Lindsay Powell amazes as Cake Bake Betty. Follow the link to better understand greatness.
I adore Tegan and Sara. This wasn't always the case, but after I discovered them a few months ago I've been in Canadian bliss. They swung through San Francisco last Friday, and out of three possible concert appearances, I made it to two.
The first was at the Sony Metreon, a relatively recent SF destination, a tricked-out mini-mall with a movie theater and so such. They also have a small venue for music, which Live 105 commandeered for a special, invitation only performance. Either you won tickets on the radio, through their website, or were a VIP. I was the middle category, entering the online drawing 1000 times (which is allowed by the rules) to ensure my victory. Thus, I and around 100 other people were allowed to spend an hour with the girls and their band.
Tegan is quite endearing, albeit a little surly and quiet, while her sister Sara is seemingly reserved, but is always the one to tell long, tangential stories between songs. I enjoyed the banter between them, which took up over half the time - they only played 5 brilliant tracks. At the end Tegan ran outside to the tour bus, while Sara stayed behind long enough for me and a few others to get her autograph.
Satiated with my brush with starfandom, I went back to work (yes, I got special permission to leave just for the event). I skipped the in store performance and signing at a nearby Virgin Megastore, because I knew that later that night I would be heading to their sold-out show at The Independent, also in San Francisco.
Their evening show was notable, not just because of the mass collection of Tegan and Sara fans, and the well stocked table of souvenir goods supplying them. I also enjoyed Los Abandoned, a fun band from Los Angeles who pepper their songs with 80s pop-punk sounds intermixed with Spanish lyrics. Lady P. is quite the front woman, and that night she had on a frilly dress which only accentuated her flair. Ditty Bops also played, like a time traveling band from 1921, and I enjoyed them as well.
Finally, Tegan and Sara took the stage, and they rocked the house completely. Mostly focused on their latest album, [So Jealous], they nevertheless touched all 4 releases, and had me in many simultaneous blissful states. There even were Sara-isms between songs, so nothing was not to like.
When I finally got home, I loaded up a camera full of pictures for the day, to realize that 90% were crap, mostly due to bad location, and worse lighting. I learned my lesson, and the next two evenings of Japan Girls Night were far more successful photographically. In any case, below are a few of the Tegan and Sara day shots I could salvage.
My PSP (PlayStation Portable) finally arrived today while I was at work, but I was too busy to open the package, because I was messing around with another PSP around the office, trying to figure an optimized way to get movies into the critter. Sure, there are a few shareware utilities, but I have that deep down body thirst for MPEG-4 specifications.
Thus, I had a few hours to put the PSP through its paces, and this is my quick report: 1) The screen is nicer than you think, 2) Lower resolution files and UMD movies like [Spiderman 2] look better than you'd expect, 3) It's a fingerprint magnet, and 4) The plastic shell surrounding the UMD disk might as well be rice paper - the hole exposing the media is so large you can fit a greasy finger in it. Which you probably will. SONY is trying to emphasize visible filth, apparently.
Anyway, the interface is novel yet easy to use, and I've yet to unwrap my game stash, namely [Wipeout Pure], [Ridge Racer], [Darkstalkers] and the ever-applauded [Lumines] (which is apparently pronounced as "Luminous"). I'll let you know what I think of these titles in a few days, but you can probably find much more timely and detailed reviews elsewhere.
The bloggyworld is filled with tricks of how to use [Wipeout Pure] and its built-in, partially hidden web browser to surf the web wirelessly or to receive RSS. If that's you're sort of thing, ch-ch-check it out.
The Pillows, alright? Like many in the US, as soon as I was exposed to them via the [FLCL] anime, I was immediately taken. Unlike many in the US, I went ahead and bought every album they have in print, a task that took traveling to Japan to complete. Of course, I've also bought their last two albums as they were released, and kept up with their meager releases in the US.
I say meager because they should be super-huge, as their show at Studio Z in San Francisco only attested to. Sawao Yamanaka (Vocals, Guitar), Yoshiaki Manabe (Guitar) and Shinichiro Sato (Drums) played the hell out of the [FLCL] soundtrack, with pleased the crowd to no end, and left the stage with everyone screaming for more. I would have preferred more songs from their extensive catalog, but the sheer honor of seeing them live superseded my obsessive fandom.
