Tag Archive: gigs

Gig Review: SiM at the Dead Pop Festival

Today we went to see SiM perform at the Dead Pop festival that they’ve been running for the past few years. It’s a cute mini-festival, this year held out past Haneda airport, and the bands were mostly hard rock with a ska or reggae influence, which reflects SiM’s unusual but entertaining hardcore-with-reggae-breakdowns mashup style. As a friend was in one of SiM’s music videos, she managed to score four free tickets, which was pretty awesome. It also made us feel it was perfectly fine to only check out the last two bands of the day, and before SiM came ska-punk band 10-FEET. Aligned more towards 2002-ish NOFX or Less than Jake than the likes of Reel Big Fish, they preferred heavier punky riffs and were brass-free, but liked riffs the crowd could skank to. Or attempt to skank to. They were fun, and I liked their silly growly vocals, but they’re not a band I’d buy a CD from. There was nothing very new to them and after all it’s been a very long time since the heyday of ska-punk, but they were an entertaining party band. It was also enjoyable watching the crowd, who alternated between half-hearted skanking, the synchronised fist-pumping and strange seed-scattering hand movements so popular here, and the world’s safest circle pits that had far more in common with the hokey-cokey at a child’s birthday party than anything you’d see at Bloodstock. This was a small festival with music on the lighter end of hard rock, but it was interesting to observe that the Japanese seem to have taken all the exhilarating, fundamentally dangerous elements of festival crowd behaviour and – other than crowdsurfing – made them completely safe and cute. No shoving in circle pits here. Just high-fiving people gently as you jog past. Bless! So anyway, this made us confident we could go right down to the front for SiM, and since even in this sort of festival, the Japanese crowds keep up the practice of almost completely evacuating between sets, so it was easy to go right up almost to the barrier for an excellent view of the band. And I’m glad that’s what we did. Because I very much enjoyed SiM’s performance, and was impressed by their musicianship. They perhaps suffered from being a little stop-start and their sections not flowing into one another very well, but when they got it right they were fantastic. Each musician was technically very good, and it was fun seeing a hot hand used on a live bass for the first time for their one wub-wub-wub breakdown. Musically, they would have fit in with the Nu-Metal scene of the early 2000s, but honestly I thoroughly enjoyed that period when it wasn’t too horribly cheesy. They could quite easily tour with Avenged Sevenfold and go down well, too. I’d be interested in how Skindred fans would receive them, too – though I suspect many of them may find it kind of inauthentic. The highlight for me was the double-whammy mid-set of ‘Gunshots’ and my personal favourite, ‘Who’s Next’. The band doesn’t take huge risks but the ones it does take keep them interesting, and looking beyond their gimmicky reggae, dubstep or disco breakdowns, their general song construction often swings between punk, metal and hardcore. And of course, once again going to this festival made me desperately want to start playing live. It’s looking like my first Japanese gig will be at the end of next month. Looking forward to it quite a lot!

