Tim Version Japan Tour Diary, 2009: By Russ Van Cleave

One of the questions I consistently entertain when talking with people about our band and the things we’ve done is, “How did you get to tour Japan?” It’s not a subject I’ve ever been able to easily explain to people. On the one hand, I would love to believe that there is some simple process or checklist for everyone who plays in bands to follow that leads to the same incredible experiences we’ve had. Conversely, I couldn’t begin to tell you how we got so lucky because I myself don’t understand it. If someone had told me at the onset of our mutual musical existence ten years ago that we would get to tour Japan even once (let alone three times), I would have thought they were delusional. And, for a small-time, simple rock band from Tampa, Fla. that has managed to register barely a ripple (if that!) in a sea of global musical culture and ambition, these sorts of experiences and opportunities are not ones that any of us take for granted. In fact, when I stop to reflect on everything in my life and the experiences of both my family and friends (many of whom have only ever been able to experience other cultures while serving in the military), I consider the time spent playing our music for people in another country to be one of the things I am truly blessed to have done with my life. That, coupled with the hospitality we’ve received and the friends we’ve made over here on the other side of the world, has produced something in my life that I can really only convey as nothing other than “indescribable”(at least without running the risk of sounding like a bad Hallmark card). So with that in mind, the cynic in me will move on with our story and spare the reader the mushy details of our collective gratitude.

April 15 and 16, 2009 – Tampa, Fla. to Tokyo, Japan

Our trip began about 4:30 AM EST at TampaInternationalAirport, but preparation for the tour on both sides of the Pacific had persisted for several months prior. Lots of that involved the tedious planning and scheduling that Yoichi Eimori of Snuffy Smiles Records had to endure to get everything in place and all of the travel planning, merchandise procurement, and extra practice we pulled together in an attempt to turn this potential fiduciary misadventure into something that stood an average chance of approximating a financial break-even point. With all of that work now past, the only barriers that stood between the four of us and the start of our third Japanese tour were 16 hours of international air travel and the fine folks working Customs and Immigration at NaritaInternationalAirport. I have made the decision to spare the reader the mundane details of those relatively boring experiences and will skip forward to the part where we met up with our friend Yusuke Okada in Tokyo. Yusuke plays guitar and sings in a band called Blotto. I think they’re a great band, and its always been a good time playing shows with them in Japan and the U.S. But more importantly, they are all really nice guys who have always been good friends to us. Yusuke took us to his house and let us hang out, relax, and listen to records while he made some curry and rice for dinner. During that time, a few of his friends showed up that we had never met before including Masahiro, who plays in a couple bands, and Mizuki, who plays and sings in Gleam Garden. Our old friend Mura who plays in Blotto with Yusuke also showed up to hang. Drinking seems to be a big part of the culture in Japan and while I can’t say that I could necessarily tolerate the frequency and quantity of alcoholic beverages consumed here on this night (and especially on a consistent basis in my non-Japanese touring life), I will say that it was a lot of fun to hang out, eat, and drink with friends. It was so much fun, in fact, that after our meal and first couple of drinks we decided to go to the izakaya. An izakaya is a Japanese-style pub where everyone sits around a table, eats appetizers, drinks, and socializes. It has always been my understanding that it would be almost impossible to fully describe Japanese culture over the past few centuries without some mention of the role of the izakaya. It might be most familiar to folks as the type of place where Japanese businessmen meet after work and drink until it’s time to take the last train home. Like anything else in life, a trip to the izakaya can be a fun experience provided the right folks are involved. The one we went to was a very cheap, working class izakaya that served hoppy,  a popular blue-collar drink consisting of a mixture of Japanese root beer and shochu. Shochu is a word used to describe a whole class of liquors over here that are made with all sorts of things ranging from sweet potatoes to barley. After a few hoppys,  we headed back to Yusuke’s house to watch some DVD footage he had of Bent Outta Shape. We talked more about music and listened to some records before we called it a night.

