Mar 31, 2008

Japan Nite 2008 - San Francisco: Part 2

Friday, March 21, San Francisco, California -

When we left off, I was gushing about the greatness of the newest targets of my affection: SCANDAL, and hopefully starting a grassroots campaign that will create a massive demand to bring them back to the U.S. and result in them playing a marathon live set in my living room...or somewhere near there.

Despite all my focus on SCANDAL, believe it or not there were other bands at Japan Nite 2008. Good ones. Some of them were even good enough to make me forget about SCANDAL for minutes at a time.

The second act onstage was a three-man band called The Emeralds. Sound-wise, they were a typical J-rock group: melodic vocals over loud, noisy guitars without a real "foot-tapping" rhythm. The guys were actually more entertaining between songs, when they played up their stilted English to brag about their snazzy disco-looking button-down shirts, or plug their merchandise. They were funny, and they certainly looked like rock stars, but their music wasn't anything memorable to me.

Third up was Ketchup Mania: three guys and a crazy female lead singer. Their music, which was kind of punk/pop, didn't stand out to me too much either until their last two songs, which were fast paced and had great beats. Like the Emeralds, they got humor out of trying to communicate in English. One of the singer's segues went something like this:

"Hi San Francisco!" (crowd roar)
"We are from Nagoya!" (crowd roar)
"Do you like SUSHI?" (crowd roar)
"Do you like NINJAS?" (bigger crowd roar)
"Do you like...KETCHUP MANIA?" (biggest crowd roar)

In pro wrestling, that's known as getting a "cheap pop." But I'm all for it, and I love ninjas. The band was loud, and the vocals were very squeaky and cute. It was a step up from The Emeralds, in my opinion.

If any band topped SCANDAL on this night, it was the next one: Detroit7. A three-piece consisting of a female lead singer/guitarist, a male bassist and a female drummer, Detroit7 is a VERY hard-driving band with a semi-punk, semi-Black Sabbath sound, kind of like a groovy 70s hard rock band. In fact, the singer has a grungy, Janis Joplin vibe. She was barefoot, her hair was matted and her voice was gritty. And she just TORE her guitar apart. But even with that awesomeness, the highlight of the set was by far Detroit7's drummer. Looking to the entire club like she was coked out of her mind, she smashed at her drums like an angry gorilla until I thought they would vaporize beneath her. Yet she never lost step; in fact the other two members had to keep up with her. In between songs her jaw would hang open as she violently gasped her breath, then she'd just explode as the next one started. If SCANDAL left you smiling and giddy, Detroit7 left you sweaty and exhausted. And like SCANDAL, if Detroit7 is performing anywhere near you, it is IMPERATIVE that you see them, no matter what kind of music you're into. They will rattle your innards until you sound like a can of F'N spray paint. You can get a taste of their intensity on their MySpace page: There are a lot of songs available for listening. Using the ol' SOG foresight, I failed to get a CD in time; they flew off the table as if hit by a tornado.

There was an interesting subplot to Detroit7's performance. If you've ever seen a big, hulking galoot fall head over heels in love, it's quite fascinating and a little bit scary. It took about half a song for Tsuji to become firmly wrapped in the drummer's spell. Throughout the performance I would lean over and make incredibly witty and insightful comments, but he just stared straight ahead while mumbling things like "FUUUUUUUUUUCK" and "God.......daaaaaaamn....." and other things that I can't repeat. Not because they were obscene, but because I don't think they were actual words. By the third song he had created his own language of clicks and grunts. I can definitely see her appeal. Much like Ayako Miyake, she probably won't have any photobooks out any time soon, but her badass-itude could fill a few dozen volumes. If you ever disrespected her she'd respond by kicking your balls into your brain stem or headbutting a hole into your face. When she came off stage to mingle with the crowd I wanted to wrap myself around her leg and let her walk around the city with me. And she wouldn't even notice. During the set Tsuji stood frozen, but I thought the look in his eyes would set her drumsticks on fire. Of course she would've kept playing. Afterward, the drummer (her name's Miyoko Yamaguchi) was mobbed by the crowd, and Tsuji disappeared. I half expected to find her in my trunk on the drive home. After the whole concert was over and the room was clearing out, we managed to corner Miyoko on the floor for a picture as she was handing out buttons and stickers.

For such an aggressive performer, I found her to be surprisingly shy, sweet and...umm...Japanese. I told her she was great and she nodded politely and said "Thank you." She even gave the peace sign for the photo, Tsuji turned it sideways and she followed suit. If I spoke Japanese I probably would've told her to run as fast as she could as soon as I snapped the picture, but fortunately it wasn't necessary and we didn't end our night having to dispose of a body. That's almost always a plus.