The only reason I don't have a fan page for The Pillows yet is that they have so many albums to discuss, but now I'm inspired to finally get my act together. That will happen soon, but you can check them out right now, as captured by my trusty yet temperamental camera:
Yes, I'm completely taken by Mari (Vocals, Guitar), Yayoi (Bass), and Mizue (Drums) of Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re, who have a live show that inspires fanboys to push for the front row spots, and then trail after them post set. Not that I can talk, I begged Mari for their set list on Saturday, and bestowed Yayoi some pictures of the band on Sunday. I wear my fixation proudly, which is easy when they're so nice yet talented.
They sweat funky free-form, happy growl pop rock that sounds great on record, but can only really be understood live. Simply put, Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re put on one hell of a show, and I couldn't help but want to capture it all on film. Here is a severe paring down of my shots from Sunday night at Studio Z in San Francisco, and look for more of everything in April, when their JM page goes active.
Simply put: Titan Go King's ROCK. Big noise of bliss, the sort of punk-pop that's suitable for commercials or late night mosh pits. I'll hold back more commentary now, since next month will be Titan Go King's heavy, but here are some shots from their set last night at Studio Z in San Francisco, that couldn't help but impress:
My second and final Japan Girls Night 2005 event was at Studio Z in San Francisco last night, and it was a blast. My new/old favorites The Emeralds, Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re and Titan Go King's were there, and you can see selected pictures of their sets above. I was really there to see The Pillows, who've I've massively been into for the past few years, collecting more of their CDs than you can imagine.
But I also knew that the marvelous Noodles would be present, a pleasant yet powerful three-piece (which started with four members in 1991). I've known about them for years, but first heard them from my SXSW MP3 browsing - one track was enough to immediately spawn multiple CD Japan orders. Those albums haven't yet reached me, but I was nevertheless very impressed by their tuneful performance. Yoko (Vocals, Guitar), Ikuno (Bass) and Ayumi (Drums) are quite skilled, yet relatively low key, reminding me a bit of The Brilliant Green, what with English lyrics and a similar sonic vibe.
I also had some opportunity to talk to Ayumi a bit, even scoring their IVY Tour t-shirt that all three members signed for me. It goes without saying that they have a new fan, that will write lots more about them when I acquire their body of work. Until then, here are some pictures for you:
My other discover at Japan Girls Night 2005 tour at the Starry Plough in Berkeley on Saturday, wasn't a female band at all. The Emeralds are a tight trio of the Blankey Jet City school of rock, featuring the highly charismatic Kazuya (Vocals, Guitar), Osuke (Bass) and Akio (Drums).
I was able to talk to Akio for a good long while that night, and also in San Francisco on Sunday, comparing notes about bands we like (anything with Kenichi Asai or Tamio Okuda) to how their 2004 and 2005 US tours went (tiring yet enjoyable). They all seemed like agreeable, fun fellows that really can bulge the speakers.
They were quite impressive in Berkeley, yet totally tore up the stage last night in San Francisco. I've also enjoyed listening to their two EPs, and in April I'll cover them in more depth on their own Japanese Pop page. Until then, here are a few snaps from the Berkeley show:
Coming into the Japan Girls Night 2005 tour at the Starry Plough in Berkeley on Saturday, I knew of Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re, but had no idea how superb they actually are, especially live. Mari (Vocals, Guitar), Yayoi (Bass), and Mizue (Drums) are a funky pop-noise-punk trio out supporting their first album, [Pregnant Fantasy], and they're extremely hard not to like, in a head and body bobbing sort or way. They're lyrically domestic, but sonically watery.
I got a chance to talk to Mari, who takes charge of the microphone with whisper-screams, and they're having a blast with their second mini-tour of the US. I even found out that the rollicking Mizue is a Blankey Jet City fan, which only served to cement my appreciation for the band. Finally, one can't leave a Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re show without taking fond memories of Yayoi, who cradles her bass like it was a long lost boyfriend, and can only be watched with awe.
Thus, Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re are my new favorite band, and even though I want to see The Pillows and Noodles tonight in San Francisco, along with the Titan Go King's again, it'll be this trio that I move to the front for.
Here are some pictures to tide you over until I make my Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re shrine.
There are bands you like for purely aesthetic purposes - their sound, divorced from their show, is pleasing for whatever reason. Then there are bands like Titan Go King's that have to be appreciated via the whole package, music as well as stage presence. Pinky (Vocals, Guitar), Yonyon (Bass) and Lintsu (Drums) are three girls from Kyoto and Tokyo that have that special something, cuteness combined with a visceral pop punk explosion that's hard to resist.
