Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

World Happiness 2010

Posted in J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the August 9th, 2010

Yesterday, we braved the heat and humidity here in Tokyo to attend World Happiness 2010, the annual musical festival organized by the members of Yellow Magic Orchestra. Luckily, the sun stayed behind the clouds all day, making it almost bearable to be outside the whole afternoon and evening.

We arrived around 2:00, just as punksters Mongol800 were finishing up their set. This meant that we missed Love Psychedelico, who I’d really hoped to catch. Maybe next year. Arriving late meant we also had to set up our “leisure sheets” on the grass far, far back from the stage, so that we mostly watched the performers via the giant video screen.

At any rate, the first band we saw were Ohashi Trio (?????), who played a tidy set of country-rock, including a mandolin and an upright bass. They remind one a bit of Happy End back in the day. Worth exploring more in the future, I thought. They were followed by Okinawan singer Cocco, whose stage patter is a tad overly precious. But she delivered some solid J-Pop with a rock edge: imagine Bruce Springsteen as a girl raised in the Ryukyu islands. (Granted, this requires a particularly vivid imagination).

Kahimi Karie (???????) followed, doing her Brigitte Bardot imitation — in fact, the first tune she sang came complete with French lyrics. She did a set of slow-tempo chanson numbers, and was the only lead performer to sit down while singing. I like Kahimi’s breathy style and soft, melancholic songs, but on the whole, she would work better in a jazz club than in a mass outdoor setting like this.

The energy level leaped back up with the next act, Rhymester. They got the crowd going, with jokes about being the only authentic hiphop act on the bill and having to follow Kahimi Karie. They performed “Choudo Ii” and several other numbers with energy and verve. They were followed by ??? (I still don’t know how to pronounce the name of the band), another group grounded in hiphop, albeit with live instruments. Leader Ito Seiko had a terrific stage presence as they performed “Everyday is a Symphony” and other tunes.

Next up were pupa, one of the bands I really wanted to see. Formed by Takahashi Yukihiro from YMO and featuring Harada Tomoyo on vocals, pupa have released two terrific albums. Yesterday they did a fine job of reproducing their sound live: their mid-tempo melodies weave together electronic and acoustic musical instruments, male and female vocals, to produce a lush, beautiful sound. Takahashi looks more and more like the older Groucho Marx every time I see him….

Ando Yuko (??????) followed with a set of her original numbers that, I confess, I mostly sat out. A fellow has to make difficult choices, after all. But I’ve just picked up one of her CDs to make up for it.

Next came one of the acts I was most looking forward to: Moonriders (????????). Formed by Suzuki Keiichi and other former members of the band Hachimitsu Pie in the mid 1970s, they’ve been an innovative collective who’ve changed styles repeatedly. What would they look like in 2010? Unfortunately, they turned in a confused, confusing set–and perhaps were having technical problems with the sound equipment. They opened with a long drone-style jam, even before they were introduced. After about ten minutes, this morphed into the song “Kurenai futo,” complete with a vuvuzela. This was followed by “Tabula Rasa” and “I Hate You and I Love You,” among others. Kojima Mayumi joined them to performed the ending theme for the forthcoming film version of “Gegege no nyobo,” a psycho-rockabilly-ska number that is kind of a mess. Kojima stayed on to perform an updated cover version of “Never on a Sunday,” and they closed with the classic “Muscat Coconut Banana Melon.” The band seemed a bit out of it throughout their set and never really connected with the audience: disappointing.

Things picked up with Sakanaction (???????), who immediately grabbed the crowd by opening with some tribal drumming, followed by a playful allusion to YMO’s “Rydeen,” before launching into a set of their own terrific material. This was in fact their second show of the day: they’d played several hours earlier just a few train stops away at the “Summer Sonic” festival. It’s great to see a young band perform just as they are cresting, overflowing with energy and creative ideas, and they had the crowd up again. Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra then followed with one of their typical joyful, high octane sets (albeit with some technical difficulties at the start). Terrific.

Next up were one of the rarities: the veteran punk group Plastics. Their set started off a bit rough, with their minimalistic new wave sound (think B-52s or Devo) not quite connecting. But then they hit a powerful No Wave groove that carried me back to CBGB’s circa 1977, grooving to the likes of James Chance and the Contortions. A really powerful noise that had me dancing — but most of the young ‘uns didn’t seem to get it, I’m afraid.

Finally, it was the headliners, Yellow Magic Orchestra, backed by Oyamada Keigo (Cornelius) on lead guitar, with a full horn section (augmented for a few numbers by the guys from Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra). They opened with one of my favorite YMO numbers: their deconstructive take on the Beatles’ “Daytripper.” For me, the highlight of the whole day was finally getting to see Hosono Haruomi live: there is basically a whole chapter about him in my forthcoming book on Japanese popular music. He sang the opener and played bass, keyboards, and even some nifty xylophone as the evening wore on. All in all, YMO gave a fine performance, although their Sly Stone cover (“Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa”) with guest vocalist Crystal Kaye was surprisingly unfunky. The encore was another Beatles’ tune: the very appropriate “Hello Goodbye.”

The full set list:
Lotus Love (Hosono on vocals)
TAISO (Sakamoto Ryuichi sang through a loudspeaker, issuing orders to two male dancers who joined the band onstage for this number)
Thousand Knives
Behind The Mask
Tibetan Dance
Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa (with Crystal Kaye on vocals)
Fire Cracker
Encore: Hello Goodbye (Takahashi Yukihiro on vocals)

I’ll leave you with some fan videos of YMO’s performance from yesterday:

2 Responses to 'World Happiness 2010'

Subscribe to comments with RSS

  1. Nick said,

    on October 1st, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Wow! Sounds amazing. Would have loved to see YMO, Moonriders, and Plastics all in the same day. Can’t wait to view some of the YMO videos. This is such a huge change from their 2008 setlists, when they would play their HASYMO material alongside stuff from the Loophole album with only a few nods to “classic” YMO. I wonder why they are suddenly playing old material again? Anyway – when will your book be released? If it has a chapter on Hosono I will definitely be buying it. Along with Susumu Hirasawa, they are two of my all-time favorite musicians (from any country). I identify with Hosono’s music in a strange way. He can be oddly cerebral and seems to have a very dry wit. I know Sakamoto gets the most attention but in my mind Hosono was the real genius of the group. His music sounds like nothing else. Great post!

  2. bourdaghs said,

    on October 2nd, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Thanks for the comment, Nick. If all goes well, my book will be out next year.