Akabane Vulgars On Strong Bypass—that’s a mouthful—have been driving across the U.S., playing as many dates as they could, wherever they could. John Genzale saw them play at the SXSW festival earlier this year, and was so impressed, he offered, or demanded, that they let him take them on a tour across the U.S. He bought a van, a drum-set, acquired some speaker cabinets, and Akabane Vulgars On Strong Bypass provided the rest. They started off by covering the West Coast, doing nine dates in California, then over to Nevada for a couple of shows, and on up to Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, where they played and did some recording. There they accumulated more CDs, T-shirts, and posters, and headed off across the U.S.A. They booked dates as they traveled and managed to play shows in five more states on their way across to New York City. They had two dates booked there, and added another show shortly before they reached New York. Admittedly, some of the dates didn’t draw much of a crowd for this band, who, except for their appearances at SXSW, were virtually unknown in the U.S.A. From what I heard, though, most of their West Coast dates went over very well, and MTV Iggy featured a story about them and their first U.S. tour, which Akabane Vulgars On Strong Bypass dubbed Return Of The King Zero. Yes, they do seem to like long titles. Their first CD is called The Rumps Smolder At The Gloom. Returning to the subject of the tour, many of the places they played invited them to play again any time they could return. So, as it happened, some of the places they played on their way across to NYC, they also played on their way back across to the West Coast, where they replayed some of the clubs that had booked them earlier along with some new dates. Often times the band slept in the van as they headed off to the next show. After the show at Trash Bar in Brooklyn, we found a place to eat before they took off for their two day drive to St. Paul, Minnesota. The first consideration was getting to the restaurant. I would have been the only extra passenger, but it was impressed upon me that they had no room in the van for another person. In spite of these cramped quarters, the band of three, and John, were all very pleasant and even sweet. They very much seemed to be enjoying their adventure.
I first saw them at a small club called Lit Lounge in the East Village of New York City. I didn’t know what to expect. Yumi Uchizono, the singer/guitarist, who also writes the songs, has one of the lowest female vocals I’ve heard in rock music. She isn’t gentle with it, either. A friend described her vocals as a growl, and there is a certain roughness to it. One of the positive things that first impressed me about the band as they did their sound check was that Yumi has a smoother voice than I had heard in the recordings. Apparently, she overpowers the microphones, which gives her vocals that rough sound. What impressed me next was the power and tightness of this band. They rocked hard and were well rehearsed. Yumi handles the vocals and guitar. Her sister, Miki Uchizono, handles the bass guitar and roams the stage as they play, and their friend, Kei Sofue, pounds the drums into submission. If you see Kei on a gig night, she’ll have a drum key necklace on. As I listened to them and watched them play, I was very impressed. This is a powerful band, and they are a rock band, but as I listened more closely, in spite of the power of the music, there’s a laid back quality to the rhythm Miki and Kei are providing for Yumi. The rhythm section is solid, but it’s relaxed, too. In spite of the very rocking sound of this band, I heard a touch of country music, and I wasn’t sure where it came from. Perhaps it was the confidence and bluesy nature of the rhythm section, but as Akabane Vulgars On Strong Bypass continued to rock through their set, and they were rocking hard, I began to feel that it was Yumi’s low, resonant vocals. In my mind they presented themselves as a slow drawl, and it could have been those vocals that made this rocking music with the edgy guitar possess such a confident swagger. As I listened, the music of this Japanese, female trio presented itself to me as a swaggering cowboy, and I had to respect them all the more.
Unfortunately, they were the first band to play that night, and though it was a Friday night, there were not many people there to enjoy the powerful music this band was presenting. On Saturday night, again, they were the first band to play, and again, there were only a few people when they began their set. The audience did slowly increase as they played, but it remained a smallish crowd. It was disappointing to see such a good band, who had come all the way from Japan, and driven all the way across the country, virtually ignored here in New York. I shouldn’t be shocked. I’ve been following the vibrant Japanese underground rock scene for a good long time now, and sometimes I wonder why these bands come to New York City at all. I’m sure glad they do, and I’ll continue to go see as many Japanese underground bands as I can, because time and time again I find that underground Japanese bands like Akabane Vulgars On Strong Bypass are reinventing our rock music in ways that are vital and exciting, while our own bands seem content to copy older bands and follow trends.
Akabane Vulgars On Strong Bypass did finally get their night in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and it was wonderful to see. The first date they had been able to book was at Trash Bar, and while on Friday and Saturday night in New York City they had been virtually ignored, as the third band on the bill, on a Monday night, they finally had a respectable sized crowd to play to. When they started playing, a surprising number of the audience pushed to the front and began cavorting wildly, because they realized they were hearing some exciting music. Some were dancing. Some were bouncing about against each other. Others seemed to just be wildly raising their arms up into the air and running in place. Most of them had big smiles on their faces, and some of us moved about through the rowdy crowd trying to get pictures we hoped would represent the vitality of this event. Meanwhile, the band was ramming through their set with emphatically more energy than I had seen on the previous two nights. There was a touch less swagger, and a lot more roar. Miki was raising up her arms, and Yumi was raising up her guitar. They were obviously enjoying the scene unfolding before them of a healthy sized crowd of New Yorkers getting excited and dancing wildly to their music, and it seemed to make them play harder and faster. For me it was a joyful experience to see them get their chance and give their all.
This is a fine band with an original approach. They sound like no other band I’ve heard before. I had quizzed them on their influences. Almost all of the music they liked came from the west, and most of it came from the U.S.A. Here they were at Trash Bar getting the kind of reception they deserved. One of the highlights of their set was their cover of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. Yumi delighted in the fact that almost everyone she could see in the audience that night was singing the lyrics along with her. As most of the audience was not Japanese at these shows, and most of the lyrics are in Japanese, ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ was one of the few chances for Akabane Vulgars On Strong Bypass to connect with the audience in that audience’s own language. It was not the only chance, though. They always closed their sets with an original which features English lyrics. It’s entitled, ‘Wanna Be Just What I Wanna Be’. It’s a statement that’s repeated over and over again during the song, and shouted proudly by every member of the band, as Akabane Vulgars On Strong Bypass pound their rocking sound home with every bit of force they can muster. It was inspiring to see, and I believe at that moment they were fully achieving that ambition!
—Paul Wheeler (former webmaster, writer and photographer of RockOfJapan.com)