Friday, December 16, 2005

Zazen Boys Are Coming To Town

YES! The day has finally arrived! I'm gonna see Zazen Boys play live again!

This was how I felt all day long. Not exactly conducive to teaching. My body was in the classroom, but my rock-n-roll lovin' soul was already in Sapporo.

Thankfully, Friday is my light schedule day. My third year betas in the morning, and play practice in the afternoon.

We had some troubles during play practice on Wednesday, so I was a little worried about how things would go today. Not much need to worry, because everybody really worked hard! The performance is on Wednesday, so today was the big crunch.

We have a lot of Type-A personalities as directors of various departments, and this lead to a bit of difficulty, but overall, it was a successful practice. I had to run out to the store to get some thread for our costume designers, and when I got back, they said they didn't have a needle for the sewing machine. After some searching, they found one, but it would have been nice to be told that BEFORE I went out for the thread.

I filled out some paperwork in the morning so I could take off from work a couple of hours early. (At Starfish High, everything comes back to the paperwork. Yeesh.) The plan was to go home, get changed and then drive over to the station with time to spare.

Play practice ran a little long.

I went on a "Flight of the Bumblebee" panicked departure from school. Students and teachers all trying to ask me about this thing or that thing, and I'm trying to get out of there. It was pretty crazy, but I made it to the station with a few minutes to spare.

On the train to Sapporo! A little more than an hour on the rapid transit, and since I was getting off at the last stop, I caught up on a few of the Z's I don't get during the week. Upon arrival at Sapporo, I got on the subway so I could go check in at my hotel before the show. Apparently, it was rush hour in Sapporo, because the subways looked a little crowded.

Sapporo rush hour trains are NOTHING compared to the ungodliness that is Tokyo rush hour train travel. I have only had the good fortune to experience Tokyo Public Transit Hell once, and if that's what you call good fortune, I'd hate to be unlucky. I got stuck up by the door with a big bag at my feet. I was pressed up against a seat bar that somehow put me in such an awkward position that my backbone was bending in the wrong direction. As more people got on, the pressure on my spine increased. I was a bit concerned at this point. Somehow I managed to arrive safely at my destination with both pride and spinal column intact. You feel sorry for the poor slobs who have to get sammiched in there everyday. No big cities for me, thank you very much. I'll take the boonies.

Back to the story. I checked in to my hotel, headed back to the subway station, and caught the train to Kotoni, which is where the live house was located.

Penny Lane 24. My first visit there, so I had no idea what the place would look like. Pretty cool setup, and it can fit a standing-room crowd of 500 pretty easily.

My ticket number was 354, and everybody with a ticket number of 350 or higher had to wait upstairs and line up there to get in to the show. This was not a bad thing. Everybody else was lining up outside in the cold. Yeah, I suppose if I wanted to be right up front, I would have been upset, but I was content to watch the action from a little further back.

On the way in, I saw the Zazen Boys' manager and said hi. We know each other from previous shows. He told me to catch him after the show, and he'd let me say hi to the guys in the band.

Then, I headed inside to catch the show.

Damn.

These guys are good.

I hadn't seen them play since back in November of last year. Since then, their previous drummer, Ahito Inazawa, quit due to disagreements about the direction of the band. Atsushi Matsushita replaced him in the beginning of this year. I'd heard a lot about the new sound of the band and was interested to see what had changed.

It's amazing how much a band can change with just the addition of a new member. It almost felt like a different band at times.

Mukai's (guitar, vocals) vocals are still as machine-gun fast as ever. Hinata (bass) gets better (and crazier) every time I see these guys play. Yoshigane (guitar) stands on stage and quietly does his thing, but when he does his thing as well as he does, you'll hear no complaints from me. Especially since he used to be a member of a Yakuza gang. You just don't want to complain to those guys. (No lie, by the way. You should see his tattoos. Wicked stuff.)

And then there was Matsushita, the new drummer. His playing style is heavy. Very heavy. The beats are fierce, angry. The rhythm is very primal. It put a new spin on a lot of the old Zazen Boys' songs. Cool stuff.

As always, the cohesiveness of the band was excellent. You can tell that they practice hard and often. The "band" vibe was great. When they jam on stage, they match up flawlessly.

They will be releasing a new album in January, and they played four songs from it at the show. The keyboard was a new and interesting addition. A friend of mine who is a HUGE Number Girl/Zazen Boys fan went to their show in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, and said, "Geez, Mukai, if you're so set on playing Prince-like music, just go ahead and do it!" I could see her point. The pre-show music from their last tour was Prince music, so there could be something going on there.

The new album will be called "Zazen Boys III", which is a natural progression from their previous album, "Zazen Boys II". Their debut album was "Zazen Boys". I'm sensing a pattern here. I wonder what they'll call the next album. "IV"?

Don't count on it.

When I caught their show on their first tour, Mukai said something about naming the second album "II" and the third one "III", followed by a fourth album made up of unpronounceable symbols.

QUICK, CZAR! NAME THAT ALBUM!

I laughed my ass off at that one.

Mukai commented on how "unbelievably cold" it was outside. Yep, pretty much. People were jumping around and getting hot and sweaty during the show, so he said, "Careful when you go outside. You'll freeze dry. Just add hot water, I guess. Or hook up with someone from the opposite sex and...well, I'm sure you won't be cold, no matter what you do."

During the encore, he had the crowd sing along on the song, and then told us guys to shut up. He walked around the stage, found a cute girl in the audience, pulled her up on stage, had her sing along with him, and then he led her off stage and...who knows. Slowly, each member finished playing their part and would walk off the stage. Hinata, then Matsushita, followed by Yoshigane. We yelled for another encore, and Yoshigane came back out on stage and said, "Hey, show's over, folks. Go home."

After heading outside, I caught up with the manager again. He let me talk to Mukai for a minute, and then the band took off for the hotel. We talked for a little more, and he explained that Mukai was tired and wasn't heading out. Some of the other members and staff were, though, so invited me to the after party.

In dreaded Susukino.

It was at a pretty cool little restaurant called Isari. The food was good, the shochu was better.

Shochu (rough distilled spirits) is a Japanese alcohol made from just about anything that has starches in it. The three most common types are wheat, rice, and sweet potato, but there are many other varieties. Corn. Pumpkin. Carrot. Buckwheat. Seaweed. Regular potato. Catnip. Sesame. Coffee.

Wow. That list was starting to scare me.

Anyway, when I was back in Shimane, the quality and quantity of available shochu was a lot better than it is up here. It had been a while since I'd had any good shochu.

The stuff Isari had was good shochu. This made me happy. It also made me drunk.

All in all, it was a fun party, although some of the conversation was difficult to follow. A bit out of my range of experience. Think Susukino.

We all left Isari around 1 AM. They all walked back to their hotel, which was nearby. I also walked back to my hotel, which was on the other side of town. The subway had shut down for the night and I didn't feel like shelling out the yen for a taxi. Plus, alcohol had clouded my thinking. So I put my hood up, zipped my coat up, and walked to my hotel.

I have no idea how long it took me. This is one good thing about being drunk - you don't know how much time passes. I looked up and there was my hotel.

I went back to my room, changed into my yukata (Japanese PJs), and hit the sack. Hard.

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