I was quite impressed by their set during the Japan Girls Night 2005 tour at the Starry Plough in Berkeley, and I can definitely see bright things ahead for them. Besides getting a chance to talk with them a bit, I've been in contact with band representatives for the past week or so, arranging a special something for April. Those who know me, know that a giveaway will be involved, so make sure to come back then for the real deal.
Until my Titan Go King's page is active, please enjoy these pictures from last night.
Sad news from Yuki, who just released an amazing 3rd album called [Joy]. Her young son died recently, attributed to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Understandably distraught, she has cancelled her current tour.
There's nothing much more I can say about this, other than my heart goes out to her and her family. Hopefully she'll be able to bring us more music when the time is right.
Thanks go out to JM reader Keith Ticer for pointing this out to me; he found it on a great Yuki-focused website that does her justice.
Check out my Yuki page for info about her latest album and DVDs, all of which I received in the past week.
Part 2 in a Series: SXSW 2005 Bands I Adore, From Afar
Continuing my examination of great bands who played the 2005 South By Southwest music festival, tonight I shall let you know all about The Damnations, who are an amazing country-western tinged outfit from Austin, Texas. Started in 1994, they joined with Sire records for one album in 1999 ([Half Bad Moon]), and eventually ended up on Joy-Ride Records for the resplendent [Where It Lands] in 2002. I'm quite sorry that it took me so long to find that album, because it's quite solid and one of my new favorites.
I was initially taken by the crash-bang [New Hope Cemetery] from that release, which combines earthy-sweet harmonized vocals by sisters Amy Boone and Deborah Kelly, with super-tight instrumentation by Rob Bernard on guitars and and Conrad Choucroun with drums. Don't be scared by the "country" label, because this is pure bar-room bliss, with equal touches of rock, folk, punk and languid rhythms that follow all parts of the southern border of the US. It's really hard not to smile at the skill and intelligent lyrics (and covers). The whole thing holds together quite well, presenting many moods with equal skill and heart.
Don't take my word for it, download [New Hope Cemetery] here (mp3, SXSW) and join the fun.
Part 1 in a Series: SXSW 2005 Bands I Adore, From Afar
Last week or so I gave you all fair warning that no only was the South By Southwest music festival in full effect, but that they were literally giving away almost 1000 MP3s from great bands scheduled to perform. I eagerly downloaded this music, and it took me over a week to listen to it all. During that process, I ordered scores of CDs from bands that struck my fancy, and I started receiving the spoils a few days ago. Over the next few weeks I'll be telling you all about my discoveries.
The standout album in the first few discs has been [Sweet Weaponry] from Cruiserweight, who have been raising a sweet pop-alt-punk ruckus from Austin for the past few years. This album is their first national release (Heinous/Doghouse, 2.15.2005), and they had a SXSW showcase on 3.19.05 - check out that page to download their delightful single, [This Ain't No Beach Party].
Stella Maxwell is the frontwoman with true vocal purpose and starpower, leading a sound that reminds me of Ednaswap meets Incredible Force Of Junior, with more than a few touches of Sincola. If you immediately grasp that complicated comparison, then by all means snap up this release, which is tuneful and solid, with little sprinkles of harshness to tart the overall sweet sensation.
In short, Cruiserweight is an awesome-sounding band that deserve some attention, and hopefully will get it in 2005. I just ordered their earlier releases - shouldn't you at least give them a free listen? (mp3, SXSW)
Sometimes, the planets and stars align themselves just perfectly, so that amazing music is brought from around the globe right to my doorstep. That's exactly the case this week, when about a dozen bands I want to see will be playing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (3.25 through 3.27). The more important event is the Japan Girls Night 2005 Tour, featuring Titan Go King's, TsuShiMaMiRe, Puppypet and Petty Booka - follow those links to find out about these great bands, who also happen to be female. Talent + Cuteness = the perfect equation for my happiness, so all is well.
I've been planning on going to the San Francisco show at Studio Z for months, because The Pillows are also playing, making it all the more a not-to-miss event. Plus - plus! - the Noodles are also playing that show, so I'm just about dying here. It also so happens that I live a few blocks from the Berkeley show on Saturday, so I'll be enjoying many of these great bands two nights in a row. (Got to mention The Emeralds, just to be complete.)
If that was the extent of my musical adventure, then I would be lucky indeed. Yet, I'm all the more fortunate because I have a ticket for the sold out Tegan and Sara show on Friday, and if there's a more beautiful and entrancing twin duo, please let me know about them.
Thus, I'm having my own personalized West by West show this weekend, and I'll make sure to report on all the happenings next week.
