Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Rockin' the City...and Swingin' It, Too!

The invitation for the Seishin Flying Eggheads (funky-sounding fanfare) to appear at the annual Kashima Festival here in (wait for it...) Kashima City came as a bit of a surprise. We hadn't been asked to perform at that event for seven years.

Of course, the event itself had undergone a considerable change. If it hadn't, I probably would have refused immediately. In the past it was called the "mizunoue konsaato" (水の上コンサート), which literally means "Concert on the Water", and that's just what it was. They would build a stage out over a pond, and a whole bunch of school and community music groups would appear. It was a beautiful concept. It was clearly someone's dream given substance. It was always a bloody mess. With all those school bands coming and going, it was a logistical nightmare. You couldn't park anywhere near the venue, so equipment had to be lugged quite a distance, often through traffic. You had too many people trying to use too little space for storing and preparing their gear. To top it all off, the vacuum-skulled monkey masquerading as a professional sound man that they hired every year (at great cost, apparently) kept screwing everything up. {voice=sam kennison}The Eggheads took part in that event three times (in 1997, 1998, and 1999), which meant that we went through struggling to find a place to park the van, trying to haul all our stuff all that distance as quickly as possible, trying to find a place to put it, competing with sometimes very stubborn groups for even a tiny bit of prep space, being herded onto the stage for a rehearsal and sound check only to have the sound check wipe out all our time and still not be finished (because the sound monkey kept chatting with teenage girls instead of doing his job), killing time in between, trying to get all our members back together in time, competing for prep space again, being herded onto the stage for our performance, and sounding like total crap because the soundmoron had all the mike levels screwed up yet again THREE TIMES!!! AHH...AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!.{/voice} They stopped doing the Concert on the Water after that, which was a good thing. I didn't care if I never did it again.

Needless to say, I was a bit suspicious about this sudden invitation, but it sounded like things had changed quite a bit. It was still part of the same Kashima Festival, but this time it was a high school music exhibition focusing on rock and jazz. It was to take place on the main stage, i.e. the same venue as the professional acts. If nothing else, it sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a try.

My decision to do so wasn't greeted very warmly by the Eggheads themselves. The timing, right between a Saturday Afternoon Concert and the epitomal Kashima Seaside Jazz Festival, seemed a bit harsh. I reminded them, however, that it wouldn't be such a serious event, so we could simply repeat the program of the Saturday Afternoon Concert while spending our rehearsal time preparing for the Seaside Jazz Festival. That made the kids relax a bit. However, the people in charge of the event didn't do much to inspire confidence. Weeks went by with no word. Then I was given a message asking me to call the included phone number and discuss the facts of the performance with the guy in charge, but when I called him all he did was confirm whether we were going to perform or not, telling me he would be in touch later. "Later" turned out to be an uncomfortably long time.

The Saturday Afternoon Concert came, and the Flying Eggheads delivered what was possibly their worst performance of the year. The home audience always seems to be the toughest, but since our program mainly consisted of tunes we had played at La Bohême in the Foundation Festival back in September, it should have been duck soup. Well, it started out as egg soup. The first tune started off with a bad note, and it was unmotivated, uninspiring, and loaded with errors. Things started to pick up after that, and the last couple of tunes came off pretty well, but overall the kids sounded like they were half asleep and wishing they were home in bed. It wasn't a very good prelude to a public event, and the student leaders started hinting around that they wanted to pull out.

Right after that lackluster Saturday Afternoon Concert appearance I finally lost my patience and called the guy in charge of the Kashima Festival high school music exhibition only to have him tell me that the planning session wouldn't be held until less than a week before the event took place. I wasn't very happy to hear that, and I made sure he understood it. However, it seemed they had a shortage of acts (gee...I wonder why...) and were really excited to have us in the program. I couldn't bring myself to pull out on them, so we went ahead with it...gritting our teeth all the way.

This time I made sure that the kids had all our gear packed up and waiting by the back entrance long before it was time to go. Since both school vans were unavailable, we divided the equipment up between my car, Mr. Ogawa's and a van belonging to one of the festival staff. Loading, as usual, took a bit longer than it should have, but not as bad as it has in the past. We arrived at the Festival site, which was the grounds of Kashima Soccer Stadium, only to be told we couldn't unload near the stage. Therefore, we had to pull off on the shoulder and have the kids haul our stuff a distance of more than a hundred meters (which is still closer than those Concerts on the Water ever were!). At least this time we had some help; the members of the other bands surprised us by volunteering, which sped things up a lot once they got moving in the first place. We had a designated space where we could store and prep our stuff without having to worry about butting heads with anyone else. They also had a sound man who not only knew his stuff but clearly took great pride in his work. No chatting up teenie boppers for him - he was constantly on the move, usually with furrowed brows, attacking anything in the system that seemed even a little off specs.

Then there were the performers themselves. It turned out that every act on the stage before us was a rock band whose members went to local senior high schools (and at least one of whom, by rule, had to live in Kashima). I shouldn't speak harshly of them, especially considering they were kind enough to help us with all our gear, but...*ahem*

The first band, sporting spiky hair and torn clothes, played Led Zeppelin songs (badly) while the vocalist "sang" (more like growled) Robert Plant's vocals in a low octave...totally off key (while the people backstage shook their heads and rolled their eyes), but they looked like they were having fun.

