Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Far from Ja-Panning

No Rock is delighted to welcome Phillip Scowen, who went to see the Manics this Sunday at Tokyo Bay NK Hall:
So we take the train out on a Sunday afternoon past the commuter tower blocks, the docks, factories and warehouses into Chiba, the prefecture east of Tokyo, towards Disneyland. It's a chilly, bright winter afternoon. From the train we see the odd baseball ground, cropped grass burnt dry and yellow by the winter sunshine.

We spend an hour or so wandering the aisles of the Carrefour hypermarket in Makuhari and then get the train back ten minutes or so to Maihama. From there it's a five minute shuttle bus ride to Disneyland, and the NK Hall is next to Mickey's pad.

It's my first time at this opulent modern arena (maybe 4-5000 capacity). The standing area stage front is sold out, but a few tickets are available upstairs in the arc of seats. We're up there in a nice position with an unrestricted view. It's dark and chilly, unusual for a modern Tokyo building.

Gigs start much earlier here, especially on Sunday. Doors open at 4.30 and support act Kururi come on an hour later to the sounds of Les Voix Bulgares.
They're a Japanese indie quartet who I've seen a couple of times on Viewsic (a Japanese music channel). The singer's a modest, engaging chap who introduces the band and says it's the first time he's been out here to Tokyo Bay, how he enjoyed riding the monorail and how he could see the staff of Ratworld (as he calls it) milling around smoking near the entrance of Goofy's gaff. The music veers from lengthy post-rock workouts to anthemic mid-paced rockers. It doesn't do a lot for me, although I like the way they huddle together on the stage, probably keeping warm, and I'm taken with the lead axeman's Flying V. The guys finish with with their best song, redolent of Going Blank Again-era Ride. Guitars slash and choruses soar, my kind of thing.

The Manics pre-arrival tape gives us gems like "Ceremony", "Lazyitis" and "Bank Robber" and I get another Kirin beer. Then they're on, no fanfare, they kind of slink on to the stage. This is the last date of a four-show Japanese tour (you can get teeshirts with "Nagoya Fukuoka Osaka Tokyo" on the back) and they are going home tomorrow.

James sports a smart red shirt, Sean is in a hat and dwarfed by his kit, and the Wire is glorious in a skirt, vest and long thick socks pulled up way over the knee. How tall he is.

Simply, what a great band they are, and what an incendiary show they played here. I'm kicking myself for not having seen them live before this. Because this was exceptional. "Motorcycle" and "You Stole the Sun" blaze a trail before JDB gets us singing the intro to "Masses", which is awesome. "Motown Junk" is dedicated to "all those who came to see us on our early tours when we played the likes of Club Citta". I missed the absent trumpet solo on "Kevin Carter" (couldn't they find a trumpet player here to do it?) but James played it on his guitar anyway. Wire fluffs the spoken introduction to "Tsumarni" (as he puts it) but nobody minds, and JDB puts on an acoustic for a heartbreaking "Ocean Spray". "Faster" hits hard, and is for "Mr Richard Edwards", and by the final half hour of "Roses", "Everlasting", "Everything Must Go", "Tolerate", "Design" and "You Love Us", we upstairs are out of our seats and roaring along. James is sweating and puffing a bit between songs, he's giving everything, as are the other two, and the extra chaps on keyboard and percussion - they do sterling work. Mitch Ikeda is brought on before "Stay Beautiful" and talks about "beautiful eyes, so beautiful".

Throughout the show the band look so up for it - I can't believe they're planning to split up any time soon. All night James does this funny one-legged dance around the stage, just making it back to his mic in time for the choruses. Nicky does his scissor jumps and smashes his bass at the end. James ribs him about eating too many fried shrimp the night before and then says he's hungry himself. "A Design For Life" is introduced as a "traditional Welsh song about fucking" and tears the roof off. I haven't roared so much in weeks.

No encore. No need, as David Brent would say. James thanks us for being "fucking lovely", hoists the Wire on to his shoulders and carries him offstage. Incredible show.

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