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Live Review: Wienners, The Chef Cooks Me, DODDODO, √thumm At Fandango May 1 2010

I ventured out to Osaka’s Fandango live house on a warm Saturday afternoon to see an opening band. The risks involved in going to a concert just for the undercard go deep – chance of wasting money, hating the other bands slotted above the one you actually wanted to see, in the case of Fandango getting lost amongst the sea of surrounding adult establishments for nothing. Yet there I was, shuffling past all sorts of erotic dress-up cafes for the purpose of seeing √thumm, responsible for 2009’s best Japanese album, play for less than half-an-hour while hoping the latter three acts could be pleasant surprises. Which, spoiler alert, they did.

√thumm started promptly at 7 and played for just over 20 minutes, but managed to make every second of their short set count. The trio’s dance-worthy music gets affected by all the usual live touches – on the positive side the inclusion of actual drums add a heavy-hitting presence not always present on CD, while all the various electric elements being thrown around also tended to make their songs get muddled at times on Saturday. √thumm’s best tracks, “Neu!” and pop-perfect closer “Magic Love,” managed to transcend the occasional fuzz-up and ended up being highlights of the entire night. The biggest drawback to their set was actually Fandango’s set-up – the venue doesn’t offer much standing space up front, instead covering the floor with tables and chairs. A big disadvantage when the band performing lend themselves so well to dancing. Save for one larger dude losing his shit near the front, everyone else had to make due by watching √thumm’s enthusiasm. The members of the group busted out all sorts of J-Pop poses and pumped the crowd up best they could, sometimes to the point of over-doing-it. Still, it was a highly entertaining albeit shot set that accurately captured √thumm’s energy live. I could have left at this point and felt content.

Glad I didn’t. Next up was Osaka artists DODDODO, and to say her performance was the strangest/most gripping musical showcase I’ve seen yet in Japan would be an understatement. DODDODO took the stage wearing traces of white face paint and armed with only a sampler and a keyboard. She clearly doesn’t want her music easily categorized into genre, jumping from one abstract sound to another. Black Dice dissonance gave way to hellfire-drenched carnival barker shouts led to kid-show-worthy theme songs from the underworld dissolved into a “99 Problems” boom-bap. All the while, DODDODO flailed and bounced around the stage, looking like a Butoh performer prone to hip-hop gestures. Her singing voice barely qualified as one, DODDODO frequently screeching or going way out of key. It’s music not so much concerned with sounding “pretty” as much as pushing something inside one’s self outward.

Amongst my scatterbrained notes from her performance (two other choice descriptions: “avant garde samurai drama” and “Pixies bassline gone crunk”) I jotted down “Sleigh Bells,” Pitchfork’s indie child of destiny for 2010. DODDODO and that hyped band have a surprising lot in common: though Sleigh Bells sound way less chaotic, both artists take relatively simple pop and slather loud-as-hell hip-hop noise on top of it. Of all the acts playing Fandango Saturday night, DODDODO stole the show by being the most fascinating and leaving the biggest impact. Fittingly, her set went the longest.

I’d hate to be the band having to follow DODDODO…a duty that fell to spazzy band The Chef Cooks Me. Though this scheduling shouldn’t be dwelled upon too long, because The Chef Cooks Me play bland rock peppered with unnecessary quirks desperate to pass as “character.” The obvious parallel band would be Los Campesinos!, who also play jittery indie-rock marked by coordinated screaming and the occasional xylophone solo. The Chef Cooks Me not only had all that, but they also came to Fandango with a toys chest worth of other doo-dads (including the coolest melodica I’ve ever seen, props on that), the frequent urge to run through the crowd for no real reason at all and the need to instruct the audience to clap along to every single song.

One slight hitch – all the shouting and twee-elements found in Los Campesinos!’ music are essential to their songs being great, while The Chef Cooks Me treat these things like grated cheese for a really tasteless piece of pizza. Not to mention, LC! rarely have to tell their audience what to do. So, despite all of their best efforts, most of The Chef Cooks Me songs ended up sounding like variations on “Corona.” There were a few bright moments – whenever the band decided to get messy and make noise the show became ten times more interesting, and some songs managed to not sound like that one Minutemen tune. But for the most part they seemed way too Sunshine Cleaning-like, all about being quirky. What do I know though…every girl in the joint seemed to love them.

Poorly named headliner Wienners closed out the show, and did so with gusto. Wienners are the type of kinda-hardcore band that are pointless to listen to at home, but damn near essential to see live. Basically, dudes be crazy. The group, including singer looking vaguely like a Ramone, played loud-and-aggressive rock while leaping all over stage. Half the fun of Wienners is seeing them, as the music itself sounds like you’d imagine “hardcore” music to sound if you’d never heard it before. Though they certainly do it well – they sometimes even managed to stumble onto more tuneful sounds. The best move the band has made is including a keyboard player, as on Wienners best tracks the electronic sounds corral the rest of the group’s noise into something resembling actual structure. Thought out or not, they were a lot of fun and a great way to end a show full of great surprises.