Monday 12 March 2007

Journey Into ライブ: Shimokitazawa Garage (03.06.07)

by dokool (the other dan)

Warning: Lots of Background Ahead

Two and a half years ago, I was but a wee lad, 18 and spending my Junior year abroad in Tokyo courtesy of the deliciously inexpensive state tuition at Temple University Japan. I'd decided to adapt a philosophy of exploration; I would not miss the opportunity to check out a new event or place, no matter how futile my battle with the language was.

Such circumstance brought me to a little hole-in-the-wall called Shimokitazawa GARAGE (page in Japanese), where after explaining that no, I hadn't signed up for an advanced ticket, I paid whatever I paid at the time, got a nice little bundle of fliers and アンケト, and opened the door into the performance space.

I was immediately homed in on by Tama-san, who seemed all-too-eager to talk to me and introduce me to his band, ザ☆ムーズムズ. Undoubtedly my presence was a glitch in their Matrix - how many foreigners are aware of the alternative garage band scene, much less make the effort to attend such a show?

In any case, the night was an eye-opening experience for me - 4 or 5 bands played, but Tama and his group won me over as they seemed to be the only group who cared more about getting the audience into it than about musicianship. Not to say that they didn't care about the music - indeed, they were quite talented, but they didn't forget that music was about having fun first and foremost. I would become good friends with the band, seeing them several times over the course of my year at TUJ and seeing dozens of other bands along the way.

Though it took me a year and a half to get back to Tokyo in a permanent state, little had changed - ザ☆ムーズムズ was now known as はちばな, with a couple new members to boot. All my favorite haunts (Garage, Hot Shot, ACB Hall) were still standing and rocking as always. And the music was always good stuff.

The Venue
GARAGE is a 5-10 minute walk from Shimokitazawa Station's North Exit, accessible via. the Odakyu line and the Keio Inokashira Line. It's a small place - I imagine it could fit maybe 50 people comfortably, 60-70 decidedly less so. As with all other live houses in the city, there's a bar with 500-yen drinks, and smoking is allowed. The stage is reasonably-sized, allowing for 5-6 piece bands to have space (though usually 3 or 4 piece bands perform). Great lighting system, good sound. The acts that tend to play at GARAGE skew towards alternative rock - if your tastes gravitate more toward punk I suggest another venue like ACB Hall.

On the plus side, GARAGE's website offers enough English navigation to both find out who's playing *and* reserve tickets - this reservation usually means a couple hundred yen off the day-of price, which is convenient.

The Show
I came to Shimokitazawa straight from my school in Shibuya, stopping to get a bite to eat at the Lawson's near the live house. There I ran into Hachimaru-san (はちばな Bass/Chorus) and we stood outside, chatting about my Japanese studies and all manner of things. The show was to start at 6:30, so at about 6:20 we went downstairs so I could buy my ticket. The conversation went like this (in Japanese, of course, but translated for convenience):

Ticket Lady: That will be 2,500 yen.
Me: Okay... wait, I never signed up for advanced tickets.
Ticket Lady: That's okay, I remember you.

Right about then I realized I'd gone to GARAGE too many times. I recognize that I am in effect the Token Gaijin - I come to the shows, I watch, I buy whatever CDs the bands are offering, I chat if people approach me. My relationship with the はちばな guys is unique in that I've known them for so long; I can only hope that as my Japanese skills develop I'll get more similar relationships.

In any case, the bands:

コアレスボタン (Coreless Button) had people nodding their heads and tapping their feet the entire set, with a vocalist who seemed almost unusually comfortable onstage and a guitarist who was definitely enjoying the moment. Mostly slow-to-mid-tempo songs with a shift halfway through the set that made me a believer. Perhaps not the most danceable of music,
but along the same vein of, say, Mr. Children. They sold a 4-song EP for 500 yen - mostly their mid-tempo stuff, but still enjoyable to listen to.

pal - A 3-piece band with a lead vocalist who rolled his syllables in a way very reminiscent of The Pillows, and you can tell that's where a lot of their inspiration comes from. Incredibly enjoyable music, but the crowd maybe wasn't totally into them, which was a shame. I should mention that the crowd around this time was pretty young - a decent amount of high school girls in uniform sipping on cans of Nat-chan instead of beer. In any case, definitely my dark horse favorite of the night. 3-song EP for 500 yen, all of it gold.


ダイナマイトオランゲ (Dynamite Orange) - Around now I started to panic - this was a third band in a row that wasn't "serious." These guys were also significantly older than the first two bands, mid-to-late 20s instead of college-age (although their drummer looked significantly younger). The musical style seemed markedly older - more 90s than 00s, and even included a harmonica. 3-song EP for 500 yen, not bad at all.


はちばな (Hachibana) - I'll admit some bias, these are my peeps and I gotta represent, or whatever you kids call it these days. Where other bands would get the audience clapping, these guys will go into the audience and bring them closer to the stage. Guitarist Sukuhoku-san (formerly of the band スクナギ, who broke up this past Spring) recently invested in a wireless transmitter for his guitar, giving him that much more freedom to showboat - him and Tama-san are cut from the same cloth of showmanship, and they make for a good duo. 6-song set which included their old hit 「魚」 and their current big song 「花火」- their musical style often reminds me of surfer music (not surprising, given that they're from Chiba), kind of a Beach Boys feel. It's all very catchy and Tama-san is so enthusiastic that you can't help but join him. A textbook great performance by the guys, and they were giving away a two-song single as well as selling another for 300 yen.


THE WATER BUGS - Surprisingly punkish for the venue (in the vein of Blink 182 and New Found Glory). Surprisingly young-looking too, but that didn't stop them from bringing the house down. The vocalist sounded young too, but he grew on me quickly. I was surprised at the level of polish they had, and their 7-song set (and 3-song, 300yen single) made me a fan. Their guitarist also wore a shirt with a llama on it, how cool is that?


Overall, this was probably one of the better shows I've been to at GARAGE - it's a venue near and dear to me, and if you're looking for a good time, I highly recommend checking out their website, picking a show based on whatever criteria you please, and reserving tickets. Well worth it if you're a music fan in this city.

My FlickR set of the show

コアレスボタン (Coreless Button)
ダイナマイトオレンジ (Dynamite Orange)
はちばな (Hachibana)

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