April 17, 2009 – Kumagaya: BlueForest Livehouse with Frontier, April Fool and Gleam Garden

Yoichi and George showed up at Yusuke’s house around 10:00 AM (I’m not sure how you spell George in Japanese, but Yoichi has told us in the past that George is also a Japanese name). George was our van driver on this tour and a friend of ours from our last two tours. We met George on our first tour when he was playing bass for a great, but unfortunately now defunct band called Minority Blues Band. They both seemed pretty tired from having driven all night from Kyoto, but we got the van packed up quickly for an almost non-existent drive to Kumagaya, a city that is probably best described as a distant suburb of Tokyo. Masahiro, Mizuki, and Yusuke all came along. On the way, we stopped to eat at our first Japanese “truck” stop. Pretty much all the truck stops (or rest areas) have noodle houses that serve pretty good food. Mike played the first “Lunch Lotto” (patent pending) of the tour. At the truck stop noodle houses, you have to order by using the vending machines in which all the selections are written in Japanese which we, of course, can’t read. So, we invented Lunch Lottoon our last tour to avoid bothering Yoichi or one of the other guys every time we wanted some noodles. To play Lunch Lotto, one simply inserts their money into the machine and hits a bunch of buttons. The vending machine spits out a ticket that you give to the noodle house cook. They serve up whatever it is you order and if you like it, you win. It’s that simple! Lunch Lotto can yield meals that some of us westerners might take for some pretty bizarre food. To date, all members of The Tim Version are undefeated at Lunch Lotto. In keeping with our successful business model, we plan to patent Lunch Lotto and make tons of money off of it in much the same way we have figured out how to make so much money from playing in a band. A little bit further down the road, we arrived at Masahiro’s house where we relaxed and had some sake with Yoichi before we went to Blue Forest Livehouse for sound check. This was a good way for us to make sure that the excesses of the previous night had not eroded all memory of the songs we had planned to play on this tour. After sound check, we went out to get some Chinese food with some of the fellas from GleamGarden and then headed back for the show (shows usually start pretty early, around 7:00 PM). Regardless of the style of music, almost all of the Japanese bands we’ve seen on our tours here have been really, really well-rehearsed outfits. Most professional touring acts in the States are comparable in quality to bands in Japan that can usually only afford to practice once a month. The bands tonight were certainly no exception. GleamGarden was especially good, and it was nice to get a chance to finally see them play live. With that being said, we’ve always felt funny about playing last in Japan, but folks stuck around and seemed to have a really good time. We played for over an hour (which we hardly ever do at home) and that left us all pretty well worn out at the end of things, but overall the show wasn’t too bad. Afterwards we hung out, caught up with some of the fellas from Blotto, and did our best to communicate with people who seemed pretty drunk, albeit appreciative and happy that we came back, before we packed up and headed back to Masahiro’s for the night.

April 18, 2009 – Hachioji: Rinky Dink Studio with Male Goat, Browntrout and Your Pest Band

We woke up to some fresh tomatoes, miso soup and rice for breakfast and watched a Japanese TV show promoting a movie called Opaii. Opaii is a movie about a group of students who play volleyball for their school. Apparently, they are so bad, that to inspire the team to success, their attractive female volleyball coach has promised to show them her opaii (Japanese talk for “tits”) if they win. The promotional segment of the show was as amusing as the actual movie footage with the lead actress and actors eating opaii-shaped candies and breads (eat your heart out, Janet Jackson’s nipple). When we got on the road, we enjoyed a relatively short two-hour drive to Hachioji, a district of Tokyo. Before we went to the venue, we killed some time by taking a tour of the Suntory brewery, the first of four brewery tours that Yoichi had lined up for us on this tour! At the brewery, we met up with Miso from Browntrout and several of Yoichi’s friends. The Suntory tour was fun except for the fact that we couldn’t understand anything the tour guide said. At the end though, we got to sample a couple Suntory beers, which was certainly nothing to complain about. Afterward, we went over to Rinky Dink Studios to get set up for the show. Rinky Dink Studios is actually a practice studio with a proper venue (or live house) upstairs. The last time around, we played the live house, but this time Yoichi set up the show for the practice space because it was cheaper which was fine with us. On the first floor was a record store called Senseless Records where we got to shop around for a bit. We also got to meet up with a bunch of old friends including Masa from The Urchin and Gon from I Excuse, folks we haven’t seen in three years. All the bands that night were great, especially Browntrout, who I was looking forward to seeing on this tour and Your Pest Band that Yoichi had spoken highly of the night before. Male Goat was really cool as well and played a complicated mixture of hardcore and sort of a free jazz type of music. Miso told me later that Male Goat are big fans of both DC Hardcore and John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and the like – it certainly showed in their songwriting. Our show was probably the closest thing that we’ve ever had to playing a house show here in Japan. There was a lot of mayhem up front and a lot of singing along. We had a couple minor equipment issues, but overall, the show was a good time. Afterwards, George and Masahiro went off to the izakaya, while Miso and us American fellas walked to Miso’s house where we drank a couple beers and listened to a couple records before turning down for the night.

