Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sakamoto Ryuichi solo piano concert @ Osaka Sankei Hall March 28th

The concert began at 4 pm.
All of the lights were dimmed...even the emergency exit lights.
I could feel the blanket of darkness and silence cover the audience, its texture, soft and cool. It was a moment to prepare our faculties of perceiving sight, sound and touch. This was the gateway into the world of Sakamoto Ryuichi.

Through the dark and quiet came the sound of trickling water. Then a deep tremor, different notes slowly vibrating. Synthesizer? Not exactly. It was mechanical yet organic. The darkness slowly gives way to a glowing halo. The darkness becomes evanescent in the light and we can finally make out the lines of a man hunched over a grand piano, not at it’s keys but at it’s strings. He looks like a mad scientist reaching into his mechanical creation, tweaking at knobs and buttons. Unaware that he is being watched.
As I am mesmerized by the plucking of piano strings, the mad scientist figure seems to evaporate, molecules of human and piano become undistinguishable. Silence brings the end of the piece Glaciers from his latest album Out of Noise.

Sakamoto relocates before the keys, stunning my ears this time with the clear timbre of the piano, gradually evolving into music.

He continues to play several pieces from his latest album and then takes time to reach for a microphone as the applause rises like a wave from behind me. I finally realize I am in the 7th row, right in the center of my isle.

Sakamoto, aka Kyouju (Professor) is used to talking about his music since he has his own radio show and is not as shy as he looks. But he does not shout or over express, it is more like a friend mumbling about the oddities of the entertainment business and the passion he has for music.

His other passion, the environment is also profiled on the screen behind him.
Pictures reduced to slits of what look like flowers or butterfly wings… mere glimpses of our Earth.  

One of my favorite pieces from his latest album is played, Hibari (Skylark).
Random notes signifying the voices of newborn larks just learning to sing. Their songs overlapping, hitting flats, wavering, not confident yet. Gradually they become more competent the skylark learns the joy to sing.

He also performed pieces that have made him the icon that he is, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Behind the Mask and the theme from the soundtrack to The Last Emperor.
A different set list can be found here.
(It is not the same as the March 28th concert although similar.)

After two encores, the lights went up and people started to leave…I was sent to another level of the building and passed into a back corridor leading to dressing rooms. A small room full of people were to be introduced to the man behind the magic.
You could see the tension but I was far from tense…it felt like I was in a dream…

When he entered the room, because of where I was standing, I became first in line to shake hands with the Professor. 
My spiel of how honored I was to meet him was rehearsed in my head in Japanese, but it came out in English. 

He lives in New York most of the time so it didn’t seem to bother him, he quickly replied in English “thank you”. 

He made his rounds, and before leaving the room, I was again standing in front of the man I admire so much, not only as a musician but as an activist as well. He said thank you to me again and I think I smiled… at least I hope I did.

For better pictures check out:

and of course please check out his website at

The following video was taken at the concert by yours truly's is not illegal! 
The piece he is playing is for a Samsung mobile phone commercial.  The audience was allowed to take videos and pictures during this one short piece.  The details are hard to see, but Sakamoto is smiling and having a good time... but at the end of this piece, he tells us how nerve racking that was!  He is a good sport. ;-)

for better sound and visual quality here is a PV...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Red / Innocence & Instinct (Japan special edition)

I've been having a hard time remembering band names these days...and when the band includes, or focuses on Death Metal vocals, my memory is at a complete loss.  However, things are starting to look better for me with the band Red.
They are not a Death Metal band but some of their songs do have a bit of that "shouting".

I am happy to say I like it.  Mike Barnes, the lead vocalist has a very melodic voice that is (according to the liner notes) frequently compared with Doug Rob (Hoobastank) and Chester Bennington (Linkin Park).  

I am going to go out on a limb and add Morten Harket (A-Ha).

My conclusion: he can shout like any Death Metal singer and he can pull of country-esk folk sounds, pop, pop rock and even a ballad.  

