Last night I attended the sold-out Cubismo Grafico 5–Kiiiiiii–Backdrop Bomb show at Shimokitazawa’s Shelter, “sold-out” being a codeword for “way over-capacity and we’re all going to die from either asphyxiation or a stampede when the crowd shifts position to get drinks after the first set ends.” Most people were there to see Backdrop Bomb who had some minor big hits in the mid-’90s and sound like a Japanese version of 311 who were called into a boardroom late one night and told to remove “all hooks” from their songs. The whole Nick Hexum-SA Martinez two-vocal, reggae-rap-rock interplay took me back to the ’90s, and in a sudden effort to graciously realize my otherwise nostalgic reification, the kids in the front started crowd-surfing — until some dude in Buddy Holly glasses and a pageboy cap came out from the back to “protect” the stage (whoever did the casting for this revival tour is fantastic). I would have sworn the guy next to me was screaming “Primus Sucks” if I didn’t actually understand Japanese. After the BDB set ended, the engineer put on Pavement (!) and I silently mouthed along.
The ‘Bomb and CG5 can best be described as “towel rock,” mostly because the swarm of fans all seem to be rocking out with a small towel around their necks to soak in the sweat. Now, I’m sure these towels have some direct connection to reggae, and by the constant sound of the video game “bomb” dropping sample, I know Jamaica’s the source of insipration. But the towel lends an air of athletics to the proceedings, like if going to see a light-hearted punk band or reggae-rock act is no different than supporting your local soccer club. The kids jump up and down, get a work out, dry off with the towel, and then head over to the bar to get another draft beer in a paper cup. Towel rock naturally works best outdoors, or perhaps, on a futsal field.
In general, sports is a good way to think about rock music in Japan. Practice makes perfect! Please the fans! Determination! Team spirit! Hit the showers! Most gigs are like being inside a Gatorade commercial. I played basketball as a kid, but I’ve always seen art and music as a place where us uncoordinated types can go to flee an otherwise sports-obsessed culture. So for me at least, the sportsmanship in J-rock tends to suck out the craftsmanship.
Why was Kiiiiiii playing the set between two bands who provoke coordinated towel waving in the audience? I’m not particularly sure, but Kiiiiiii always seems to be playing for the other bands backstage, not the 20 year-olds in the audience. And you can’t score goals like that!