I didn't pay any attention to the second band at all. I just stayed backstage and concentrated on getting everything ready. From what I could hear, they played pretty typical punk...complete with a singer who screamed his vocals with no sense of pitch or rhythm. (I don't know why these high school bands always have these really obnoxious, screaming "singers". I mean, there have been and still are a lot of punk vocalists that shout their vocals, but there's a way to do it that sounds classy. These kids just sound stupid.) Still, they sounded like they were having fun.

The third band looked like a bizarre combination of glam and goth (including a rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist who looked like a black-eyed, black-lipped, purple-frocked, frightening hybrid of Prince and Ozzie Osbourne). They called themselves "punk", but they played death metal. The lead guitarist had some ability, and the two vocalists used some interesting vocal techniques to good effect (mainly to get "voices of hell", or "masses crying out in agony", or something like that), but they weren't together, they weren't in tune, and a lot of the time they just sounded obnoxious...but they looked like they were having fun.

After all that, the fourth band was a pleasant surprise. They were called "Sweet Jacks", or something like that (the only band whose name I caught). They had some trouble tuning their guitars, but they were tight, they were practiced, they knew their instruments well enough to convince, they knew the songs well, and they clearly had a sense of playing together rather than just going off into their own little worlds. Even better was the fact that their vocalist not only sang but sang very well! I mean...he actually had a good voice! Even more impressive was the fact that all the songs they played were originals...and very good ones, I might add! It was a very enjoyable and respectable performance. I could easily imagine them getting airplay, which was a heartwarming thought considering their drummer is not only a 12th grade student at my school but a former member of the Flying Eggheads! What can I say? She has been a bit of a problem student, and she was plagued with extremely low self-esteem when she was an Egghead, but she gave a good accounting of herself. Actually, today she made me proud. (I'm not sure why she was in tears after the performance since she sounded flawless; maybe she was happy. I sure hope so.) They actually looked like they were trying to put on a good performance rather than just having fun, but they still looked like they were having fun.

We were up after that. We were all worried about the time it would take replacing a four-piece rock band setup with a twenty-piece big band, but the stage crew was on their toes, the sound crew were prepared, our kids were ready, and it went quickly and smoothly. The kids were already looking intimidated by the large (and growing) crowd, but they were pumped up, and they put on an excellent show. We had only minimal miking (as I usually insist), but the sound man used it very smartly, and our balance through the monitors sounded excellent. That plus some quality solo work really rounded it all out. We pulled by far the largest audience of the day, which is always a good thing, but I was far more concerned about how the kids felt about it. One of the strengths of this year's Eggheads is that they actually look like they're having fun when they perform (except that last Saturday Afternoon Concert, which was probably why it sucked). This time they were really into it, and when we were done they looked pretty pleased with themselves.

We were followed by the headline act, which was a special guest. It was a pro acoustic guitar duo who I guess is at least moderately well known. I don't remember what they were called, but they were quite good and very enjoyable to listen to. They were also a couple of really cool guys...not turned into assholes by their success. They were almost as much fun backstage as onstage...and they definitely looked like they were having fun onstage.

After that they gathered all the participating bands and crew onstage for a commemorative photo shoot. That was kind of fun, too...especially since the photographer used a digital camera with no flash...and didn't always warn us when he was going to shoot.

Packing up and going back was a bit easier because we had even more help. Parents of members gave rides. We were able to park much closer to the stage. The festival staff provided one more car and loaded down the van that they had. Mr. Karatsu showed up in Mr. Ogawa's van but almost wasn't needed. We got it all back in one trip, and packing it into the school took only a few minutes. That was far better than any of those Concerts on the Water!

They said they plan to invite us again next year. I hope we can do it, but I hope they find a few more bands with a bit of class next time...or at least invite back "Sweet Jacks"(?) again!

(Moody, you're just a snobbish, old fart...)

Here's a promo video showing scenes from last year's Kashima Festival. Among other things, you can see a brief clip of the high school music festival and a glance at the pond where they used to hold the Concert on the Water.

6 Comments:

  • Ah.. too bad, I couldn't see the promo video... dial-up connection which takes me ages to download it :(

    Anywya, good to know that everything went well :)

    By Blogger Selba, at 7:17 PM  

  • I couldn't see it either - the first time a video came up as a screen of nonsense text.

    And no, it's not just because it is Japanese!

    But anyway, sounds like you have a really exciting and eventful life over there.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 6:46 AM  

  • Okay, I looked into the problem. The site says their video clips use Windows Media Player as their default, but for some reason the video I linked will no longer work in WMP (though it did before). It will work in RealPlayer, however. Click on the "R" if you have RealPlayer installed.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:26 PM  

  • Why am I suddenly getting so many hits from South American countries? I'm not complaining at all; I love it! But I wish some of these people would comment once in a while...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:27 PM  

  • Dear Snobbish Old Fart:

    ""R"? Don't see an R. Oh well.

    I am reminded of Whoopie Goldberg in "Jumpin' Jack Flash" when she's walking down the sidewalk under the influence of some truth serum and sees a punker couple with spiked hair etc. - "oh look, a tropical fish and its mate!"

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:53 PM  

  • Cha cha cha

    By Anonymous Some South American, at 8:54 PM  

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