Soundtracks:    V/A – Lee “Scratch” Perry Anthology (Disc 1)

April 19, 2009 – Yokohama: Studio 24 with Raise Mind and Zero Fast

I woke up pretty early in the morning and just relaxed and read at Miso’s house before everyone started to stir. When everyone was up, Miso made some Udon noodle soup for breakfast while we slowly got packed up and ready to go. The drive to Yokohama from Hachioji was, again, a really short drive and it was nice to just sit and enjoy some bitchin’ weather with the windows open on the ride out to YokohamaBay. When we got there, we had some time to check out Disk Union, a Japanese chain record store where I scored an LP compilation of old 1927-1931 blues recordings from Alabama called, appropriately enough, Alabama Country (released on Origin Jazz Library as OJL-14 for all you collector nerds) and a Japanese LP compilation called Max’s Kansas City 1976 (released on Ram Recordings as RS-1213) that pulls together a lot of the bands from that time and place, e.g. Wayne County and The Back Street Boys, The Fast, Pere Ubu, etc. both for about $15.00 USD. Record shopping in Japan is pretty awesome. Next on the agenda was a trip to the Kirin beer brewery, the second of our four brewery tours in Japan! Kirin beer was better than the Suntory beer in my opinion; but, again, we couldn’t really understand much. I did manage to learn that the brewery we visited was the very first place beer in Japan was commercially brewed back in the 1880s. After the tour, we had a quick meal of duck noodle soup at a noodle house and then headed to the practice studio where the show was to take place. We met up with some old friends in Zero Fast, the first band we ever played with in Japan. Haga from Zero Fast owns a small izakaya in Yokohama now. and he and his wife brought some food and drinks to the show to sell. The show was in a pretty small practice studio, but it worked out well. We’d never seen or heard the first band, Raise Mind, before. But, they put on a good show, and it was really awesome to see Zero Fast again. Our show wasn’t without its bumps – a couple broken strings and some sound issues – but overall, folks seemed to enjoy it. After everything wrapped up, we went over to Mura’s house where we were treated to all sorts of food and drinks including, but not limited to, bream and octopus sushi, daikon radish and chicken, spaghetti, and kimchi. Haga popped open a bottle of sparkling, unfiltered sake to put the icing on some of the best hospitality we’ve ever received on any tour we’ve done.

