Sunday, March 6, 2011

Paul Collins plays the, not that one.

Today started much like most of my days did in Tokyo, at least this time around. Nestled within a layered futon floor mattress. As I slowly opened my eyes, my foot nudged the plastic hot water bottle (yutampo) thoughtfully provided the evening prior by Enocky's wife Junko. Kind woman that Junko. Still, even though I had that injection-molded sensory experience, something felt off. Pretty common I reasoned. Frequent flyers will be the first to tell you its always hard to believe you're halfway around the world those first few days.
That was quickly changed though when I went downstairs and heard the television on. Rapid fire announcers and high-pitched voices were pouring out like a sieve from the living room. Enocky greeted me and I asked him if all TV personalities spoke like this in real life. Thankfully he said no, the "act" was purely for television. He further elucidated saying they acted was this way because people expected all their TV hosts to act this way. I was about halfway though an "ahhh..." when I stopped short. If I was old TV comedian, Danny Thomas, I would have finished this phrase with a spit take. The culture: 100% Japanese...the reaction: 100% American.
As Jackie and the Cedrics were slated to play tonight, I left Mr. Enomoto to practice and went back upstairs after breakfast. It was cold, but quiet, outside the Enocky compound. The sun was shining bright so I took quick advantage of that by opening the shades. I noticed while the area is packed with many homes, I rarely, if ever, saw people going in and out of them. Something that I found common in Japan. I did stop staring outside though, lest someone think of me as a local chikan looking for a show. This IS Japan you know. I had all the information I needed. Much like yesterday, temperatures hovered steadily in the mid-40s (leaving me puzzled as to how I originally thought I was getting a break from the NY weather.)
Around 3pm or so the Rockin' one and I split for tonights venue, Garden, located practically around the corner from Shelter in the same hip area known as Shimokitazawa. We maneuvered Enocky's little bread box in and out of downtown traffic, all the while listening to a CD of vintage sixties Japanese pop. As we drove past futuristic skyscrapers and weaved our way around fashionable teens shopping in Shimokitazawa, it struck me as incredibly amusing what walking anachronisms we were. More so after we parked and walked past clothing stores blasting classic American rock out of expensive sidewalk speakers. I mean, even Prince would make more sense.

As we walked in nothing much was going on. A few club staffers ran around doing staffer stuff but other than that...zilch. Although it was obvious at the start that Garden, unlike Shelter, was a beast of an entirely different color. The club was large, and wide, and even had a proper dressing room. Nice. It reminded me of any small- to medium size music venue in, say, Long Island. All the horsepower minus the grit. It would be interesting to see a show here.
I was relieved to see that they would be erecting a small barrier between the stage and the crowd this time. That meant that I'd have a small, yet usable, crawlspace to move around in. True, it was about 2 feet wide...but hey, it was SOMETHING. After the Shelter experience, it makes getting a wider variety of shots a helluva lot easier.
Enocky's bandmates showed up soon afterwards. Rockin' Jelly Bean [aka RJB], bass player for the Cedrics and underground artist extraordinaire, and Jackie T-Bird the little drummer boy himself. After hugs and well wishes wee passed around it was time for preparation. Jackie started tuning his snare as Paul and co started their soundcheck.
The band ran through a few of their songs and, knowing that this show was to be recorded, made sure everything was as perfect as possible. The large stage was nice, but it did bring problems along with it. Mainly the multitude of lights. However, after a few adjustments by the lighting crew all was set to go. The girl responsible for the lights even went up to a surprised Paul afterwards and apologized for any inconvenience.
After the set, Paul hightailed it to a local record store performance/autograph session. Luckily, the store, Disc Union, was only a few blocks away. With Enocky's acoustic in hand, Paul ran through an abbreviated set and graciously thanked his fans for giving him the opportunity of playing in their country. Afterwards, the crowd of mostly younger fans, lined up happily to have their Nerves, Beat, solo records signed by someone who I'm sure they never expected to see, let alone play, in their lifetime.
Especially endearing was a young female fan who had happened to see Paul in the California leg of his tour, a few months earlier. And here she was again, back home this time, eagerly waiting to say hi again. Wearing an Exploited-styled hairstyle, on first look I never would never have guessed she enjoyed the dulcet tones of power pop. But, unlike, say, New York or London, fashion and music in Japan are not mutually exclusive to one other. At least in the underground circles. Quite refreshing I must say.
Back inside the club, Jackie and the Cedrics were getting ready to hit the stage. RJB, Jackie and Enocky all joked around while changing into their trademark forest green tuxedo lounge suits. A well-wisher even stopped by and gave RJB a T-shirt signed by a video starlet which he was only to happy to proudly show off to everyone. Even Paul's bandmates were impressed.
Having last seen them perform the previous time I was in Japan, I was certainly looking forward to a not just a good show but a great one to photograph. Channeling surf tunes via the 60s Eleki-Guitar stylings of Terry Terauchi, the Cedrics always put on an enormously fun show. RJB jumping around, Jackie pounding away and Enocky just blowing everyone away with his mastery of instrumental tunes, theres always something going on to force a smile on even the grimmest of faces.
Having been around since the early 90s, the band are sort of the respected father figures of the 60s beat scene in Tokyo. Nevertheless, they launch themselves off speakers and jump around like over-stimulated kids. And they're amazingly great people on top of that. If they ever come to NYC (and I hear there is something in the works) run, run, run to catch these guys. Just buy me a beer later...or better yet, buy THEM a beer.
After the Cedrics, the crowd was sufficiently amped up to see the headliners. With a days worth of rest, Paul and co. put on a strong set. Cranking up the intensity level a few more notches since the previous evening. The space between the stage proved to be extremely useful....except that I realized halfway through the set that if I stayed in one place too long I started to cramp up! Sucks to get old. While the chest-high barricade helped me, unfortunately it also lessened the chance of the crowd reaching out to egg on the band. A point quickly remedied though as the Paul, bass player Tim Buechler and lead guitarist Tim Schwieger each took turns breaching the divide and interacting with the crowd.
The high point was, as in last nights set, when the band launched into The Beat's classic "I Wanna Be With a Rock & Roll Girl". Using the time-honored tactic of getting smiling, happy, dancing female fans onstage, the group had the whole place bopping along in no time. Amusingly bass play Tim was even able to get überfan mohawk girl to play as well.
Just prior to the end of the set, Paul started telling the crowd about how happy he was to finally be able to come to Japan. However, realizing that he might not be understood, he asked Junichi Noro to jump onstage and translate. As I'm watching from the wings thinking about my next shot, all of a sudden I see Paul motioning me to come over. With Junichi in one arm, and me in the other, he then goes on to tell the whole story of how we got him there. Let me tell you, despite having been on stage before, being the object of scrutiny has never been one of my life goals. Still, it was a really a super nice gesture and something that I'll hold onto to for quite a while.
As the crowd filed out at the end of the show I looked around for Enocky or RJB. It turned out that, since Rockin' Jelly Bean lived in Osaka, he also needed a place to crash. And that place was, you got it, the same room I was using at Enocky's. Yes, sleepover at the Rockin' one's home. LOL. I got dibs on the good futon....and hands off my yutampo.
Having found the guys, it was time to hit the road. After a few warm goodbyes to my Tokyo pals in attendance, we piled into Enocky's bumper car and headed off. I had a Osaka-bound Shinkansen waiting for me at an ungodly hour tomorrow. God, do bands do this all the time?
A few more photos here!