Fiona Apple finally has a new album out. Well, actually, [Extraordinary Machine] isn't new, and it isn't officially out, but don't let that stop you from enjoying it. The basic story is that she completed her 3rd album for Sony a few years ago, and it sounded so amazingly unique that they decided to shelve it. As in not release it, ever. As in, better luck next time, Ms. Apple, bring us back some safe piano jams or a more sexed up Avril.
Well, you know how fans are. They found out about this, and hated this, and conspired to actually hear the album in question. Jump ahead to 2005, and the more enterprising and connected obtained all tracks, and released them by force. First a few songs, then the whole album, now available by BitTorrent or your other favorite means. Just go to Google, type in keywords like fiona apple torrent, and you will be rewarded in full.
I would post full links here, but I fear indirect retribution by Sony or the RIAA or someone as scary. Of course, I'm not hosting anything, and I didn't liberate this great album. Still, you never can tell these days.
Anyway, back to [Extraordinary Machine]. If it was actually for sale, I would buy it in a instant. It reminds me of her reverse namesake Ringo Sheena, only lower key. Lots of unusual instrumentation, stray sounds and crooning, and definitely scary for most major labels, at least in the US. Which is a shame, because Sony Japan has put out stuff that sounds far less mainstream than this, but I guess in the US you have to aim for just the right radio waves and MTV gyrations.
So - download it already. Send money to Fiona and/or Sony if you feel bad for actually hearing the hard work of this artist, no thanks to her keepers. It sounds quite swell, and bodes well for any future, "real" releases.
[Gantz] is a well-known and somewhat notorious manga by Hiroya Oku, serialized in [Young Jump]. It involves the conscription of the recently dead into an involved assassination "game", revolving around the machinations of a large black sphere. Strange concept, but quite well done.
In April of 2004 it was translated into anime form by Gonzo, and was notorious for lots of censorship by Fuji TV and other authorities. Seems that the presentation of massive amounts of "real world" flesh and gore, like two teenagers getting run over by a train, ample nudity, or various occasions for bodily destruction, was just too much for broadcast TV. Ichiroh Itano (director) and the rest of his crew knew it would be a problem, but also knew that their original vision would eventually be seen on DVD.
That vision has now reached the US, and [Gantz] Volume 2 is now for sale. So far I've found the series, which follows 16 year old Kei Kurono as he gets sucked into the mysterious world of a technological afterlife, to be compelling and well put-together, with only one serious exception. The character design by Naoyuki Onda is strong, the scenario unique, and the general air of [Battle Royale] like carnage of characters keeps you on your toes. There's also fan-service for the lecherous and techie, with lots of strange gizmos and weapons, intermixed with appreciation of Kei Kishimoto, a buxom suicide thrust into combat.
The main problem is the design of the alien enemies that Gantz sends our protagonists to fight. The first, the "Green Onions" family, consists of a weird green boy and his Frankenstein's monster rip-off of a father, both of which are obsessed with onions. I can sense some relation to folklore, and perhaps some juxtapositional irony, but the whole thing comes off as quite silly, both thematically and visually. You can only pity these "monsters" as they are dismembered, and dismember in return. A sense of empathy this is not - you just can't stand to look at the character designs, or listen to their vocals. Hopefully the next target will be more tolerable.
No matter. What I am interested in is touches like how the mysterious and somewhat slimy Joichiro Nishi tries to game recent resurrected arrivals to the world of Gantz, letting them all die off and taking the points at the end. I'm intrigued by the body in the Gantz sphere, silently directing things. I also appreciate the detailed back stories of soldiers that came before, and those who recently joined the gang of conscripts. For once you're selected, you can never leave unless you play the game to its completion (which is never fully spelled out), or die trying.
For the past few weeks I've been playing Nanaca Crash, a simple yet addictive Flash promotional game for a Playstation 2 dating sim in Japan. It's like the long jump in Konami's old school Track and Field arcade game meets your favorite girls-fight-over-guy anime.
At the start, a girl intentionally smashes her bike into a guy, and after you pick an angle of flight, he rolls in a ball and crashes into all sorts of characters. The longer you progress, the more special combos you can get (by well-timed mouse clicks), and the higher your score. Eventually, you'll be stopped by a well-intentioned young woman, but the point is to bruise up this living projectile as much as possible.
