After walking around all day and getting 5 hours of sleep(2 on the plane) I made it to the thankfully easy to find Shimokitazawa Club Que on my first day in Japan. Even if I had been to a concert in Japan before, this was my first concert experience in Tokyo, plus the last show I went to, in Okinawa, I arrived late and didn’t go through the motions to getting into a live.
I would be attending Karen’s monthly live event, mou-u moku vol.2 on a cloudy day in Tokyo March 26, 2010. I had been following Club Que’s website for some weeks and what was labeled as a One-Man show soon became what could be called a two man show: Karen, fresh! and Kenichi Fumoto as the opening act. the previous moku show Karen held was a one man show but this time they would be scaling back on their stage time to give way to singer/songwriter Kenichi Fumoto and the progressive rock/jam band fresh!, who also shared drummer and bassists with Karen. It was an interesting mix of genres playing at Que that night and I knew it was sure to be a great first show.
The attendants lined everyone up according to ticket number. Since I bought my ticket at the door, I was last to go in but being early, the club was fairly empty. I had a heavy bag so I positioned myself against the wall to put my bag down. My back hurt, my feet hurt, my throat was starting to sting from lack of a drink, and fatigue was slowly creeping up on me but I held out until the the opening act finally came on.
Kenichi Fumoto came on stage with only his acoustic guitar and sat on a small chair towards the left side of the stage. This was my first time listening to his music, but someone had said on his Last.FM page that his music made them want to cry. I expected that his songs would be quite moving and they were. His voice really captured the melancholy of his songs and his tone especially made them seem bittersweet. He brought in a support guitarist, a female vocalist, and a girl on keybaords for the latter half of his set(one of them which I think is a member of Nisennenmondai), where his song “Fuck you, I love you” really brought up the mood. Instead of being touching like his previous songs, this song was much more bright and uplifting. I was almost moved to tears, honestly, and I had no idea what he had even been talking about in any of his songs…
Fresh! was the next act on the bill. I didn’t know a lot about fresh!, just that they had members from a couple of bands in their lineup. Before I left to Japan I found out the band is comprised of the ex. bassist and drummer of downy(who play in KAREN), the guitarist for Sparta Locals and music from mars, and the sax who used to play for downy and was support for KAREN. So it made sense that Karen invited them to play them night.
Their music was straight up tight jamming and improvisations. After the rhythm sections laid down the beat the two guitarists went at it, dueling each other from across both sides of the stage. When the sax came in the two guitarist played in unison, which created a really tight sound. The blending of guitar and sax was especially interesting to hear. Unfortunately, Hiroshi(sax.) was standing in the center with the sax but he isn’t much of a character on stage and in between parts he just stared at the ceiling or onto the floor barely showing any emotions(later when he went on stage with Karen vocalist Achiko, she was glad she was able to make him smile during one of the MC’s). Not that you would know if you hadn’t been watching him because when he played his skills were pure bliss. They got by with about 5 or 6 songs, all totally up to about 9 minutes each in their short set. fresh! reminded me sometimes of Zazen Boys(eg. the dueling guitars playing off the expertly executed rhythm) and with the sax they sometimes reminded me of Natsumen(not just because of the sax but the pure jamming and improvising they did and definitely noise). However, they didn’t fall completely into each category, but made a rift in the middle to call their own.
It took some time before KAREN, the headliners, finally made it to the stage. By this time the crowd was up against the wall in the back; when I arrived, there only a few rows of people in the front.
To be honest, I’m not so fond of Karen’s music. I’ve listened to their first album a few times through and no song really stuck except the title track, “Lorraine”(which wasn’t even played that night. I think because Riki was back-up vocals in the song and was still recovering from his sickness, they decided not to…). Hearing the songs live definitely helped me acquire a new impression of them. The vocalist looked a lot different since I had seen her in the music video for “Lorraine” too. She took out all the boring qualities I had associated with Karen’s music by giving a strong performance on vocals, on that seemed restrained in their studio recordings. Each song came to life, and with the fresh! member on sax and another support member on violins/keyboards every song retained its original qualities while sounding twice as powerful as their albums. It was a fantastic show and during the last song vocalist Achiko made her way into the crowd and sang the end of the final song amidst the audience(at this time I really regretted standing in the corner because she never made her way over here).
I was actually hoping I could have seen another concert that night instead of Karen’s because I thought I would actually have been bored by their set. Instead, I came out of Club Que wishing I had been more familiar with their material and dieing to get a ticket to next month’s show. I felt just like I had when I left the bonobos concert in Okinawa nearly a year earlier. My thoughts were paralleled almost exactly: I wasn’t expecting to be very entertained with the band’s music but when they played their music on stage the sounds were incredibly vibrant and rid of whatever flaws I had with their recorded material. I also knew one song from bonobos quite well, “Beautiful”, but it was the one song they didn’t play that night, like Karen didn’t play my favorite, “Lorraine”.
I walked out with a Karen T-Shirt in hand and smelling like smoke. It was a long way back to my hotel in Aomono-Yokocho, a few train stops from Shinagawa Station. During the commute I was able to reflect on the live I went to and was more reassured that seeing a band live was the most appropriate way to listen to music. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of other bands in Japan(and more around the world) that record music that isn’t half of their live performance. This was only my first concert in Tokyo and I later learned that this mind set would prove true throughout my misadventures in various Live Houses during my entire trip.