OK, I swear I'm not renaming this Blog Japanese Pop Petri Dish, nor am I getting kickbacks from the Japanese music industry.
But, starting last week with the frontal assault of Guitar Wolf, and at several points this week and next, a heap of bands from the Land of the Rising Sun will be rocking the house in this town. And a lot of 'em (the ones I've heard, at least) are good enough to transcend novelty and merit a stand-alone shout out.
Sadly, one of the best of these bands just played Seattle this last Sunday March 20 alongside the Emerald City's own sci-fi nerd/death metal maniacs, Bloodhag. When I saw Okinawan power trio Bleach (aka Bleachmobile) in 2003 as part of a package tour with Japanese indie label Benten Records, they trotted to the stage so quietly you wouldn't have noticed them. Their bassist, a demure and shy girl in her early 20's, strapped on her instrument, gently removed her glasses, then kicked on the amp and began throbbing out rhythms so hard, fast, and furious that she made Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers sound like Lawrence Welk's accompanist. Bleach's brand of metal-infused punk takes no prisoners, and it took a soul-stealing cold to keep me away.
On Wednesday, March 23, the Crocodile Cafe turns Japanese with The Pillows (a Japanese band that's been compared to Weezer and the Pixies: their music appears on the soundtrack of an anime entitled FLCL), Noodles (Japanese all-girl band), Seattle indie pop outfit Stereo Future, and Tomo and Kelly from local band Asahi (SF and Asahi have Japanese members). Much favorable buzz zips 'round all of these ensembles. Noodles (the only ones I've heard) give great pop, with sexy two-part harmonies, melodic-but-crunchy guitars, and a solid backbeat. Their 2003 CD EP, New Wave, is a short, sweet fix of pure pop heaven--think the Breeders fronted by cute Japanese girls. They're playing early on the bill, so be punctual, dammit. Plus, it's only $6!
Just five days later (March 28), the lovely Sunset Tavern in Ballard, Washington hosts Japan Girls Nite,with Petty Booka, The Emeralds, Titan Go Kings, Tsushimamire, and The Buttersprites. Petty Booka are a Japanese girl duo who perform catchy ukelele-accompanied Hawaiian and Country-and-Western songs. Yeah, a cynic could dismiss 'em as a novelty act, but they sing and play with heart; when I saw them a few years back, they played the most earnestly sweet cover of a Ramones song ("I Wanna be your Boyfriend", rewritten as "I Wanna Be your Girlfriend") that I've ever heard.
Warming the set up will be Seattle's own Buttersprites, a stylish gang of pop princesses who play stripped-down new wave with unaffected, unjaded joy. Their terrific cover of Iggy Pop's "Dog Food" sounds like a really bent commercial for Alpo, fronted by a shiny happy Nina Hagen--great, great stuff. The remainder of the bill promises still more variety, with The Emeralds providing rock, Tsushimamire going the indie route, and Titan Go Kings injecting the Punk quotient. Another entertainment bargain at a mere seven bucks.
Finally, Chop Suey--the same club that Guitar Wolf decimated just a week-and-a-half ago--presents Shonen Knife on Thursday, March 31. Their catchy pop ditties entranced no less an icon than Kurt Cobain, who brought the Shonens with Nirvana on tour and helped get them a (sadly short-lived) major-label deal with Virgin Records in the heyday of grunge. Expect songs about kitties getting stoned on catnip, men with tomato heads, flying jelly attacks, and rocket rides, all delivered with great good humor and insidious hooks. Be there, and get the wow.