Monday, February 22, 2010

“Toisu” Means Hello In Japanese!

By Ian Minor

My first experience at the Double Door was not a good one. I was standing out in the cold with a low-powered iPod and waiting outside for a hour and a half. To be fair, the hour was my fault, have to be early to get up front for one of Japan's biggest bands on their final tour before a well -deserved break. I could see Polysics, the love child of Devo and a J-Pop singer, warming up inside if I stood on tip toes. They lacked their Orange Jumpsuits™ and Censor Glasses™ so it was hard to tell it was them.

As I walked in, I made a beeline for the merch table, buying a poster stickers and the all important T-Shirt. As I walked away, someone asked why I didn’t ask Hiro, the singer and guitarist for an autograph. Sure enough the Merch guy was Hiro and right next to him was the bassist. It was weird, in Japan they would fill the Budokan, here they sit next to the band with the home made CDs. I managed to get the entire band to sign, even the soon-to-leave keyboardist Kayo.

The Earth Program
The opening band was the one with home made CDs, The Earth Program. It’s easy to see why they’re on the list of bands to look out for in Chicago. Reminiscent of The Apples in Stereo, they gave hard hits while footage from the 50’s played in the background and the drummer once abandoned his post to help the bassist/keyboardist by jumping on him. Really their whole set was put into words by the singer, “We know we’re not Polysics, we’re sorry, we’ll try to entertain you while you drink.” However they were able to entertain me quite well, giving me a pleasant surprise, something I've needed.

The next band however, was hard to sit through. Evil Beaver is a callback to hair metal such as Joan Jett and Poison. However the band members (a guitarist and a drummer) are both from that era, so it kind of felt like when someone starts to sing karaoke of the band they liked when they were 15 and everyone just kind of humors them. Except that they kept singing for 40 minutes, the last song taking comically long. Not helping was the fact that I was standing next to the singer's friends, who were all her age and tried their best to rock out, without ever succeeding. I wanted to go talk to Earth Program (who was hanging out at the merch table talking to fans) but I knew to leave now was to give up my spot for the Polysics. I stood there.

As Polysics set up, they began playing along to Devo’s cover of Satisfaction, which was playing over the sound system. As they began it was a non stop thrill ride, with some of the best and most energetic guitar playing I’ve seen which included him playing with his teeth. He only stopped once to wipe off the gallon of sweat on his forehead and to tell the audience “In Chicago, you have a lot of snow, Polysics shall melt all the snow!” Kayo was the real draw, keeping a straight face while everyone else went crazy, despite her doing such ridiculous things as busting out pompoms and doing the most badass recorder solo known to man. The music was fast, the playing supreme and the crowd energetic. What more could you ask for?

The weird thing is that Hiro was right. When I waited outside, I almost lost my toes to frostbite, as I walked home, the snow just melted as it hit me. It was either the heat from being in a crowd of people, or it was the heat from feeling so good. I still can’t decide.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lost at "The Show"

For the past two weeks,
my wife has been singing a pleasantly catchy pop tune by a former Australian television actress/ambient music siren with a Slavic name living in Los Angeles.

Nearly two years after its release, Lenka's "The Show" has created a wonderful skip in my bride's step. However, this has not occurred through the efforts of any DJ or even any of the influential television music supervisor. Lenka's sole album only reached 142 on the Billboard chart before disappearing. However, the song was a smash in Hanoi and Warsaw in 2008.

The song's re-emergence here in our little urban abode was the makings of some keen eared programmer trying to find the right "creative content" while working for an "integrated sensory branding service." It is music provided to enhance the retail experience - to cause customers to linger a few seconds more with the hope of capturing some additional customer money.

I am not going to veer off into some art versus commerce rant. Music has been used to sell something from nearly the beginning. This is to identify yet another growing avenue for music to find its way to our ears. A route that continues to grow in importance with the declining influence of radio and music videos. Does these ever-widening routes of distribution between artists and their listeners create the environment for better music? Or does everything get lost in the noise?

The Show” by Lenka (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)