Sunday, June 5, 2011

Live: Base Ball Bear @ 岡山 Crazy Mama Kingdom (6/4/2011)

Before I even got on the plane to Japan, one of the gigs I was most looking forward to was Base Ball Bear's one-man event happening in June. However, over time my interest in the show dwindled and fizzled out until a couple of days before when I realized that the wait was finally over and I would be seeing one of the bands that I had been infatuated with all of these years.

I hadn't gone to many lives during the month of May, but I suppose that's appropriate considering the last one I had went to was Coming Kobe 2011. Still, the shows being a month a part gave me plenty of time to replenish my interest meter that had built up in anticipation for another concert.

Before delving into the concert, it's rather important to explain my stand on the group. For people who don't know me, I was obsessed with Base Ball Bear during my time in high school, for roughly a year or so, in which I obtained every item of theirs that I could. My computer was filled to the brim with their live performances, music videos, and other clips distributed about the internet on the band. After a while, to be precise, their second album, I started to lose interest in the group. The rough, amateur recordings of their indie era works had now given way to a cleaner, polished, and less interesting cookie cutter brand of dance rock that eclipsed the bands roots. I still gave the band a chance around when their third album came out, but other than that I still wasn't so enthralled and was confident that I was right about them being a lost cause. The band I fell in love with, the adorable bassist Shiori, the music videos populated with school girls, the album art reminiscent of Japanese youth, and most importantly that sound: a digestible mix of the 90's indie scene's forefront bands, the shoegazey, Supercar and the angular guitar-rock of Number Girl. That was never to return. Well, except for the fact that Shiori is still one of the cutest female bassists in Japan in my eyes...

So being a fan of their older work, I wasn't sure what to expect at the gig. I would probably be bored to death by an onslaught of their newer songs and hear one or two numbers from their not so distant back catalog. But this was one chance I had to take, just to fulfill my dream of wanting to see them from so many years back.

After lining up it was quite a trek to Crazy Mama Kingdom. Located above a couple shady places(a soapland, cabaret club, etc.) is Kingdom, a fairly decently sized live house that is probably the least "active" of the live houses in Okayama, but usually holds shows for the bigger artists passing through town. It's a huge corporate live house that no one goes to for the atmosphere but hey, if you gotta see that huge band, you'll most likely be coming over. Since it isn't used very often and is pretty large, you at least get fairly nice bathrooms and coin lockers, and the bar is conveniently located off to the side of the stage.

I hurriedly made my way to the left side of the stage to be as close to Shiori as possible. When the band came on, I instantly realized that even being close to the stage meant you were fairly far away from the band, but thankfully as soon as they strapped on their instruments everyone took enormous steps forward, so I wasn't as far back as I had started.
The band took off with "17sai", one of the singles off their second album. a few more songs in they totally took me by surprise by playing "極彩色イマジネイション", "向日葵の12月" and  "つよがり少女" from their really early works. Even though I had seen countless performance of the band when I was obsessed with them, and even though it was years ago, this was the first time I had heard these songs live. Afterwards, they commented that every concert had a different set list than the last, so I couldn't help but be jealous of which venue they played "high color times" and YUMEisVISION" at, since they never play those songs live anymore either. They also gave a really great rendition of one of my favorites from their latest album, "love letter from the heartbeat". My main quip about this song is the annoying chipmunk voice they used to sing some parts of the song but thankfully they were a lot smarter to let Shiori sing those parts during the performance, which just makes so much more sense to me. Hearing that song live, and with Shiori's vocals replacing my biggest pet peeve, was definitely a huge highlight. The short intro they played for the song was a throwback to the band's old sound, complete with the highly distorted guitar sound, that gave me some window of hope that the band hadn't totally forgotten about where they came from.

Sadly, the rest of the live wasn't as exciting as the first half. They delved into some less interesting new songs that I hadn't heard before and some of their more popular new singles, but at least I was able to hear "Electric Summer" and "Sayonara Nostalgia" that were long time favorites of mine. For their encore they played their latest song, "Yoakemae" as well as "changes". The audience clapped on for a second encore but it was put down by the staff as they closed up the stage to clean up.

This was only the start of things that irritated about this live house. The next was that they gradually chase everyone out, even if people are still getting their drinks from the bar. You couldn't even stand around to do check your phone without a staff member telling you to take it outside. Next, the line to purchase goods is ridiculous, since you have to line up on the stairs, walking down, then waiting and making your way back up, since the live house is up 3 stories. Next, the only member to greet people at the goods table was Horinouchi, the drummer. I had wanted to so badly to get a signed CD from the band and was offering to settle for just him, but I figured out from the girl in front of me that he wasn't even allowed to do signings, juts greetings and handshakes. I suppose one wouldn't really consider this too bad, but sing the gig was awfully short(probably no more than two hours, I might even argue for less) for the price I paid for it, the most I've EVER paid for a ticket in Japan, you might be able to see what I mean.

Unfortunately, as fun as the concert was I ended up going home just thinking of the disappointments rather than the strong points, but still, it was great to see them in person and know that they were still not such a bad band after all.

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