Monday 3 November 2008

My Dead Girlfriend - 18 Oct 2008 -Chop, Tokyo

Chop is a tiny venue in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo. At 1500¥ to get in plus another 500¥ for a first drink, it ain’t cheap, but it sure proves to be worth it.

When attending a gig in Japan there are rules and etiquette to follow. No talking while the bands are playing. The bar will shut while the bands are playing. There will be little or no movement while the bands are playing.

The headliners tonight turn out to be a US band on a short tour. Bone Gunn do not really purvey the type of music that this blog concentrates upon, so I’ll simply say that they are a lovely bunch of lads and that singer Bryan Kane once spent a year living in Blackpool. He rather startlingly describes the countryside in the area to be as beautiful as that of Alaska. Something for the Blackpool Tourist Board to consider.

A feature of Chop is that the bands set up behind a stage screen upon which forthcoming shows are advertised. I’m sad to be missing Screaming Love Hole and The Night of The Vagina Killers – whom I’m sure are nice to their mothers.

The screen is raised to reveal a solitary young man armed with a variety of guitars and electronic equipment. His set is ridiculously varied, with each song radically different from the one preceding it. There are acoustic ballads which don’t seem particularly good, but occasional electronic diversions with pounding synths and a vocoder, which are much more like it.

After he has left the stage, there is a commotion in the audience. It seems that a famous Japanese rock star is here tonight, all leather jacket and cheekbones. Although he has come in with a girl, others rush to have their photos taken with him and fighting breaks out among them. This continues on and off throughout the rest of the night.

Next to emerge from behind the screen are PHD, a wild instrumental jazz band fronted by a free form saxophonist and a girl trumpeter. While not usually my bag, they are so good that I’m as swept along as everyone else here. There is crazy dancing down the front. After the set, the sax guy is literally carried past me, so drunk that he cannot stand unaided.

Drunkenness emerges as a major theme of the evening. Although very little alcohol seems to be being consumed, it becomes apparent that many of the crowd and performers are completely off their heads. I have a great time with a Japanese guy who is delighted to practice his English and who is so ecstatic that he breaks the cardinal rule and starts babbling during a band’s performance. His girlfriend hisses and kicks him before finally dragging him from the venue.

The next act are serious young men called Null, who are dressed in boiler suits and dispense long, slow, ponderous post-rock dirges in the Mogwai tradition. They are loud, they are proficient, they are dull as ditchwater.

My Japanese friend reappears, having jettisoned his girlfriend, and ready to swear undying allegiance to my party. We solemnly write our names on a piece of paper, tear it up and each retain a fragment. One day we be reunited.

Most of the crowd, including the rock star are here for the next act. Who are absolutely amazing. They are My Dead Girlfriend and for the next half an hour I am transfixed.

Heavily influenced by My Bloody Valentine and the shoegaze scene in general, they lay down a deafening onslaught of droning dream pop. While some vocals are taken by guitarist Ishikawa (they insist on second rather than first names) all eyes are on an extraordinary performance by Ideta.

She sits at a small trestle table with a keyboard on it. She does not play it at all, but lolls back feebly twitching her arms. She is wearing devil horns. She is singing, but seems almost comatose. As I have not seen her arrive on stage (that screen again) I start to believe that she is badly disabled and wonder about the bad taste of the band name.

However, when Ishikawa breaks his guitar and leaves the stage, she sits up and chats to the audience. It appears that she has been acting – the most unsettling deadpan performance since Ron Mael of Sparks.

Once the guitarist returns, Ideta goes limp again, but does finally dab at the keyboard in front of her. The band finish with a five minute track that may be ‘Kinoshita Fuyou’.

After they finish, I buy every bit of merchandise I can get my mitts on. I have a brief, halting chat with Ideta - my Japanese rudimentary, she very drunk.

Bone Gunn finish the evening, playing well, but rather put off by the crowd just standing passively and watching them. I don't care - I’m still in a My Dead Girlfriend whirl. If this lot could be bought to London, they’d clean up. Listen here.

More Japanese fun next time…

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