Photo by José Ginarte
The only time I have ever enjoyed Brian Setzer was in a bar in Tokyo. At the time the only word I knew in Japanese was the one for “good morning” and I used it regardless of the time of day. After inadvertently eating what may or may not have been the spinal cord of a pig I was desperate to consume anything that would remove the taste from my mouth and the bar next door was still open. Before I even had the chance to sit down the following conversation took place:
Bartender: Konbanwa. (Good evening.)
Alex: Ohayo gozaimasu!!!!! (Good morning!!!!)
B: You are an American?
A: Yes. Yes absolutely.
B: (Noticing my hair) Are you in a band? (Air guitar)
B: Do you like American rock music?
As if this was the signal the man had been waiting for his entire life he sprinted across the bar and grabbed a jewel case holding The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s “Jump, Jive an’ Wail – The Very Best of the Brian Setzer Orchestra” and as he was throwing it in the CD player asked, almost as an afterthought, “You like Brian Setzer?”
It was Brian Setzer in my ears or spine in my mouth.
For the next thirty minutes the bartender didn’t say much; he just kind of danced behind the bar while occasionally giving me an inquisitive thumbs up and throwing the sign of the horns at my nodded affirmations.
Photo by José Ginarte
This is not “HOW THEM WACKY JAPANESE LOVE THAT AMERICAN ROCK EVER SO MUCH!” and it is not some rote piece about the dissolution of boundaries and “there only being one language of rock!” It is simply that nothing in the world melts me like American rock from Japanese mouths. Something about it always takes me back to the empty bar and the horrible, horrible swing music. The way it sounded fun for a moment, the way the bartender believed what was being said without actually knowing what it was supposed to mean.
So when Ani and I stumbled across a poster that proclaimed “GEEKS ROCK YOU!!” In Japanese and English I was thrilled, but when directly below
“Hi there. What’s up? We are GEEKS from Japan. Let’s introduce ourself. Please read till the last. GEEKS are the only very cool bands in the world. In February, 2008, the geeks were rebearded newly. It is worlds best group of 4 men. Let’s introduce our member. The guitar sound that seems to be a machine gun, Base sounds such as the heavy tank, Synthesizer such as the ray gun, A drum such as the great disaster, And a voice to carry through heart. When we had a gig, all the spectators was swooned. Because of us, a lot of people quitted a school and work and came to start a band in Japan. You’ll regret that you overlook it! Our force does not stop!”
appeared I grew indifferent. I’ve seen Weird Al and his zany brand of rock and roll and I have no interest in more of it.
But we went anyway, forgoing the chance to see the bands will show up six months from now, already two years late, in Spin and The Fader as the “hottest new indie bands.” Giving up the “Oh yeah, I saw Abe Vigoda at South By 09” and the “Wavves? They’re still a band? Man, I was bored of them after their showcase at SXSW.” We gave it up because there was a Japanese band playing American rock at an Irish pub. We gave it up because we happened to be across the street from the venue. We gave it up because Brian Setzer apparently sounds good in all languages.
They could have passed for any ’90s pop punk band on stage. Orange, blue, and red hair on every head. Keyboardist Kaol popped out from behind his instrument to take pictures of the small crowd inside, more curious than excited. Lead singer Endo stood at the large window facing the street and screamed at passersby, encouraging them to watch his band in a language they didn’t understand. The tittering excitement of all those Warped Tour shows in local skateparks. The band gleefully bounced around as if by standing on this stage they had completed their dream. And maybe they had. The Geeks are unsigned and have never been to America, the place where “the music [they] loved was born,” and yet during one of the largest festivals of the year they held a coveted 11 p.m. set.
And then it started with a bellowing, “We are the Geeks. Motherfucker!” rolling out of Endo’s mouth. And the crowd cheered because, sometimes, that’s what rock and roll is all about. The four piece launched into a set of as much Shonen Knife as Sex Pistols as Screeching Weasel. Through a translator Mitsu told us that their band found influence in both Japanese and American music and that “it started with the Sex Pistols but then [they] fell in love with Japanese punk.” Paying tribute to both the American and Japanese roots of their sound the band played 40 minutes of guitar solos, group harmonies, and chanting choruses to a nearly full bar and a crowd steadily increasing outside of it spurred on by the band’s constant trips to the window to wave.
Photo by José Ginarte
Later on Endo smirked, aware of the word’s meaning and implication but unable or unwilling to do anything with this knowledge. He stared at the crowd, finger tentatively pointed, “You? You are motherfucker?” The crowd giggled, “No”. He turned his finger to his own body wildly gazing at it as if it was sentient, “Motherfucker?” Unhappy with this solution he began to throw his hands into the air at the word he feigned ignorance of. Louder and louder he yelled, his band chanting offbeat alongside him in a moment of unbridled glee. “Motherfucker.”