Did I mention that it's fun, with impressive Flash action? How about that there are score competitions going on at the second home to the Nanaca Crash phenomenon? Avoid the PSP ads, and give it a try. Or, visit the original Japanese shrine. More enterprising gamers can save the file to their computers, and crash away in private. Shouldn't you be enterprising?
My kung fu is weak sauce, so to speak, and yet I'm always happy to try again. ZuBaaaaaaan!
At WonderCon 2005 in San Francisco, I was overwhelmed by bargain comics, bootleg anime and lots of movie previews (as usual). I also had the distinct pleasure to meet Andy Goldblatt at the Channel 101 booth, promoting her latest DVD project along with the multi-talented Scott Chernoff.
Channel 101 is a groundbreaking site that hosts tons of humorous little mini-sitcoms and shorts, limited to a few minutes each. The work of Andy and Scott is some of the most popular at the site, and their [SuperTV SuperShow!] DVD was released just in time for the convention. I was easily charmed by Andy into giving it a try, and I'm very glad that I did.
The basic conceit of Channel 101 is that people make "pilots" to their series, 5 minutes or less, and then they are publicly screened and voted on. Andy and Scott have made 4 series so far, each one a well-crafted nugget of comedic joy.
[Second Time Around] sees Andy as a thoughtful yet formerly child-molesting junior high teacher, with Scott as an adult man pretending to be a teenager, so that he can win her heart. The made-up episode recaps alone are worth the price of admission.
[The Harper Teen Mystery Files] see Andy and Scott as sleuthing teens, of the Nancy/Hardy school, who just happen to have barely controlled incestuous thoughts for each other. Convoluted mysteries and a large supporting cast aim and please.
[Who's Teaching Whom?] is a variant of the Punky Brewster mythos, only with up-tight professor Scott becoming a bit too enamored by Andy, his 12 year old ward. Complete with the sassy over-sexed neighbor and "celebrity" guest stars, child pageants and pirate dreams, it's hilariously sweet.
[Vice Ghost] is their latest pilot, featuring Andy as the President of the USA and Scott as her troublesome Vice-President, who happens to be dead. He haunts the commander-in-chief, and causes well-intentioned problems with international consequences. Ghosty special effects taken to the next level, plus Andy disrobing as a plot point, there's nothing not to like here.
As you have gathered, I found the DVD collection to be quite funny in a suitably subdued way, with fairly twisted takes on more traditional dramatic fare. Nice production and much collaboration between Andy and Scott on all levels makes for a package well worth tracking down. Or, for the lazy and stingy, go to their website to see episodes in their entirety.
In the not-so-wilds of Austin, Texas, the South By Southwest music festival has been causing a live ruckus since 1987. A great way to showcase new and established artists from all over the world, it focuses on music, film and the interactive arts. I haven't been yet, but have always wanted to attend, due in no small part to the large number of Japanese acts that manage to perform (including The Pillows this year). It starts up again on 3.11.05, so make sure to check out the schedule.
The fine folks with SXSW and participating bands have created a massive bundle of free tracks, representing most of the performing acts. These MP3s are freely downloadable via BitTorrent, and represent an amazing 2 days worth of continuous tunes. You can get your hands on these songs here:
(torrent) 2.6 GB of music, 756 songs
That's almost 60% of the participating acts, and practically 800 full-length tracks, many of which are quite splendid. Over the past week I've heard over 100 of them, and was particularly impressed by old favorites like Aimee Mann, American Music Club and Bonnie Pink, or newer notables like Be Your Own Pet, Biffy Clyro, Boyskout, By The End Of Tonight, and Cruiserweight (I'm only in the "C's" right now). I already have about a dozen CDs on order, based solely on the strength of these sample tracks. This is one clear case where sanctioned, free, file sharing leads to actual dollars and cents in the hands of artists.
So, by all means start downloading and fill up your iPod like device with the latest sounds in all genres, from around the world. Look for my detailed thoughts on a few dozen of these bands over the next few months, and I slowly collect releases from those that impress me.
After an unwanted break from this junk.log, I'm finally back to offer you the best in random entertainment-related musings. My parents' house has been watched, and the house cat fed, and so I can come to my own apartment each evening and offer you little tasty tidbits, such as information about [Gantz] Volume 2 and [Paranoia Agent] Volume 3, both being anime DVDs that were released today. Expect information about them, along with other amazing pieces of somethingness, in massive amounts as March progresses.
Yes, my goal is to not just have the usual amount of entries, but to supplement them with all of the entries I missed. Thus, prepare your reading eyes during the next few weeks for informational photons, as is my tendency to generate.
contests: [enter here]
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