Less than 30 people came out for this show on October 10 at Osaka’s intimate Knave music hall. It ranked mighty high on my all-time “small audience” concert list, and there were a few moments where an impromptu beer run could leave more people on stage than on the floor. As far as I’m concerned, everyone else in this city was missing out (or maybe they couldn’t find the venue…took me an hour-and-a-half), as this show featured artists from disparate genres putting on great live performances. Especially impressive given the small turnout.
Osaka’s own Suger ‘N’ Spice opened the show playing straight up rock ‘n’ roll. The all-girl group’s songs seemed indebted to late ’60s, early ’70s rock, the type that does all it can not to be labeled “pop” but still isn’t remotely “heavy.” One tune featured a bridge that sounded downright “Mississippi Queen”-ish. This band doesn’t mess around – verses, catchy chrous, some guitar fuzz, rinse, repeat.
It’s tough to knock Sugar ‘N’ Spice on sticking to what they know when they do it so well. The group’s performance at Knave was constantly upbeat and, yes, rockin,’ the band pushing out slabs of hooky guitar-centric prettiness. Sugar ‘N’ Spice studied up on how to write enjoyable rock, and showcase it well live. This not-original-but-who-cares-it-sounds-great style, coupled with lead singer Kyao’s vocals, brings to mind Heavenly, whose pretty indie-pop wasn’t groundbreaking but sounded damn good anyway. Plus, these four definitely seemed to be having a ball on-stage, smiling and laughing while diving into guitar-solos and just generally being, if you’ll pardon sports cliche, happy to be out there.
Bang Bang Balloon came onto the dark (too dark to take pictures, sorry gang) stage wearing light-up glasses, rings and necklaces, making the Osaka trio look like a very low budget Daft Punk behind there assorted keyboards and electronics. Balloon bill themselves as a “techrock band,” dropping them in the same category as androids like capsule and Perfume who vocoder the hell out of their voices and submerge themselves in a sea of electronics. This label seems a little off since they sometimes bust out a guitar and their sound veers less towards “pop” and more pure house. There music thrives on never-pausing synths and beats, seemingly made with the club in mind from the get-go.
The old stereotype goes that nothings more boring than live techno music – who wants to watch a dude hunched over his iBook clicking buttons? Balloon transcend this by being absolute sparkplugs on stage. Silly blinking outfits aside, the two guys handling most of the electronic duties (Ize Mac and Gun-Hiroshi) play part-DJ, part hypeman, bouncing around nearly non-stop while motioning for the crowd to lose it. Then there’s vocalist ecco. She flails around the front of the stage like a DIY pop star while belting out the type of huge vocals that sound absolutely life-affirming over a killer techno cut ala Alice Deejay. Balloon never just plays electro-rock – they get swept up in it and hope the crowd jumps in too.
Chock this one up to bad pacing. Sandwiched between the techno dance-party of Bang Bang Balloon and the frantic insanity of Hosome, Dracaena‘s slow dream-rock just felt like a good intermission. Not entirely the band’s fault – the second half of their set featured some pretty slow-burners that seemed to subtly change and build towards something. The first few songs, though, just ended up going nowhere, content to dance around the same idea for five minutes at a time. My impression of Dracaena would be far more positive if they’d opened the show, but after two rather high-energy acts they seemed like a complete downer.
Hosome, meanwhile, were all uppers. Imagine if the Fiery Furnaces played math rock, were signed to Warp, and they had nearly no patience and access to all the caffeine pills they could eat. This four-piece blasts out fragments of songs and pieces them together to form highly abrasive blankets of sound that shoot from accessible guitar rock to walls of noise to more downtempo electro-bits in the blink of an eye.
This restless precision translates to their live show, as the band spazzed out all over the Knave stage but always made sure to hit their always-looming cues. There were very few moments where the crowd could clap along or even nod their heads to the music, and the few chance opportunities to do so vanished as quickly as they came. Hosome’s set lasted twenty minutes, but it was twenty of the most exhilarating minutes of music I’ve seen in a long time.
Veteran outfit Tokyo Pinsalocks headlined the evening. This (surprise) Tokyo trio plays a sort of electro-pop rooted in ’80s new wave. Tokyo Pinsalocks churn out very intriguing electro-noises and craft them into enjoyable pop featuring some very catchy choruses. Having to follow some truly forward-thinking acts made Tokyo Pinsalock’s set seem a little pedestrian in comparison…but it also showcased a confident group who let the well formed music do all the talking. They were the most experienced group on the bill (having formed back in 2000), and it showed onstage. Plus, the drummer’s headphones were awesome looking.