Soundtracks: V/A – Eccentric Soul: Outskirts of Deep City

April 20, 2009 – Ise: Pousse Bar with The Because and Last Pint

I woke up pretty early and used the extra time to walk down and try to figure out how to use the phone and calling card we had purchased the day before. Again, everything being written and spoken in a language you can’t understand makes an everyday, simple task like calling home a production. Beyond that, we operate on a pretty tight schedule and any free time we would have to spend making a phone call is either spent where there is no public phone nearby or during a time of the day when anyone we would want to call in Florida is asleep. Alas, any and all attempts to figure out the phone proved fruitless so I bought a coffee and moseyed back to Mura’s in shameful defeat. By the time I got back, everyone else was up and packing up for the long drive to Ise. When we’ve toured Japan in the past, we’ve always found a lot of amusement in what we all would consider to be some of the strange snacks they sell over here. Perhaps the strangest to date was found on this day at a convenience store on the way to Ise. This particular snack had a graphic of a man in a suit with a sword on his back on the package. It looked like a little gummy candy, but when we tried it tasted like a fish-flavored sour patch kid. Mike called them “haku patch kids,” haku being the Japanese word for puking. When we asked Yoichi what it was we were eating, he said it was called “Ninja Food” and was made with fish oil and sour plum. Of course, those are two flavors that I’ve never thought of mixing together and that revelation certainly goes a long way towards explaining why none of us thought it tasted very good. Per Yoichi, the flavors apparently originate with a traditional Japanese food called umekatusuo that he doesn’t like very much either. After awhile, we stopped at a noodle house right on the coast and played Lunch Lotto before heading further down south and through Nagoya into some pretty cloudy weather. By the time we got to Ise, the sun was going down and it was getting cold and rainy. Ise is a small town, but it is a very old city with some of the oldest and most significant shrines in Japan. We got to walk around and check things out in Ise on our last tour and it is definitely a recommended place to visit if you ever make it to Japan. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to do anything on this trip other than drop in at a Japanese mall/grocery store type thing to get some food before the show. I did manage to get the phone to work with Yoichi’s assistance. We met up with our friends Akira, Yuka, and Shu in The Because when we got to the show. The Because are from Ise and played almost every show with us on our last tour and are definitely one of our favorites bands in Japan. Our friend Tomi, who plays in a band called Navel, also made the two-hour drive over for the show. The Because opened up and were as great as I remembered them to be three years ago when I saw them last. Akira’s brother played in a band called Last Pint, which played that night as well. Unfortunately, this was their last show and they had some minor equipment issues. Despite that bummer, it was still a good time. As far as our show was concerned, I had a wiring problem that sorta kept me standing in one awkward position for most of the show. Aside from that, things went OK. To make the drive easier the next day, we drove for a couple hours that night to stay at Tomi’s place. The weather was miserable, and I was cold and damp from loading, so I just slept most of the way to Tomi’s. When we finally got there around 2:00 AM, I stayed up and had a beer with Tomi before turning in for the night.

Soundtracks:    Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around
                        My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
                        The Because – Get Out Through The Back Door

April 21, 2009 – Tokushima: Crowbar with Wedding Nights and Not For

We had to get up pretty early to get on the road to George’s hometown of Tokushima. Tomi’s wife was kind enough to have some coffee and fruit ready for us by the time we got packed up and ready to go – yet another testament to the hospitality we received in Japan. We had to endure a continuation of some pretty lousy weather, but things started to clear up a little bit by the time we got to Osaka. In Osaka, we stopped for some super rotation sushi. Super rotation sushi is sorta like regular sushi except that the available food items travel around the restaurant on a big conveyer belt. If something tasty passes by your table, you have the option to remove it from the conveyor belt and eat it. Almost everything went down quite enjoyably excepting for the pickled eggplant which was a little strange and a sushi roll that I can only describe as tasting like a seafood ambrosia – fish eggs, mayonnaise and marshmallow. After a few more hours of driving, George and Yoichi spotted a discount liquor store that was having a serious sale. This prompted a sharp U-turn and subsequent shopping spree. Among many other things, we purchased the last four bottles of a locally micro-brewed beer that we enjoyed in the van in tandem with some beautiful coastal scenery during the last leg of our drive into Tokushima. This is the most eastern most city on the Japanese island of Shikoku. When we got to the venue, I set right to work trying to fix the electrical problems with my guitar which I ultimately managed to accomplish at the expense of missing the first band, Not For. This was unfortunate as Scott, Shawn, and Mike had some good things to say about them, but I did get to watch Wedding Nights, a new band featuring Spalding and George from Minority Blues Band. Spalding was visibly drunk, but they were really great. Our show was filled with ever more Spinal Tap moments thanks to amplifier malfunctions and broken guitar strings. After that fiasco, we packed up and headed over to George’s house to hang out and listen to some records before going to bed.

Soundtracks:    Various Artists – Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump
                        Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue
                       
April 22, 2009 – Matsuyama: Studio 1969 with Circle Flex, Wedding Nights, Driftage

