Praha Depart’s last show in New York, before they returned to Tokyo, was at Lit Lounge. They had played five dates in the New York area, and one in Philadelphia. I had seen two of the New York area shows and wanted to see them again. Actually, having seen Praha Depart twice, the Lit Lounge performance offered no real surprises, and much like the first time I saw them at Goodbye Blue Monday, the music and the show were toned down, but the musicianship was strong enough to keep things interesting. Praha Depart were able to get much louder at Fontana’s, the second show I saw, and not only did they sound amazing and their music become more powerful, Mai’s dancing got much livelier. At Lit Lounge, again, most of the time her feet stayed on the ground, and she would sway back and forth, not even moving her hips as much as at Goodbye Blue Monday. Now and then she would start stomping, though, and there were, as always, a lot of expressive arm movements. Their music seems to have some traditional Japanese influences that show through the various rock and jazz influences that dominate the sound. I commented to Tsukasa, the guitarist, and Mai, the singer, that some of it vaguely reminded me of the music of Japanese obon dancing, which is a kind of traditional Japanese dance done at annual festivals. At times I had almost expected the male band members to shout out whoops and hollers. Mai commented that some of her dancing comes from traditional obon dancing from the south of Japan.
Technically this is a very impressive band. Jyumpei, the drummer is damn good, both powerful and subtle, and everyone I’ve talked to after seeing them praises his skills. It’s Tsukasa, the guitarist, who impressed me the most after seeing them several times. He plays a completely different style of guitar for every song they do. In the first song at Lit Lounge he played a slow, repetitive, one note at a time lead. In the next he was banging on the back of the guitar neck, and doing pick slides. In one song he uses slow, open chords, in another fast chords and note slides. Often he’s playing very quietly, slowly rocking back and forth, then he might bend way over, bang his guitar on the ground, or flip it up into the air. Kazu is on bass, and takes his shirt off when he gets up on stage. He’s also a guitarist, and only recently joined Praha Depart as their bassist. Most of what he plays is fine. He doesn’t stand out often, but now and then he slips in a nice run or two. Very possibly his role in the band will grow as he plays with them longer. Mai, the singer, dresses for the show, adding a good deal of make-up beforehand, including tear-dropped shaped, sparkly things underneath her eyes. She also wears strings of decorative fluff balls which hang from the sides of her headpiece. Tsukasa wears scarf-like fabrics, one around his face, and a larger one around his waist like a skirt. After noticing him adjusting his outfit before shows, I asked him if there was a meaning or a reason behind his stage costume. He admitted there was no concept behind what he wore, but said he felt that the stage was a special place, so he didn’t want to wear his usual clothing while performing. He wants his appearance to be special, too. The rest of the band seems to agree with him, except perhaps Jyumpei, who doesn’t noticeably alter his appearance for the stage. Perhaps he doesn’t feel he needs to, sitting back behind the drums, and, of course, he’s concentrating on that praiseworthy drumming.
Each ot the songs go through stages and gradually build. Mai’s vocals are rich, and like her dancing, and Tsukasa’s guitar techniques, her voice changes according to the song. Before Kazu joined the band, she handled both the bass and the vocals. Having Kazu take over the bass has allowed her to develop her vocals and present them more theatrically. Sometimes she performs the songs with a spirit of cuteness, sometimes beauty, and at times even anger. Tsukasa claims there is a good deal of improvisation in their music. Though he may have been talking about the creation of the songs, there is a naturalness to the way their songs build that gives their music an improvisational feel. Toward the end of the first song at Lit Lounge there was a drum solo. During the last song Jyumpei dramatically increased the emphasis and volume of his playing. The rest of the band followed suit and brought the set to an emphatic conclusion. At Fontana’s they were able to get louder and roar a bit more, and so they did. Each night their sound grew within the limits they were given. When the limits were broadened, their sound grew until it filled the room. When the room demanded a quieter approach, that’s what they delivered, but always with finesse and grace. They are a band with a mature sound, and well worth witnessing. Praha Depart’s artistic presentation clothes its technical abilities in a richly inspired fictional tradition. It will be interesting to see how their sound and presentation continue to grow. The band plans a return trip to New York in the fall. I, for one, look forward to seeing them again!
—Paul Wheeler (former webmaster, writer and photographer of RockOfJapan.com)