considered my guitar playing and singing second-rate. To have the seal of approval from one of the coolest Japanese bands in Tokyo is just an awesome feeling.

It's hard for me to imagine the same scenario in America. If I took the stage at an open mic in New York City and played a few cover songs, the big boys wouldn't even give me the time of day.

This post is in tribute to mutual respect among musicians.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kayo (or: "Chicks Can Rock - Part III")

When I first met Kayo, being the small Japanese girl that she is, I assumed she didn't know English. I was quick to learn that not only is she a fluent speaker, but she makes a living as a translator. We have since become friends and she has done a lot to open up the world of Tokyo for me. Just read the last few posts to see how.

So it turns out Kayo had another surprise up her sleeve waiting for me to find out. She plays bass. She doesn't just play bass, she is good at bass. And she's not just good at bass, she is awesome. The worst part is I think she told me a few weeks ago that she plays a little. Being the sexist asshole that I am, the thought that she might be really good didn't cross my mind, just like when I met her, the thought that she might know English didn't even cross my mind. This is what I get for growing up in a country full of American male chauvinists.

Kayo came to the Ruby Room with her boyfriend Toshi, her friends Miyuki and Saki (see the picture I posted earlier this week), and Toshi's drummer Shin from Sunset Drive. They signed up for a slot later in the night and asked me if I would play a little guitar with the group. My guitar, エクスカリバー (Excalibur), was practically begging me to plug her in.

Kayo then pulled out a Danelectro bass. The body is shaped with two devil's horns and has a sparkly finish straight out of the fifties. Toshi of course brought his 1973 Gibson Flying V. He told me before his set that he liked the way I described his guitar in my last post. "The sound is like painting the Mona Lisa with mud. Still beautiful, but simply a dirty mess."

We all plugged in and opened with Hendrix's Foxy Lady. I took the mic, feeling the sweat drip from my forehead as I belted the lyrics, "Seen you, running down on the scene. You make me wanna get up and screeeam...Foxy Lady!!" We then slid into Weezer's Say It Ain't So. They were two songs I knew well. We closed with a messy rendition of Cream's Sunshine of Your Love. I was only familiar with the song and was learning the changes on the spot. Fortunately, every time I got lost, all I had to do was to look over at Kayo, who was hammering down the bassline like it was her business.

Toshi returned to the stage a half hour later and shredded his way through innumerable rock songs. I think he absorbed the generational vibes from his guitar since he plays like a 1970's hard rock guitarist. I'm thinking AC/DC and Thin Lizzy. I joined him a few times playing the openings of a few Led Zeppelin tunes who's entirety I wasn't familiar with. Sure enough, Kayo was there nailing the tunes one by one, with fingers like a champ. Toshi even let me jam out on his priceless guitar. What could be more appropriate than Johnny B. Goode? I have to say, the Japanese in the audience went ape-shit when I slid into those first notes, a sound my guitar teacher used to describe as a train whistle.

Even with no prior rehearsal, it felt like we were a real rock band. Or maybe it was just because at that hour the crowd was mostly our friends... or they were just really drunk. Either way, it felt pretty awesome and I certainly had a talented ensemble with me, Kayo, Toshi, and Shin.

Unfortunately, just as things were starting to get hot, I took a peek at my watch and realized that the last train from Shibuya was less than 10 minutes away. I grabbed my things and ran to the station.

Somewhat unfortunate I say. Two hours ago I was hanging with Japanese rock stars. Now, I'm alone in my apartment typing in my blog and watching awful Japanese TV.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Turning Japanese

When I talk with family members and friends about Japan, they often say, "Hey you know that song from the 80's by The Vapors, 'Turning Japanese'? 'I'm turning Japanese I think I'm turning Japanese I really think so!' Doo Doo Do Do Doooo Doooo."

STOP REFERENCING THAT SONG! Everytime you do, do you notice my face cringe (no pun intended)?

Do you know what that song is about? Obviously not! It has nothing to do with Japan! "Turning Japanese" is British slang for the face one makes during an orgasm.

Google the lyrics to the song. It's a about a lonely guy in a jail cell who fantasizes to a picture of his old girlfriend.

You guys are idiots.