We got to sleep in a little bit this morning, which was nice after the long drives we had to deal with the two days prior. Tokushima is famous for its Udon noodles, so George and Yoichi took us to an Udon noodle house for breakfast. After that, we hit the road for a beautiful drive up to Matsuyama, the largest city on the island of Shikoku. On the way, we stopped at a Japanese thrift/goodwill store for some bargain souvenir shopping. In addition to various goofy knick-knacks for friends back home, I procured my very own copy of Rod Stewart Crossing The Atlantic for the equivalent of $1 USD. Some may argue that it is worth less than that. After another short stint in the van, we arrived at the Asahi brewery, our third brewery on this tour! Since we were the only folks in the tour group and sYoichi said he’d been on the tour something like forty times already (for real), they had a guide who read to us in English. The tour started out with this awesome movie about Asahi beer that actually claimed “drinking beer is an important and necessary part of life,” and it ended with free beer samples and a bunch of smoked cheeses and other snacks. I love Japan. We had a little bit more of a drive to get us to Matsuyama. When we got there, Yoichi said they were going to go to the onsen and that we were welcome to go, but we “didn’t have to.” He made it a point to say that many Americans are uncomfortable about getting naked in front of other people. Actually, let’s back up here and I’ll just explain this whole thing in detail. Its been said by a lot of people that to really experience Japanese culture, it is necessary to experience an onsen. The onsen is a public bath fed by natural hot springs where many people go to bathe, usually in the evening (different from another similar public bath called the sento that uses heated tap water). It is a very old and socially integrated tradition that dates back at least a couple thousand years. Japanese folks praise the social merits of getting naked with other people and taking a bath together as a means to get to know one another in a more relaxed environment. Indeed, it takes the “shirts off, dudes on” philosophy to a whole new level. Yoichi told us that it all started because people’s houses have always been very small in Japan, so people would bathe publicly to save space on the need for any sort of washing facility in one’s home. With the advent of modern conveniences, it is becoming an obsolete tradition and many young people have never been to the public bath. We all struggled with the idea when it was brought up to us. On the one hand, it was the sort of thing that we would likely not get to experience anywhere else. At the same time, we are uptight Americans who feel uncomfortable getting naked in front of other people. In the end, three of us decided to give it a go along with George and Yoichi. Scott, often known as “the shy one,” opted out due to the pressure of last-minute decision-making and the opportunity he thought the free time would give him for record shopping (Scott later came to regret his decision). I would have to say that I am absolutely glad I did it and would definitely recommend the experience to anyone who visits Japan. For starters, the place we bathed was the Dogo onsen, which is one of the oldest (and possibly the oldest) onsen in Japan with a history dating back approximately 3,000 years. The bathhouse surrounding the springs was built in 1894. When we first walked in, we took our shoes off and put them in a locker, paid a small entrance fee and another small fee for a towel. After that, we walked to a sort of men’s locker room where you take your clothes off and put those in a locker. After that, we walked into the bath area where Yoichi told us to make sure to wash our “penis and our asshole” using the shower and the soap given to us before we got in the water. The bath was really hot at first but felt amazing after you got used to it. Looking around, I noticed a few people seemed a little put off, possibly by the tattoos or by the fact that we were fat Americans in a Japanese bathhouse, but most people seemed to just be relaxing. It was very obvious that this was a place that many people have come to for many years to sort of “take the edge off” as Shawn put it. After we were done, we walked to a small convenience store where we enjoyed some really delicious microbrewed Japanese beer called Umenishiki before we headed over to Sabu and Kiyomi’s apartment. Sabu and Kiyomi are a couple we met on our very first tour of Japan many years ago, and it was great to see them still doing well. Sabu gave me a tape of his band, Reflections In The Mirror, on that first tour and we were all looking forward to seeing his current band, Driftage. The venue was another practice space, which we were starting to prefer (or at least feel comfortable at) to the formality of the serious live houses – at least half of us get nervous before we play…still. Aside from Driftage, we got to play again with Wedding Nights and a younger band called Circle Flex. Everyone was great and our show ended up being a lot of fun — probably the best show of the tour so far. It was unreal how drunk people were. One guy was so drunk, that he was leaning up against the wall in front of me for the whole show, but still somehow singing along. After the show, he told me in very broken English that he would “remember us for the rest of his life,” a statement that kinda caught me off guard. Then again, Yoichi also said he later heard that on the drive home, they had to stop several times to let that dude throw up. I guess we’ve all been there. After the show, we went back to Sabu and Kyomi’s house where we were treated to some great homemade food alongside some fun conversation and hospitality.