The second-to-last band was one of the most bizarre I've ever seen: P
etty Booka. Two girls sporting western attire and playing ukuleles while backed by a bluegrass band, the duo spoke and sung in voices so high-pitched they made H!P sound like Isaac Hayes. They sang covers of a wide variety of songs, from "Don't Rock the Jukebox" to "Que Sera Sera," all in English. I don't think the crowd knew quite what to make of them at first. There was a lot of snickering, and a lot of "yeehaws." Petty Booka never broke character. Even while their mandolin player performed a lengthy solo, the girls just stood there smiling, holding their ukuleles at the ready like two adorable little robots. Right on cue they would start swaying in unison, squeaking into their microphones and pretending to strum their instruments. If there's such a thing as being TOO kawaii, this was it. Just as the overflow of sweetness was about to infect the entire audience with type 2 diabetes, things changed. The backup band left the stage, and the ladies performed as a duo. They began actually playing their ukuleles - damn well too (I honestly didn't know that those things were even meant to be played. I thought they were just gift shop novelties like giant sunglasses or fuzzy dice). They plucked and tapped on their little guitars, sung in very tight harmonies and created a lovely sound that earlier was overshadowed by their "cute Japanese girl" posturing. I began to appreciate their talent when they sang a Grateful Dead song in the middle of the set. I'm not a Dead fan, and I don't know what song it was. But it was long, it was complex, and it kept me hooked from beginning to end. By the end, when they finished with Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime," a personal favorite of mine, Petty Booka had won the crowd over. They were cheering, singing along and chanting for an encore. We didn't get one, but I think everyone will definitely remember Petty Booka. They were by far the most unique act on the bill, and a welcome break for the eardrums after the brain-shaking sonic boom of the first four bands. I probably won't buy their CDs, and I still think their musical ability takes a backseat to their gimmick, but the girls of Petty Booka are extremely entertaining live, and will leave you in a very good mood.

Petty Booka left us thoroughly mellowed out, but the final act of the night, The Beaches, brought us back to total mayhem. The hybrid Latin/reggae/disco/punk/pop/rock act is led by a dreadlocked lead singer who was TOTALLY INSANE. His name is HISASHI and he was worth the price of admission all by himself. He sang, screamed, danced, hurled his guitar, stomped through the crowd and basically dominated the entire room for 30 minutes. At one point he even got on an audience member's shoulders and was carried around the room while continuing to sing. The only thing I remember about their songs were that they were loud and chaotic, but had a lot of rhythm and were easy to dance to. It was impossible not to be caught up in HISASHI's energy; he was that crazy. You can listen to some of their songs at Multiply the volume by 1000 and rapidly flicker your light switch on and off and you'll get a small taste of what it's like to see them live.

After The Beaches exited, it was time to go. Tsuji had his moment with
Miyoko Yamaguchi and we hit the road at around 2am. He was slightly liquidated at that point, and unfortunately he was also the trip's navigator. So it took us about two left turns to get completely lost in San Francisco. Seriously, is there ANY street in that Godforsaken city that's two-way? ANY??? It got to the point that we were trying to gauge which pedestrians looked least dangerous, so we could ask for directions. Luckily it never got to that point. After he got us lost, Tsuji eventually got us un-lost, which brought my respect level for him back up to a healthy 0. Halfway back he started growling about being hungry, so I quickly sped home before he gnawed my arm off. I managed to get him to his house just as he was getting through my sweatshirt. No harm, no foul I guess.

In recap, here are the highlights of Japan Nite 2008 in San Francisco:


1A. Detroit7

2. The Beaches

2A. Petty Booka

3. Autograph sessions and cameras were allowed and encouraged! Take THAT, SLIM'S!

4. No Rangudon Argeru (this one should probably be higher)

And with highlights, there must be lowlights:

1. Not enough CDs!

2. Or large T-shirts

3. Getting lost

It was a fantastic night. I was exposed to bands I'll be following for a long time, and hopefully they'll get huge, but not so huge that we won't be able to get close to them again. I'm marking my calendar for next year's show no matter who's on it, and I hope all the YODC'ers in the area can be there too. Except Freefall Jones.


Rangudon Argeru said...

you can look forward to Japan Nite "All Girls Nite" in November..thats when they bring out all girl bands

Tsuji Eriku said...


Anonymous said...

I checked out the Detroit7 webpage and they are indeed awesome (PJ Harvey meets Husker Du). SCANDAL also also has an amazing sound. Please keep us posted on these folks and any new groups you discover. Thanks again for this recommendation.