Thursday, February 28, 2008

BORDER CROSSING: Shorty Cat at Benten's Wacky Wild Party

I when I found the flyer for a Benten Label Wacky Wild Party, I was ecstatic. My introduction to Benten bands nearly eight years ago was a Wacky Wild Gift sampler I found at the Rhino Records store in New Paltz, NY as a college student. Many of the groups on the comp have since disbanded, but the flyer in hand listed three of those fabled bands on the bill, namely, Petty Booka, Noodles and Lolita No.18. And to boot, this Wacky Wild Party was held in celebration of Lolita No.18's 18th anniversary, with perfect coordination, on February 18th! Also, participating in this nite of girl punk fun was Shorty Cat, a cutesy, street punk/riot grrl influenced Korean girl band who I had stumbled across about a year ago. I quickly shot Audrey Benten a myspace message asking to be put on the advance ticket list at Shinjuku LOFT and voila, I was on my way.

I arrived 15 minutes after 6pm while Teenager just started their set. They are a three piece with a very definite Lolita influence but have more back-and-forth vocal interaction between the bass player and guitarist. The highlight for me was when Misia of Droop joined the Teenager girls on the Flamenco A-go go song "I'm Your Mom." The Benten spirit felt alive! However, when they finished, I realized I missed Petty Booka's 10 minute set. I was a bit crushed and tried to drown my sorrow in a quick cup of beer from my drink ticket.

(Shorty Cat's MV "With the Punk")
Being divided by two stage areas, this show at Loft had a festival feel with people migrating back an forth. Next up was Arinco Gang who fill the room with enough cute pop showing exactly how Ketchup Mania's influence has spread like, well, a derailed ketchup tanker. Soapland Momiyama picked things up with their tantalizing cave woman garage rock. While I grooved to Azarashi (MAGO +Sammy)'s set of electronic bongo/theremin driven pseudo-exotica, I surprisingly ran into a recent friend... Billy Trash from Ed Woods! He recommended the next band Who the Bitch, easily the most danceable group of the night. Radicals from Osaka, dressed to the ninety-nines, played a fun rockin' set girl punk tunes. Seeing Noodles, for the second time in Japan, I thought they are always pleasant with their surfy hooks and softer indie motifs. Throughout the nite I noticed quite a few Japanese street punk kids with studded leathers and heavy eyeshadow, I kinda figured they came for Shorty Cat and I was right. With diverse audience giving them a warm reception, these girls punched through a bunch of rambunctiously cute punk ditties leaving everyone shouting for more despite the fact the ladies of the evening were up next, Lolita No. 18 that is. Now I count Lolita No. 18 as one of my all time favorite bands and Masayo continues to sing in her deliciously grating voice but, being a fan of the old songs, I can't seem to get into the recent live shows. It pains me to write anything remotely negative, but I thought for their 18th anniversary show I would hear some of the classics like "Bobby Tank" and "Tokyo Mushroom" and their unforgettable renditions of "Rockaway Beach" and "Hang on Sloopy (sic)." But I guess it's something to Masayo's credit to want to move forward with her band. Nonetheless, it was a cool scene for Lolita No.18 to bring all the bands that played on stage for a Wacky Wild encore with "Saloon," everyone's all time favorite!

After the show, I met up with Pheobe from Shorty Cat and got some CDs for Pacifiction Records. After the show, I met up with Pheobe from Shorty Cat and got some CDs for Pacifiction Records. Two nights earlier they played another border crossing show at Nakano Moonstep with One Man Stand from the UK alongside local bands like Rough Stuff, Springers, The Prisoner, Drex and The 100-Hooligans.

For some pics of this show, visit this Flickr account:

For more info about Shorty Cat. visit the following links:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

BORDER CROSSING: Mike Watt in Japan

In recent years, I've been into going out to see the legends of punk rock. A couple years ago, I went to CBGB's and met Captain Sensible, dare I say the closest thing I could have to an idol?! If I listened to the Damned much in high school, I was definitely attached to Mike Watt and the Minutemen in college. I remember I picked up Double Nickel on the Dime at the Salvation Army across from my share house, what a find! And around the same time a free jazz nut named Space Noodle started crashing illegally in the small "living room" connected to my room. He lent me a copy of Watt's solo album Contemplating the Engine Room, often described as a "punk rock opera" paying homage to the Minutemen as well as his father who served in the Navy. My own grandfather had been in the Navy, so I guess growing up around pictures of him in his uniform at Grandma's house endeared me to this record.

So when I heard about Mike Watt coming to Japan, I was ready to go see what it would be like. I knew, with exception of his recent activity in the Stooges, he wasn't doing much in the way of punk rock, but I was ready to see him wail on the bass! And I chose to go the show where Melt-banana was the opener! The name of the place is Highti, not a live house at all, but a warehouse performance space connected to some artists house off-the-beaten-path near the Arakawa River. After bumbling my way around the neighborhood, I finally stopped a taxi driver who used his GPS to show me the place was two blocks over! He wouldn't even take me there and I had to walk, getting lost again before finally finding the place. I actually pride myself on my sense of direction, but Japan seems to mess with my built-in radar.