Soundtracks: Chinese Telephones / Potential Johns Split LP
                        Pavement – Slanted And Enchanted

 

April 23, 2009 – Tosu: Vapeur with The Crump, Skivies and Jim Abbott

Our day started pretty early with Yoichi getting everyone up so we could get on the road. Today’s drive would take us from the island of Shikoku down to the southern most island of the Japanese mainland, Kyushu. After a few hours of driving, we took a tunnel under the ocean and came out on the island of Kyushu. Shortly after that we stopped to eat at a really good tempura house. After another good stretch of road, we pulled into town and dropped in at Juichi and his brother’s house. Juichi is a friend of ours we met on our last tour of Japan who plays for a great Japanese band called The Crump. Juichi and his brother had a really nice , rather large house (at least by Japanese standards). He was quick to let us know that we’d be staying here tonight and showed us where we could put our things so we could sit down and relax. Juichi had made some food for everyone consisting of a quasi-spaghetti dish he sort of made up with shredded daikon radish and little miniature dried sardines. I’m sure that sounds sorta odd, but I thought it was actually really tasty. There was a grocery right around the corner from Juichi’s house that we stopped in on the way to the venue to get some beer. While there, the four of us contemplated the purchase of a Japanese snack food – squid stuffed with sea urchin – only because we were certain it would be the only time we would probably come across such a thing. In the end, we opted for just the beer. Sometimes there is only so much “adventure” that our American palettes can handle in a given amount of time. When one is completely immersed in a culture that has a momentum of many thousand years behind it and when that culture has sprung up almost completely independent of your own, you begin to realize just how much you take your comfort for granted and food probably provides the best example of that. The simple things that were always available to eat back home like multi-grain bread, pancakes, or corn tortillas, that make you feel comfortable, simply do not exist in a culture such as the one we experienced in Japan unless you are in an “American friendly” hotel. Or, if they do exist, the form with which you were most familiar is done through the lens of Japanese culture to appeal to the typical Japanese consumer. So when you get pizza, you don’t get pizza. You get a really thin cracker-like dough topped with mayonnaise, potatoes, and salmon eggs. And in many ways, that teasing perversion of a substitute you are familiar with is worse than nothing at all. After enough time passes, you reach a point where you begin to crave the familiar things you miss. You seek something that will somehow satisfy that craving and avoid the unfamiliar no matter how delicious it may or may not be – even if it is squid stuffed with sea urchin. We got to the venue with enough time to do a sound check and had some extra time to take it easy before everything got started. After a while, our old buddies Fuke and Toshi showed up. Fuke plays in a band called Pear Of The West and Toshi plays in a band called Practice – both bands that we’ve gotten to play with over here on previous tours. We got to watch Jim Abbot (a Japanese band – not the one-handed pitcher), Skivies, and Juichi’s band, The Crump, who were really great. Our show went really well, and Fuke came up on stage and did some sumo wrestling type thing which ranks high on the list of “Cool Shit That’s Happened While We Played.” After the show we headed back to Juichi’s house for a party. The timing worked out pretty well for the party since Shawn’s birthday was the day before. Things got hazy from there as pizza and beer began to dominate the evening’s agenda.

Soundtracks: Superchunk – Here’s Where The Strings Come In
                        Willie Nelson – Shotgun Willie

April 24, 2009 – Fukuoka: Decadent Deluxe with Center Hits, Shyboy and Pear Of The West
 
Despite the excesses of the prior evening, I slept great and woke up feeling awesome. To celebrate, I enjoyed a rare shower followed by a traditional Japanese breakfast consisting of a bunch of pickled things, miso soup, and rice. After packing up and heading out for a short drive, we arrived at our fourth and final brewery tour, the Asahi brewery in Fukuoka. We watched the same awesome movie we got to watch at the Asahi brewery in Matsuyama, but this time in Japanese and, of course, had some free beer samples. The drive to the venue was pretty short after that. On the way we stopped at Yukuta’s apartment to drop off our bags. Yukuta is the singer for Shyboy and an all around nice guy. Yukuta also has a somewhat insane cat named Toro (Japanese for “Tiger”) that liked to scratch the beejesus out of strangers that tried to pet him. After we got to the venue, we had a very short sound check due to some equipment problems with the house P.A. and all that, but it wasn’t much of a big deal. Before the show started, Scott and I walked with Yoichi down to a record store called Borderline Records where I bought a Japanese “import” copy of Elli’s Suitcase by Barely Pink. Barely Pink was a Tampa power-pop band that featured my one-time friend and neighbor, Jeff Wood (now, sadly, deceased), on the drums. Yoichi left us at the store on our own to go take care of some other things. After awhile, we headed back to catch Shyboy who were really great. Centerhits was really fun and resembled a sort of modern day Japanese X-Ray Specs. And Pear Of The West were as great as they’ve been every time we’ve seen them. We mustered up a fairly decent performance and got to see some more sumo from Fuke. Things got packed up for the trip back across town to Yukuta’s house where everyone hung out until the wee hours. Yukuta is apparently some sort of a “master” Japanese curry chef and he put together some incredible food for everyone while folks hung out, drank beer and played songs from his pretty extensive record collection.