Strong guitar, heavy bass, tight drums

Woah, currently reached track number 9 on the album and it's "Ordinary World"....yyyyeeeeesss the Duran Duran "Ordinary World".  (See, he CAN sing pop tunes)

OK, these types of covers I like to call "cheating".  Not with a venomous spit but I say so lovingly.  This is a very good song and it would be a crime if you did not play this with a certain amount of perfection.

They have chosen their next song, (number 10) "Out From Wonder" very wisely.  It is a good segue from "Ordinary World" into their own metal influenced sound.  Vocals on what sounds like an arena equalizer and then a megaphone equalizer blends in with a sad melody that crashes into a bit of death metal shouts.

The Japan special edition of their album "Innocence & Instinct" (released on March 4th) is special because:
There are two bonus tracks ... "Breathe Into Me" and an acoustic version of "Already Over".
There are also three music videos: Death of Me", "Breathe Into Me" and "Already Over".

This album gets four and a half stars out of my five star rating.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Mr. Big is back!

An American band that is very popular in Japan... Mr Big.
(Has nothing to do with S&TC.)

They are most famous for their songs "To Be With You" and their rendition of the Cat Stevens song "Wild World". In Japan their latest hit was "Superfantastic", a song that was like an ode to the above two songs.

Paul Gilbert (guitarist) left the band in 1990 and Richie Kotzen took his place. 
However, Mr. Big disbanded in 2002 and went their individual ways. Each musician has solo albums and other band projects going on (Niacin, Racer X etc.) but it is great to be able to see these guys back together again. (Richi Kotzen will not be in the band but he has his own solo stuff going on too. Check his official site!)

I hope this will give the band a long deserved chance to be Big not only in Asia but in the U.S. as well. Their talent deserves the recognition. 

For more info in English

They will be in Japan in June for their concerts...

for concert info in Japanese check 

*The CDs in the picture are autographed by Pat Torpey (drums) and Eric Martin (vocals) when they were in Japan to promote their solo work. I had the wonderful opportunity of making special radio programs with them on several occasions and they were both wonderful people!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Artist: Wagner Love / Album Title: Everything About

According to the liner notes the band currently resides in Frankfurt, Germany.  However, I'm wondering if they are originally from Denmark.  Band members are Jacob Vetter, Ravel Meeth, Tilmann Kollner (there is an umlaut over the "o" ) and Marcel Meeth (Yes, brothers).

The lead track in Japan is the first song on the album, "Doin' It".  (As a bonus track for Japan there is a remix version at the end of the album as well.)
A bit of a Motown flavor with a dash of Chicago and a sprinkle of Maroon 5.

HOWEVER, as much as I hate to say this (only because it sounds critical), the lead vocalist has captured my attention much stronger than with Maroon 5.  Maybe not as smooth as Peter Cetera (Chicago) but not bad for a new group!  (The space between my nose and upper lip get longer as I bounce my head to the beat.)

Oh, maaaaaan.....I have just checked out their myspace website for the very first time and there are pictures of Japanese CD shops with hand written pops saying that "they've topped Maroon 5" etc...Well, there goes my vain "originality" flying out the window....look how it flutters away...
But I must add that there is a bit of 80's pop music embedded in here too.  Especially "They Don't Even Care".  Sort of boy bandish but not so much that you want to go puke in a nearby coffee cup.  (Oh, I don't really dislike all boy bands...ehem)

Track 7, "Too Many Ways" is a jazzy acoustic little ditty...if you are an Amos Lee fan, like me, you might like this.  Kind of makes me want to go out for a walk with a cigarette in hand and flick it onto the rail tracks or somethin'.  (I don't smoke and I don't recommend littering either.)

Mmmm, track 8 "Long Road".  I like the lyrics...."it's a long long road to love".

Track 9, "so far so good, came this far without losing our heads" is how the track "Everybody Runs" starts.  My Thoughts exactly.  I haven't tired of the album once so far.

Track 10 "Ghost" was a little too slow for me, but that might just be the mood I'm in today.
Track 11 "Onetwothree" reminds me of another song I can't remember the title of (a Simply Red song maybe?)

Anyway, the album gets 4 stars out of my 5 star rating!