On arriving at eggman, we descended down the spiral staircase and on entering the venue, Michelle Aoi was in the middle of her acoustic opening set. There was a merch stand for Draft King manned by MAO herself. Next to the stand was a giraffe (of the stuffed/soft toy variety, but as tall as I was) in a blue DK tee.

After Michelle’s set ended, I approached the stand to buy their current EP (Just Say u.r.?) and SHIHO was also there next to Kirin-chan, the giraffe. SHIHO was egging me to buy the CD when I picked one up to have a look see. I also bought a tee during which time I told MAO and SHIHO that I am on vacation all the way from England and I was lucky to catch their live gig in Tōkyō. I had an opportunity to meet erica and NOHANA later as well, and they were all very nice, without any rock star airs about them.

DK was the penultimate band in the roster. Michelle Aoi was OK, although something about the mix made her Taylor sounding a tad shrill. And I just wondered if it was a wee bit out of tune. Aoi’s music was of the the typical singer/songwriter variety and, as a relative newbie to the scene, I felt that she still needs a little polishing.

Like Michelle, I don’t know of the bands that were next up. First up was がんばれ!Victory, a five-piece dressed up in rock tees mixed with aidoru-type frilly skirts.

Despite their girly-girl appearance, they were pretty solid and their experience showed. Then it was CARAMEL, a band that I later learnt had a ‘149’ cm tagline to their name as that was their average height. CARAMEL is from Tōkyō and comprises Rumi (vox/guitar), Youmi (guitar), Sayuki (bass) and Momo (drums). Typical J-pop/rock fare and pretty entertaining. Youmi-chan was one pretty good guitarist, appearing confident behind her grey PRS.

One thing I couldn’t reconcile with these two bands were the incorporation of a certain degree of girly kawaii charm to their image. I agree that is pretty much the norm for young female artistes in Japan but as a SCANDAL fan, whilst their appearance when they debuted invoked the same degree kawaii-ness, there was not much of a Konnichiwa, SCANDAL desu followed by a moe-moe nyan-nyan cat hand pose, with both these bands seem to show. Well, just about. I wonder why there were a conspicuous number of middle-aged guys in the crowd[1].

DK was up next. I have listened to Stereopony kinda on and off, especially since they broke up in 2012. Now, Stepo was pretty enough a major band in their hey-day. They were signed to Sony and were labelmates with SCANDAL who was of the same vintage. They had their music in anime, films and TV CM’s. They had played abroad including SXSW in Austin, TX and travelled around the ‘States for a few dates. After they broke up, SHIHO and NOHANA formed Draft King together with MAO (who played second guitar with Stepo) and a new singer called erica. And they actually started DK from scratch. It was described that at their first ever gig as DK, they had an audience of seven. And to see them manning their merch stand was humbling. Respect to the girls!

As DK hasn’t released an album as yet, any form of their music was pretty inaccessible to me apart from the few YouTube vids of their past gigs. Hence, I had to use that to recall what songs they played! I felt that I may be unfairly comparing erica to Stepo’s Aimi, but from the YouTube vids erica can be a bit off. But my fear was unfounded, as I really felt erica’s singing was top notch tonight. DK got onstage clad in their latest incarnation[2]. MAO had her Fender Thinline Deluxe (exactly like HARU’s!) and NOHANA was playing a blue Fender Jazz bass. SHIHO’s a Gretsch endorsee but she seemed content with the venue’s Pearl drum kit. Performance-wise, SHIHO’s drumming was the one I was so looking forward to. I was not disappointed at all. The set was short, lasting five songs. I cannot remember the order but I think they kicked off the set with 誓いの歌 (Chikai no uta), a punkish tune with a mild ska vibe. erica had a Freddie Mercury-type short mic stand and was wowing the towel-whirling punters. I loved MAO’s intro riff to「Hey My Love」which also had a mild ska-punk vibe driven by NOHANA’s basslines. And 真夜中メリーゴーランド (Mayonaka merīgōrando/Midnight Merry-go-round) from their current EP was a nice straight on rocker of the driving with the top down variety. erica gave a short intro MC of the band members and SHIHO gave a quick drum solo, and a solid one to boot. erica also announced their first one-man raibu (that’s Japanese for being a headlining act) in mid-December. Wish I was still around then!

アブラカタブラ (Abracadabra) started with SHIHO’s floor tom intro to MAO’s driving riff. erica sounded great throughout and NOHANA rocked despite the demure clothes she was wearing! They ended the set with new song called エレクトリック (Electric) with much aplomb.

I met erica after the set and had a quick chat with her, complimenting their onstage performance. She asked if I was gonna be staying until Christmas or New Year, and I said no, adding that as I was to return in about a week’s time, I won’t be able to attend their first one-man raibu as a signed band[3].

ORESKABAND 「オレスカバンド」 was the headlining band. I first heard of them from the 11th ED song from the BLEACH anime (爪先) back in 2007. These Osaka lasses have been around for more than ten years and man, were they solid as hell. Led by Leader/ハヤミ (she came across as scary! hehe) on trombone/vocals, the band comprised iCas on vocal/guitar, Tomi on bass/vocal, Moriko on tenor sax/keys (she was manning the OSB merch stall behind us), Saki on trumpet and Tae-san on drums. Hayami and Saki even took going down onto the floor walking amongst the audience still playing the trombone and trumpet, respectively. They obviously didn’t play the BLEACH tune but the set likely had their newer material and they ended their very superbly tight performance with Carry On! from their latest mini album of the same name.

I finally caught up with NOHANA after the OSB set. Had a quick chat with her and SHIHO, and when I mentioned that they should come play live in the UK (イギリス in Japanese), NOHANA said, “Pareee?”, and made an Eiffel Tower gesture with her arms! I wondered if she was confusing the UK and France, or if my kindy-level nihon-go was so not obvious[4]. I complimented SHIHO on her awesome drum chops to which she humbly expressed her thanks. I nervously brought up the subject of Stepo but just to say I listen to their music for some time now and so looked forward to DK going from strength to strength, and again NOHANA and SHIHO were happy to know. SHIHO asked me when I was going back and told her about missing the one-man no thanks to my flight being in a week’s time. I said my good-byes and jokingly said onaka suita to which NOHANA asked, “Are you hungry?”

Dang, how I wished I had answered, “Yeah, wanna come along?” but who am I kidding eh.

First live gig I’ve attended in Japan and I get to briefly chill with the band which included two founding members of Stereopony? And this, too.

Gob. Smacked.
[1]Hey, I’m only 34. HAHAHAHA.
[2]Japanese bands tend to appear in the same clothes they wear on their promo shoots, which implies that their onstage image is pretty much contrived to an extent despite wearing ‘regular’ clothes.
[3]DK was recently signed to Sun Music, one of the oldest talent companies in Japan. DK is their first all-girl rock band in their roster.
[4]Likely the latter, although it would’ve been so cute if it was the former.

PHOTO CREDITS: Apart from the tee-shirt and CD photos, all photos are from the Girls Rock Splash!! 2014 -Autumn- website.