 Soundtracks: The Zombies – Odyssey and Oracle

April 25, 2009 – Kyoto: Nano with The Miscasts, Navel and Viagra

Yoichi got us up pretty early to get the show on the road to his current home town of Kyoto. Shortly after waking, I noticed that Toro, the insane cat, had apparently decided to scratch the sweet bejesus out of my legs at some point during the night. The short night’s sleep and moderate hangover setting in was certainly not an ideal way to start a day that didn’t really get much better. I managed to get some sleep in the van and felt a little better. We had a long drive that wasn’t going to leave much time to stop for real food, so I bought a cup of noodles from a rest stop and took it back to the van. It went down OK, and for awhile I felt like I wasn’t going to throw up out the window and all over the side of the van. This eventually happened anyway. I initially attributed it all to the hangover, but when things got worse after more vomiting, I soon realized that something much more menacing was causing the inputs and outputs of the ol’ system to malfunction. That is to say, my favorite blues artist was Muddy Waters. Whether it was bad noodles, some sort of bug, the swine flu, or the Ebola virus, I cannot say. But, I do know that it was terribly inconvenient for everyone involved to deal with my nausea and diarrhea on a long drive. It wasn’t particularly much fun for me either. So I did what I could do. Mike had some Immodium and vitamins. I drank as much water as I could and tried hard to keep said water from spewing out of one side or the other. It was a long day, but, several bathroom stops later, we eventually got to the venue in Kyoto. Fortunately, the venue had an upstairs area for the bands with a bathroom. We loaded all the equipment in and set up for a short sound check which made me realize that the show tonight was going to challenging. For just the few songs we played, I fought back hard against several onslaughts of blackness that closes in around my field of vision just before passing out – starry eyes and all – when I wasn’t trying to keep from yaking or, worse yet, springing a leak in my pantaloons. I know all this may sound a little graphic and I’m admittedly trying to make light of the whole affair. But, in all seriousness, it was a miserable state of existence and the fact that we were likely to play a sub-par show in Yoichi’s hometown with some really amazing bands left me feeling like we were going to be a disappointment to many of the people who have supported us. After the sound check, we hung out upstairs where we ran into Shu and Yuka, who had driven up from Ise; Matsu from Blotto, who had apparently traveled over from Tokyo; and our old friend Tomo. Tomo was the drummer for I Excuse who we played with on our first tour of Japan (and later released a split record with) and was also the van driver on our last tour. Tomo gave me a Japanese language copy of Tim Dorsey’s book “Florida Roadkill” and also made us some sandwiches which we all enjoyed. After eating something, I felt a little better and started to think I might pull through the night without much incident afterall. A little closer to show time though, the same issues remerged with a vengeance and I spent time in the backstage bathroom doing my best GG Allin impersonations. I watched some of Navel when I finally made it back downstairs, but I just couldn’t make it through the whole set and had to go lie down in the van and get some sleep. I hated to do this. Of all the great bands we were playing with on this tour, I was most looking forward to Navel, Tomi’s band, and The Miscasts, Gon from I Excuse’s new band. Viagra was Tomo’s new band and I was obviously looking forward to seeing them as well. It really sucked to miss out on those three bands because I needed to sleep, but I didn’t feel like I could stand up, let alone play a show. I knew I needed the rest or our show would have been an unmitigated disaster. I told Scott to wake me up later and slept hard in the back of the van for about an hour or so. When I woke up, I sat up, told Yoichi that I would probably need a bucket for the stage, and went back upstairs to exercise as many demons as I could before we played. It was hot in the venue and hotter under the lights, which compounded the profuse sweating that accompanies playing any show with a fever. Of all the shows I have played in the nearly twenty or so years of playing in bands, I can recall only one that was more difficult than this one. I had to use the bucket a couple times and squeeze my butt tight a couple other times, but we managed to struggle through about an hour worth of songs for the folks in Kyoto. The show was far from flawless and certainly lackluster at best, but we had some help from our friends. At the end of the day, I guess you can’t ask for much more than that. Afterwards, I drank copious amounts of water to fend off dehydration and helped load the van. I tried to be as social as I could, but all I wanted to do was sleep. Of course, this happened to be the one night of the tour that we were going to leave town after the show. (Yoichi wanted to take advantage of the cheaper toll prices for travel during weekend nights.) Yoichi told us that he had some things to take care of at his apartment and said that we could either go to an Italian restaurant with Tomo where, “the food was rubbish, but the wine was cheap,” or we could go with him to his apartment where we could sleep for a couple hours. Naturally, I picked the sleeping option. Surprisingly, Mike was the only one of us who went to the Italian restaurant. Yoichi’s apartment was filled, floor to ceiling, with a record collection of mythical proportions, and I wish I could have spent some time looking through it. Instead, I slept on his couch for two hours with Scott on the floor and Shawn in the kitchen, while Yoichi went about his business. Around 1:00 AM George returned with the van and we piled in for the long drive to Tokyo. Mike brought some breadsticks back from the restaurant that I tried to keep down, along with some more water, while I covered up and slept in the back.