Gig review: Miyavi – We Are The Others final date in Tokyo, May 16th 2015

While I am by no means a big Miyavi fan, I know of him. A friend interviewed him a few months ago, and was super-excited to be doing so, and I saw his appearance on Ellen when he began his real, concerted efforts to crack America. I became vaguely aware of him as a visual-kei artist and have remained vaguely aware of him as he reinvented himself as an idiosyncratic rocker with a peculiar guitar technique. Knowing he’s pretty huge here, I would never have forked out the high ticket prices to go and see him, but I got free tickets through a friend, and I was very happy to go and experience what I knew was a very popular live act in his home territory. He may divide his time between here and the States and heavily hint that he’s every bit as popular in America as he his here, but that’s all image. He’ll fill a decent venue with J-rock fans, but remains very niche and I doubt even most rock fans in America are familiar with him. Anyway, we got into the cavernous venue, Coast, after enduring the fair-but-mostly-frustrating-and-meaningless Japanese gig venue entry system, which involves going inside in order of ticket number. I immediately saw that the place had a superb sound system, and will be very happy if I get to play on a stage like that at some point. Got a spot around the middle with my friends and waited for the absurdly early kick-off time. He started playing at around 6:30pm with no support act. It feels very odd to come out of a gig at around 9. Miyavi plays with just one other musician onstage, a very ordinary yet strangely loveable drummer called Bobo. It seems that at some point recently, Miyavi tried using a female keyboard player/DJ – as, after all, there’s quite a bit of playback in his lives, as well as extensive use of looping pedals – but anecdotally, it seems the crowds didn’t take to her much and she was nowhere to be seen at Coast. Though this two-musician dynamic, especially with a drummer who keeps things very basic complementing a virtuosic drummer, is the most obvious point of reference, it is not only for that reason that I say the band I was most reminded of was The White Stripes. There are many other similarities – a heavy influence from the blues, a very crunchy guitar sound, poppy hooks with a hard rock sound, and most of all this air of striving for authenticity. Both Miyavi and Jack White are trying very hard to convince their audience that they are very authentic musicians, that they suffer for their art and wring guitar squeals deep from their souls, but have to struggle against the elements of their songwriting that come over as artificial – the times they need backing tracks because one guitar doesn’t make a big enough sound, the times they’re getting the desired effect (like Miyavi’s extensive use of a pedal that made his guitar sound like a theramin) through very clinical digital manipulation and their often trite lyrics. Yet both have flashes of real brilliance where they are absolutely convincing, and Miyavi has the considerable advantage of being naturally likeable. And I think that’s why I enjoyed this gig more than either time I saw The White Stripes, even with something of a feeling of having seen it all before. Amusingly, the crowd tried very, very hard in the first two songs – there was a lot of pogoing, fist-pumping and the sort of crush in the middle I associate with festivals. A couple of poor girls were even helped out having collapsed. And then on the third song, as if a switch had been flipped, it all stopped. Everyone relaxed, decided they had their place and stopped shoving. Jumping up and down was strictly in place and perfectly comfortable. Apart from one fan-favourite song that involved lots more pogoing, the gig was then very calm. It was almost cute, but slightly strange. Still, I got an excellent spot with an excellent view despite by terrible ticket number, and as I was in front of a guy my height, I didn’t feel bad about blocking the view of the numerous tiny Japanese girls in the crowd, most of whom must have been able to see little more than somebody’s shouldblades for the entire gig. Miyavi is obviously an experienced and clever musician. His setlist flowed extremely well. He began with raucous numbers to get the crowd pumped up, sustained that for a while as he showed off his guitar skills, and then switched to an acoustic for some slow, heartfelt numbers – through which Bobo sat perfectly still, watching politely. This was probably the highlight for me, and if I implied earlier that guitar loops take away authenticity, here they were fluid and delicate and gave a coffee-shop mood to a huge stadium gig. Neither voice nor guitar were perfect, but that added to the feeling of seeing a piece of genuine and heartfelt expression. Japanese live music can often be too clean, precise and clinical, and Miyavi was in danger of that at times, but here he pitched it exactly right. Miyavi has obviously opened his mind to blues musicians and recent, tortured vocalists – yes, especially Jack White – and taken that on board without being derivative. This segued neatly into his most obvious gimmick, using a guitar like a bass for fast-paced slapped riffs. He’d been doing it during the opening songs but did far more Dick Dale-style alternate picking, and on the acoustic it really stood out. Soon he switched over to his electric again, and most of the last part of the set was fun, singalong anthems. Oh, and at some point he stripped down to a wife-beater to reveal his muscular arms and tattoos, which obviously had great appeal with a considerable part of the audience and is an undeniable element in his success – but then, that’s nothing to be ashamed of in the world of music. After his first encore song, Miyavi stopped to talk with the audience – either padding in a short set or the real philosophical crux of his tour, depending how cynical you feel. He had a bizarre message around his album and tour title – ‘We Are the Others’, which was very much like being part of the Life of Brian sketch – Brian: You are all individuals! Crowd (in unison): Yes! We are all individuals! He started out by singling out people who had come from around the world. ‘Put your hands up if you came from over another country. Where are you from?’ ‘Hong Kong!’ ‘How about you?’ ‘America!’ From this, he tried to make a point about exclusion and being othered by talking about being picked on as a half-Korean boy in a Japanese school. This is in the past, now, though, he claimed. Now we are in an international society and nobody needs to be ostracised or left out. He has ‘made it’ in the USA, so the world is a global place now. So Japanese people, please don’t feel I’m abandoning you for something better and keep buying my records and coming to my gigs, okay? Yet at the same time he wanted to celebrate individuals and people who stand out – the ‘Others’. But we are all the others, he said. Everyone is special! There was of course not a shred of irony here, or acknowledgement of the contradiction. When everyone is special, the term ‘special’ loses its meaning. In a way, it was horribly patronising. ‘Large mass of people, I stand up here above you, knowing you all worship me, to tell you that you are special like me!’ It was very much having a cake and eating it. But after all, it was a rock gig, and the audience is going to lap up anything that sounds vaguely positive, including if it’s delivered in another language. I liked him more when he was picking on poor Bobo, and blaming him for not touring more around the world. But oh well, rock stars are allowed to have a bit of bullshit in the encore of their solo gig. And the final song and singalong reprise of his anthemic ‘We Are the Others’ song left the crowd in no doubt that this was just a fun, straightforward bit of rock ’n’ roll.

Vlog: Harajuku Kawaii and a metal gig.

Worst boyband ever

Worst boyband ever

Ahaha, today I went shopping for new clothes, and when I tried on all the new stuff I've bought in Japan and took photos, I realised I could put them together into one image. Now it appears I’ve formed a boy band made up of me, me, me and me. Everyday me, kodona-ish me, host-y me and punky me. I think I like my host-y self best, overall! I no longer feel so much like a fashion phoney, though I would still have to run away if someone asked me who made the clothes. They were cheap and second-hand and I didn’t check! On a related note, on Sunday I went to Harajuku to take part in a fashion-based event, Harajuku Kawaii. Which I followed up with a metal gig! Here's my vlog about it: