Monday, February 9, 2009


(Image borrowed from Collection of Colonies of Bees web site.)

Last Saturday night I did something I haven't done in a log time - go to a live concert (I think my last concert was to see Puddle of Mudd in Traverse City, Michigan, USA a couple years ago). My student, Joe, had turned me on to this band named toe last semester. Toe reminds me of a cross between Pat Metheny and Pink Floyd. Their cds are full of instrumental jams that I imagined sounded even better in a live setting. So when Joe told me toe was coming to the Osaka, I had to go...

Link to toe web page:

The venue was Fandango, a live house set among bars, izakayas, pachinko parlours, love hotels, host bars, hostess clubs and other sex shops in the Juso area of Osaka. The place is kind of hard to find as it does not have a flashing neon sign and its door looks more like a back entrance. There was a short line to get in. Once inside we (I was accompanied by my care-taker) received many flyers and a complimentary sampler promotional cd (from Contrarede). The place was packed. We were obliged to buy a mandatory drink along with the ticket so we made our way to the bar and ordered a couple of beers. I was surprised to receive my beer in a real glass. They were serving drinks in glass bottles and cans as well. Again, the place was packed as we tried to make our way towards the stage. The best we could do was about 10 meters from the stage. Waves of people were in front of us so it was impossible to get a clear view. Of course the tallest of the Japanese people had to be in front of me. Luckily there were three video monitors set up in the middle of the room on the left side, providing a better view of the band, when the camera was in focus, that is.

There were lots of young people, in their twenties, mostly males with medium length hair and black horn-rimmed glasses. There were only 4 other foreigners in the crowd of some 200-plus people as I could see. Joe was one of them, appearing in the front, very close to the stage. We were able to exchange greetings between people and somehow he managed to get a shot of me with his camera (me beer glass raised hand, other hand giving the peace sign). I was easily the oldest person there. Even before the first band began, I was struggling between flashbacks of my college and San Francisco days and observations of the sheer differences of this Japanese live house event.

No moshing, so no worry of broken glass. Bartenders squeezed through the crowd to gather bottles, cans and glasses when people finished their beverages. A few people were smoking cigarettes, but other substances seemed to be missing. When the band started there was polite applause. Most gently swayed with the beat of the music - there were no crazy dancers.

The place was incredibly hot and the air stale. Standing for such a long time was proving to be difficult. So glad to have my caretaker with me I thought. Just then a young woman stumbled towards us, ultimately collapsing against the sound engineer's booth. My caretaker rushed to help her. Soon bartenders were there to escort her to a bar stool at the back of the room.

The first band was Collection of Colonies of Bees. After the first loud crash of the drum I stuck tissue in my ears for protection (a colleague told me how he had punctured his ear at a concert and while it has recovered, he still hears ringing sounds; I am not afraid to lose my hearing as I can do sign language but I can do without the ringing...). They jammed with guitars, a bass, drums, keyboards and at least two Mac computers. Sort of an electronic Brian Eno meets Pink Floyd sound - all instrumentals. The musician in the rear (playing keyboards, a guitar at times and one of the Macs was a large man sporting a full beard - he looked like my cousin from Minnesota (turns out the band is from Wisconsin...).

I really liked this band and hope to hear more of their stuff.

Link to Collections of Colonies of Bees web page:

The first band finished, more polite applause and then toe began setting up. It was at this time that my caretaker began to feel ill. She excused herself to the back of the bar and told me to stay where I was. By this time I had maneuvered into a space so I could lean against the sound booth; there was no way I could stand unsupported much longer. I wondered if I could really enjoy the show without my companion. And besides, she was supposed to take care of me...

The band started and toe was as great as I suspected they would be. Very tight jams. I enjoyed the music. I also took out my camera for the first time and began to take some shots. I wasn't sure if photographing was allowed. There were no signs and no warnings on my ticket stub. I didn't see other people in the audience with cameras. There were people associated with the bars taking photos. I snapped a few but as you can see I wasn't able to get much due to my position, distance and the lighting.

I took a photo of one of the video monitors so maybe you can get a better idea of the set-up.

But most of my photographs turned out like this.

But it really seemed to match the experience - trippy music and light dancing here and there...

I also shot a few seconds of video a couple times. This clip should give you a better idea of the scene.

After the show I gathered my caretaker (who had recovered and became friends with the young woman who passed out earlier) and we headed to the door and fresher air. On the way we encountered Joe, who looked extremely happy. And why not? Imagine being in the front row, less than a meter away from your favorite band. He spoke to me as I struggled to remove the tissue buried deep in my ears. I asked him if he took any photos and he gave me this look like I just failed him on a school assignment. "No... I was listening to the music..." Relax, Joe. You're not in my class this semester...

Anyway, despite all the health problems encountered, it was a good night and a great show. My caretaker, however, was still a little confused by the music. She had never heard of the bands before. I tried to explain who they were and what they were doing by offering a comparison with Pink Floyd. She claimed not to know Pink Floyd as well. Now it was my turn to get ill... The rest of the evening was spent trying to educate her on such important matters.

I realized that night, I might be too old to be hip again, but I'll always be the visual anthropologist struggling to discover Japan... Can one take photos/video at Japanese live shows?


Joe said...

Despite the fact that my camera was digging into my hip for most of the show, it never occurred to me to take photos once Collections came on. The thrill was too distracting! After we got outside, I realized that nobody else had pulled a camera out either, except for the token venue staff member with the massive lens. Even he didn't stick around very long.

This is something I love about going to shows in Japan - people actually go to see the musicians play. It's not a social event where people chat between (or during) songs, and definitely not a fanbase contest where the loudest screamer is the biggest fan. When the guitarist who did the vocals for "Goodbye" asked the audience, "dou desu ka," I was surprised that I was half of the people who answered. (I with "tengoku!" and another guy with "chou ii!") At another point in the show, someone else shouted "Hey hey, saitei!" but that was about it for non-applause audience response.

I'm glad to hear you had a great time, too! Don't let your age stifle your desire to get out to the venues and mingle with your fellow fans. If they're in it for the music, they won't care either.

PS: I bought a copy of the DVD and watched it the next day. I'll bring it in this week for you, seeing as the stuff I sent via Dan turned out to be only the audio. You get what you [don't] pay for!

PPS: Having never listened to Floyd, your comparison now motivates me to.

PPPS: The photo I got of you turned out really blurry. I feared subjecting all the people between us to the flash. I think I know which blur is you, though! Ha ha.


Anonymous said...

Can one take photos/video at Japanese live shows?

I've seen bands stop playing because people were taking photos on two separate occasions (though one was because they were using flash; no-flash was ok). I assume some bands don't want their photos taken because they don't want people undercutting their glossy fan photo market -- an argument unlikely to apply to toe.

Anyway, you should come to a visual kei event to witness slightly different audience behaviour...