Tuesday 4 November 2008

XiongMao - M.C.N, Sendai

The M.C.N. is a small venue hidden beneath a vast shopping mall in the centre of Sendai. Our taxi driver has clearly never heard of the place and it takes a lot of communication between him and his despatching office to finally work out where to drop us off.

So, upon entering via a huge and heavy door that operates like a meat safe, it is unsurprising that there are not many people in here. In fact by the evening’s end we have totted up that there are no more than fifteen people in the room, including ourselves.

Not that this discourages the bands, who are all hugely lively and play as though headlining stadiums rather than entertaining a mere handful of onlookers. This spirit is exemplified by the first band Laughlife, a rock/rap combo who come across as a jollier version of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, complete with gangsta hand signals and baggy trousers at half mast to flash their Calvins.

As mentioned in my previous report from Japan, energy on the stage is not often reflected in overt excitement in the audience. The small gathering huddles around tables, nod their heads and smile, obviously enjoying themselves, but content to watch rather than join in. The two front men perform valiantly, rhymin’ and illin’ like apprentice Beastie Boys.

As the band departs, a severely handicapped young man is wheeled to the front of the stage to get a clear view of proceedings. The kid has what looks like a large stuffed toy animal’s head on his lap. He and his friend proceed to enjoy the next act.

Who are Oyaji-Tank. This three piece blast out a deafening five hundred mile an hour speed punk that rattles the walls. There is not a lot of light and shade in their performance, but they are extremely proficient. It is indeed like being run over by an armoured vehicle. There is much riffage, lots of windmilling guitar arms and shouted vocals. Pretty good, all in all.

As we await the final band of the night, events become surreal. With help from his friends, the wheel chair guy is fitted with a giant panda’s head – this had been what I thought was a stuffed toy. He flails his arms and becomes excited.

A three piece band come on and start to play. And from the side of the stage skip two young girls who proceed to dance and chirp their way through some of the most infectiously catchy pop songs that I have heard all year. The band are XiongMao, who hail from Tokyo and are named after a famous panda. This is one of the final legs of their ‘Autumnal Panda’ tour. It is safe to say that the panda motif features very heavily.

This band are terrific. There may be no great claim to gravitas, but what they do achieve is to put a huge grin on the face of everybody present and to finally get people down the front. It would be easier not to breathe than not to dance and sing along. We all wave our arms, we join in the huge choruses, we LOVE it. Yukari and Miumi are brilliant – every move is choreographed, and they are smiling so much that it must hurt their faces.

After their set, the band are anxious to have their photos taken with the crowd, hence the disturbing image below.

It’s hard to say how XiongMao are regarded. In the UK, they’d certainly make an impact. On a Wednesday away from their home city, there is no one here.

The music scene in Japan is nearly all manufactured idoru or pop idols, who are interchangeable and mainly promoted via television video shows. They often have a shelf life of less than a year. Kids do play in bands, but opportunities to perform are restricted to a few small clubs which are often literally underground and away from the limelight.

However, these places can be sought out. In addition to those in Tokyo and Osaka, there are places such this, the M.C.N. in Sendai and a similar venue near the train station in Niigata which I was unfortunately unable to get to. If you go to Japan (and everybody should at some point in their lives), why not seek them out? There are astonishing things happening in the margins.

I’d like to thank all at Inside Japan, for their continued brilliance. I cannot recommend these guys highly enough. Thanks especially on this trip to guide Jarrod, who rose to every occasion when faced with our bizarre requests for information on local music scenes.

Visitors to Tokyo should also visit Tokyo Gig Guide, which is not only an incredibly useful guide to bands playing, but even provide foolproof info on finding your way to venues, which are often hidden away amongst the hubbub and neon.


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