Japan Night Preview Show at The Typewriter Museum

Hystoic Vein

Hystoic Vein singer Inko at the Typewriter Museum in Austin, Tx during SXSW 2010.

Chalk it up to being hung-over from a St. Pat’s spent jostling for position in beer lines at a Flogging Molly gig, but I was half alive when my flight touched down at Austin Bergstrom International Airport at just about 11 in the morning. Though the previous night had reduced me to an undead husk, there were a few neurons still firing in anticipation not only of the Japanese music experience I had journeyed so far to see, but in regard to a thought that runs through the mind of every Austin, TX resident shortly after waking up: Should I have breakfast tacos?

No sleep and a desire to attempt social interaction with my cousin, who was nice enough to pick me up from the airport and give me a place to crash, dictated that caloric intake in the form of various spicy things in a warm flour tortilla was a pretty good idea. One nosh later, we were hoofing it from 6th Street to a venue across I-35 called the Typewriter Museum where a performance that promised to include several of the bands playing at Japan Night proper was already underway.

Had my cousin and her friends not pointed it out to me, I would have missed the Typewriter Museum. From the front, it looks like the house that Home and Garden forgot. But a cardboard sign sitting in a beat-up Radio Flyer wagon on the front step pointed us to the “rock show in the back.” We squeezed between the house and the neighboring fence, pushed past a goat (no, seriously) and found ourselves standing in a crowd of about a hundred people; some Japanese music fans and others just wandering by to see what all the excitement was. True to the name, the stage (which appeared to be made of repurposed wooden scraps) was covered in derelict typewriters of various makes and models. Coming from the stage was the sound of music being strangled to death.

As a Japanese music fan, there are moments when I expose my beloved friends and family to a Japanese band and find myself wondering if they’re only nanoseconds away from running away from me in terror. Japanese music can be shrill. It can be too poppy. I happen to have a tolerance to (most) of the bands I would describe that way. Typically, my comrades do not. It just so happens a moment like this came to pass when my we walked into the end of Kamisama’s performance. Dissonant, shrill sounds that nails on a chalkboard could not hope to match poured forth from this two-member band. I smiled real big at my cousin and insisted the next band would be better.

Hystoic Vein

Hystoic Vein

It turns out I was absolutely right.

If Karen O told me that Hystoic Vein is made up of her long-lost Japanese sisters, I’d believe her. This self-declared “monster rock band” describe their sound with the following, poorly-translated string of text: “Sometimes their sound slashes with audience like a KATANA, and sometimes it brings in sweet and devilish kiss.” The phrase I would use is “debauched eroticism.” Lead Singer Inko writhed on the stage in skin-tight white tights and a black boa with Harlequin diamonds accentuating her impossibly long eye lashes. The rest of the band came clad in black leather get-ups guaranteed to make Mad Max envious.

Chatmonchy

Chatmonchy Lead Singer Eriko Hashimoto

And the music was about as ugly as a break up that ends in stitches.

It made for quite the contrast when a trio of girls from Tokushima, Japan armed only with songs about puppy love and make-up followed after Hystoic Vein. That they appear so timid on the surface endears Chatmonchy to the audience to the point that they can’t help but bounce and scream along. Every song’s crescendo has the emotional impact of running after your would-be romance and unleashing all the thoughts and feelings you’ve been bottling up inside since the first time you met.

Musically they’re absolutely tight with memorable guitar melodies and a rhythm section that just won’t quite. It’s apparent to me that despite playing backyards that double as venues in this country, Chatmonchy are something special.

Maki Rinka

Maki Rinka and her backup dancer.

Maki Rinka was a huge surprise. This Japanese songstress blends English and Japanese into ’50s and ’60s era-inspired songs. Her band consists of an accordion, a jazz guitarist, a stand up bass and a backup dancer. A backup dancer! There is a touch of broadway in Madam Rinka’s performance. Sure, it was obvious when she opened her set with “Cabaret,” but in every flourish, every wink, every syllable there is a scripted act that’s smooth as silk.

Jinny Oops

Jinny Oops bassist Chihiro Ishida.

On the Japan Night Preview CD from Hear Japan, Jinny Oops! had a ska-band horn section blaring through their single “Toki.” I was disappointed to see them without a little brass at the Japan Night Preview show, but they more than made up for it by rocking the hell out of the audience with punk-infused, machine gun riffs and screaming lyrics.

Dolly

Dolly in full make-up

That Visual Kei (a highly theatric music genre born from the likes of X-Japan) appeals to teenage girls not only in Japan but also right here in the United States seems perfectly natural when you see it in action. Dolly, a group of effeminate Japanese gentlemen covered in lace and topped of by intricately teased wigs are a bit too made-up for my liking. The 16-year-old girls in the audience on the other hand had hearts going pitter-patter when they finally took the stage.

Dolly are named after the first cloned sheep. It’s a shame they didn’t take that concept to heart. Had they merely decided to become a clone of a band like X-Japan or Malice Mizer I would have been much happier. My complaint? For all the make-up, Dolly just refuses to rock. Their crescendos were as gentle as their practiced mascara application.

Okamoto's

Okamoto's

It wasn’t until Okamoto’s kicked the show into gear that I got the horns-throwing moment I wanted all along. Simply put, Okamoto’s are the Rolling Stones in the bodies of 4 19-year-old Japanese kids. The moves, the clothes, the pouting lips, the slick guitar riffs; the only thing missing was the stand they use to prop Keith Richards up these days. I’ll elaborate more on Okamoto’s in my account of Japan Night.

Omodaka

Omodaka reminds the audience that this isn't serious, it's just playing games.

Hours of standing in the sun had nearly exhausted me when the final act of the night, Omodaka, started his all-too-brief set. He came dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with a Vanilla Sky mask and wig. On the table behind him was his “band:” a PSP, two DS Lites, a Macbook Pro, a Gameboy Advance, and a strange device that I can only describe as a pocket theremin. He complimented this grab bag of musical toys with a screen that switched back and forth between clips from his various music videos and recordings of the traditional Japanese singer that provides the vocal track for his songs. This was all Omodaka needed to weave his electro-infused Japanese pieces into imagery of water sports and red light districts. Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me either. It may never make complete sense, but that doesn’t stop Omodaka from being brilliant.

Think the Japan Night Preview Show sounds interesting? Check back next time for the madness that was Japan Night.

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~ by Jonathan McNamara on 2010/05/13.

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