Anyway, I paid my cover (really cheap for a Japanese show, only 1000 yen!), chuckle inwardly at the Uno card which is my free drink ticket and size up the area. I felt like I was at a warehouse gig in Brooklyn, that is if the ratio of Japanese to foreigners were reversed. But he decor was all there, random art on plywood walls, a weird swing with a pink hippo hanging over the front of the band area and a tribal charge of electrified guitars and saxophone blasts holding everyone's attention. The next band called 2up invited Mike Watt to play on a couple songs with them and surprised him and everyone else with a over of "Man without Nature,"which was enjoyable because nobody expected it, not even Watt who just went with it giving his best.

(2up with Mike Watt on the right, Photo taken from Highti's Blog)

Melt-banana played a set with their fullest intensity and it was pretty cool to see them so close to an audience that just jammed along to the fast-paced punky quirks and Yasuko's high pitched yells. After they played, I saw Yasuko hanging up some T-shirts to sell. I mentioned that I saw them in Yokohama a year ago and that Pacifiction Records now carries Doggy Style: The Dogs Tribute with Melt-banana doing "GST 483." I also mentioned Taiwan and if she would be interested in going there for some shows, and one of her friends said he went to the Formoz festival the previous year with YMCK... I said I was at the same show! It's a small rock n roll world!

So I went back in to see Mike Watt play with his improv group which consisted of Watt on bass, a drummer and a second bass player. While Watt put everything he had into the bass his little Rilakumma doll bouncing in his flannel jack-shirt pocket as frantic as he was bouncing on stage. The drummer occasionally shouted into the mic in time and the second bassist did some acrobatics forcing his instrument over a beam in the ceiling. Japanese punks, hipsters and cats of all kinds grooved to it all. And, Mike Watt proved he was The Man In Japan With A Bass In His Hand!

For hardcore fans, please dig Mike Watt's Japan Tour Diary on his Hoot Page.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

BORDER CROSSING: The Kids in Japan

The recent surge in reformed, touring '77 punk bands has dredged up many of the forgotten obscure sounds when the youth movement was sparking up all over th UK, Ireland and also mainland Europe. Well, at least in the West these bands remained obscure until labels like Bomp! and ROIR revive them; but in Japan, many of these acts have a continuous and ongoing fandom and when they finally make it over to tour, they are received by enthusiastic Japanese fans waiting patiently to take a snapshot with the band and get their original LP's autographed. It was like this for Nikki Corvette (a Japanese friend first turned me on to her garage punk sounds), The Dogs who were recently celebrated with a tribute album here, The Cannibals who joined Back from the Grave and The Stems who have had CDs reissued by two separate Japanese labels. It was no less the same for The Kids, the cheeky, untamed Belgian punk group who were known to have played alongside Iggy Pop and Patti Smith when they came to Japan for a two niter at Shelter in Shimokitazawa.

Honestly, I had not heard about The Kids before, but I had been listening to some of their old recordings recently. I'm also very interested in world punk, especially from the original punk era, so I was excited to see what it would be like. I learned earlier that The Kids were really kids when they started out, being between the ages 12 and 20, in 1976. They are also accredited to being the first Belgian punk band.

Their Sunday night set at Shelter seared many of their songs into my brain upon hearing them; I couldn't forget "Do You Love the Nazis?" "I Wanna Get a Job in the City," "Freedom, Liberty, Democracy" and of course "Radio Radio." After playing a very full set to a packed audience who kept yelling for more, The Kids came back out and played a double encore appropriately including Sham69's "If the Kids are United" and "Blitzkrieg Bop." Be sure to view The Kids' Japan video tour diary on YouTube!

The Kids were brought to Japan by 1977 Records, a local label that reissues many classic punk and power pop bands. They brought the Stems here last November and have organized events for The Fast Cars and Private Dicks later this year.

Monday, February 04, 2008

BORDER CROSSING: Kou Chou Ching on Okinawa

Continuing my blog series on groups working with Pacifiction Records who cross borders, I'll talk a little about Kou Chou Ching's recent trip to Okinawa. I actually didn't attend this event so there's not much I can really say about it. After coming to Japan last Summer to play a show in Tokyo with underground Japanese hip hop artist Bubble-B, they maintained their connections, flew a brief 30 minutes from Taiwan to Okinawa and jammed with several Japanese DJs on the tiny tropical island. If you have Traditional Chinese character reading ability you can get details on their blog (

Kou Chou Ching come from Taiwan and they make sure you know it in their music which is made with local samples and traditional instrumentation from their native country. They have a forthcoming album, following up on FuKe, which will be available on Pacifiction Records shortly.

(Fan by a Torii in Okinawa)