Gimme Shelter and Towel Rock

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Last night I attended the sold-out Cubismo Grafico 5KiiiiiiiBackdrop 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!

W. David MARX (Marxy)
November 12, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

11 Responses

  1. Carl Says:

    I’m thinking of heading out to the big city for the kiiiiiii, nisennen mondai, Buffalo Daughter concert on Dec. 17. Will there be many other marxist commentators?

  2. Chris_B Says:

    hooray for drunken concert promoters who pick the lineup based on where there one-cup-ozake drool lands on the list of bands.

  3. Jrim Says:

    Hee hee. Yeah, tell me about it. I went to see a friend’s Fugazi-esque hardcore band at a weeny venue in Nagoya last month, only to find that the other acts on the bill were singer-songwriters strumming along to backing tracks. Euugh. Still, I managed to get a high score playing Tetris on my phone during one of the sets, so it wasn’t all bad.

  4. DB Says:

    The Shimokitazawa shelter is simultaneously one of the coolest and most terrifying venues I have ever been to. If you are claustrophobic like me, being in a room more crowded than you have ever experienced with the ceiling about 3 feet above your head will really make you question your commitment to the Rock. Expecially when the only exit is literally about two feet wide and opens the wrong way.

  5. DB Says:

    PS – 1 foot = 30.48 centimeter

  6. Farley Says:

    Marxy, aren’t you actually IN Kiiiiiii by now?

  7. jariten Says:

    If you are claustrophobic like me, being in a room more crowded than you have ever experienced with the ceiling about 3 feet above your head will really make you question your commitment to the Rock. Expecially when the only exit is literally about two feet wide and opens the wrong way.

    That’s why I only like The Magnetic Fields and Smog. gigs you can comfortably sit down to and still have enough space around you to be able to foppishly brush your hair out of your face.

  8. marxy Says:

    I’m thinking of heading out to the big city for the kiiiiiii, nisennen mondai, Buffalo Daughter concert on Dec. 17. Will there be many other marxist commentators?

    Unfortunately, I am going back to the States on that day. I really wanted to see that gig.

  9. Carl Says:

    I’m pretty excited about it. BD usually plays on days of the week when it’s impractical for me to visit the city, so I haven’t been able to catch them yet. Also, I really liked the kiiiiiii ninsenmondai show last summer, so it should be hot.

  10. nate Says:

    if you want clausterphobia-inducing club experiences, try 20,000Volts in Kouenji. its in the second floor of basement, down a long flight of stairs, then the space itself is low-ceilinged and only accessible after winding through a series of doors and locks and band merch and packed in kids……

    ps—are they the plural “backdrop bombs” now? it used to be singular….(umm…despite being a rip-off). you might also check out (one of the) singer’s clothing line. he totally tried to capitalized on their few mid-level indie hits a few years back.

  11. marxy Says:

    Yeah, I did an unauthorized pluralization. I’ve corrected the error.