ni hao!


The other Tuesday, Onaka-san and I met at Shimaya, the film developing outpost where Yoichi works, and jumped on the Takarazuka line to see Ni Hao! play at Fandango. Fandango is a great “live house,” as they say here in Japan; it’s near Juso station and it reminds me of something like a cross between Gilman Street in Berkeley and Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. You enter Fandango through a thick front door that opens and closes by way of an enormous warehouse-style metal lever. Walking into Fandango feels like walking into an airlock — an effect that’s heightened by the fact that you don’t enter directly into the club, but rather into a short, low hallway with another equally thick and levered door at the other end. I guess this keeps the neighbors happy. Once Onaka and I were inside and could take off our voidsuits, we found ourselves in a large, windowless concrete cube, covered floor-to-ceiling with Pollock-like graffiti. There’s something about listening to bands playing loudly inside a completely isolated cube that is vastly more satisfying than listening in a regular club. It’s like floating in rock’n’roll outerspace, or like you’re living in a post-apocalyptic survival pod where you’ve got the last bit of access to pure, energetic, sonic joy.

Unfortunately there were two sad pieces of bad luck that invaded our utopian cube. The first was that, though I had brought the Bessa R2A so I could take amazing photos of Ni Hao!, the batteries died on me and I had to rely on a couple of quick shots from the pocket digital. The second piece of bad luck was that I was under the impression that Ni Hao! was headlining, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. But more on that later.

First lets talk about Hosome. Holy fucking shit! They come on stage following a pretty mediocre opening band. There are two guitarists, a bassist, drummer, and keyboard player. The lead guitarist, and singer, has a platinum blond kind of New Wave pompadour mohawk. There are some bleeps, skritchy samples, and then an all-out assault of precision starts and stops, New Wave electroclash vocalizing, and a punk rock sense of rhythmic attack. They play for exactly fifteen minutes and that’s it.

After the show Onaka and I bought a couple of Hosome CDs (not yet commercially available) and ended up talking with Hayato Nakajima, the guitarist, who is an effusively nice guy. In fact, he kind of strangely reminded me of Desmond E. Crisis, a sort of mythical figure to me when I was growing up in Petaluma. We used to hang out with The Crisis, who would drive around town in a black, windowless cargo van listening attentively to a police scanner and talking with truckers on his CB. In fact, Desmond was a trained search-and-rescue technician and was on call to help the Coast Guard, the police, or whoever, in case of emergencies. The funny thing about Desmond, though, was that he was a complete anti-authoritarian. He was blisteringly angry at the local police harassment of teens and skateboarders, and he was always skirting the edge of legality. He wore sharp, mid-60s era vintage suits, he had hair that was the lovechild of Robert Smith and Brian Setzer, and he had a low-powered FM radio transmitter so he could park the van and provide “sucka free” pirate radio within a four-block radius. He also worked as night watchman in a morgue where he would read and make sure that none of the bodies got up and walked away.

It was at exactly that point in the digression that Ni Hao! walked out onto stage to bring the post back into some kind of timely shape. Ni Hao! — whose members include Red Ariko, Green Leo, and Blue Yukari — is a bass-bass-drums trio from the Kansai region that specializes in tightly syncopated, rhythmically driven, chantlike harmonics. Their vocals run the gamut from bell-like crystalline ringings to piercing animal shouts, perhaps a bit like OOIOO, perhaps a bit like a collision between yip core, Dada, and avant-garde cheerleading. Here’s what the Tzadik site has to say about their recent U.S. release, Gorgeous:

Featuring the distinctive singer from Limited Express (has gone) … Ni Hao is a trio of two basses and drums with all three girls singing in complex contrapuntal arrangements that Brian Wilson would have been proud of. Everything one would expect from a Kansai band is here—looping riffs, unexpected twists and vocals that stroke, caress, smash, stomp, scream and kiss.

Their set was amazing — just 100% pure energy.

And then after about 20 minutes they stopped. What? It turns out that the CD release party advertised on the playbill wasn’t for Ni Hao!, but was actually for the Don Matsuo Band. I was pretty excited at first, because Don Matsuo is also in Zoobombs, and I have a single of theirs, which I think is great. However, perhaps the case of Zoobombs is a bit similar to the case of The Sads. One of my favorite singles of all time is a slow grind-metal number by The Sads that just keeps repeating “I say good-bye. So good-bye!” for the chorus. When I picked up a Sads full-length, however, it pretty much turned out that they were actually just crappy Bon Jovi wannabes. In any case, the Don Matsuo band was a big disappointment. It was like bad, bar-band, covertune, cock-rock. And not in a good way. Don Matsuo actually pulled out all the stadium clichés (and not in a self-ironic Weezer kind of way either): There was the “Osaka, let me hear you!” microphone into the crowd moment. There was the strutting around stage and putting your arms around the guitarist while he solos so you can show everyone what buds you are moment. There was the saxophonist who played every now and then, but mostly just played the tambourine. Several of the musicians made hideous orgasm faces while they played. As Onaka summed up on our way back to the train station, “Narcissistic.” Their tour was even called the “I’m No.1 Winter Tour.” Yeah.

And, if you want to read a another review of this concert by someone who had a totally different experience, you can find it here.


2 Responses to “ni hao!”

  1. 1 Rocky Bergen (Rockasoo)

    Boo! Don Matsuo is a god of rock in Japan. Kickin’ it with Limited Express (Has Gone?) all over the joint. I was there and it was cool. Sure silly but not pretentious. He’s Japan’s Jon Spenser. The Blues are No. 1 baby.

  2. 2 Trane DeVore

    Don’t get me wrong — I like Don Matsuo in other contexts. I think his band Zoobombs, for example, is fantastic. And that’s exactly why I was disapointed with the Don Matsuo Band. While Zoobombs strike me as wild, creative, and metamorphic, the Don Matsuo Band sounded pretty . . . standard and unoriginal. At least to me. And the person I was with as well. But if you enjoyed the show, more power to you.

    p.s. Perhaps you know something I don’t (which is certainly quite possible) but I was under the impression that it was only Nihao! and not Limited Express (Has Gone?) as a whole that joined Don Matsuo on stage. Were there other Limited Express members there too who joined the band later? Limited Express (Has Gone?) is also a totally fantastic band, though recently I heard a rumor that they’ve broken up. I hope it’s not true.

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