 

April 26, 2009 – Shinjuku: Jam with Blotto, Gleam Garden and The Urchin

I woke up periodically during the night drive, but my horizontal sleeping arrangement seemed to help keep the breadsticks and water down. Sometime around 8:00 AM George pulled into a parking lot in Kichioji, another prefecture of Tokyo. We all rolled out of the van and walked a little ways toward a park. On the way, we stopped in and got some breakfast from a convenience store to eat while we were in the park. I bought some bread and juice, but that was about all I could work with on the food front. I still felt weak and sore, but better than I had the day before. We sat on the bench in the park and took it easy for awhile. Yoichi wanted to stop in at a record store in Kichioji to take care of some Snuffy Smiles business, so the plan was to take things easy in and around the general Kichioji vicinity while we waited for the Disk Union record store to open. Unfortunately, Mike and I were eager to get to Shinjuku since, Jen and Carol, our respective better-halves (neither of whom we had managed to actually talk to since we left Tampa), had supposedly flown into Tokyo the day before and were waiting for us in Shinjuku. But, since we already told them that they probably shouldn’t expect us to get into town before 4:00 PM, we stuck with the agenda. When the Disk Union opened up, we got a chance to walk around and record shop, but I didn’t feel up to it, so I just looked around a little bit and didn’t really find anything to buy. After that, we huffed it back to the van for the remaining hour of our trip to Shinjuku. I slept on the way and felt closer to normal by the time we parked the van outside of Jam, the venue for the evening. It just so happened that the show tonight was on the Sunday before the start of Golden Week, a national vacation week in Japan, and the show was expected to draw a few people out, especially with Blotto, Gleam Garden, and The Urchin on the bill. Mike and I grabbed a couple things out of the van and headed off to meet up with the wives. We found them in the lobby of the hotel hanging out with our friend Mark Harpur who flew over from Toronto and was meeting up with Shawn to go to Australia after the tour was over. After catching up over some food, we headed back over to the venue to get ready for sound check. Sound check found me a little short of the mark, but in much better overall shape than I had been the evening prior. Since nobody was working the next day, most of the folks we knew and had met as far away as Yokohoma came into town for the show. If the reader is familiar with the Snuffy Smiles catalog, then it probably goes without saying that all the bands we played with on this night were stick-o-dynamite awesome. Blotto played first and even covered some Neil Young (“Don’t Cry No Tears”). GleamGarden was the next amazing band to perform that night and Tokyo legends, The Urchin, followed up with all the hits and a naked Maguro (bass player) to boot. I realized at this show that all of these bands are experts in doing one of the things that almost all of the bands I saw on this tour seemed to do exceptionally well – they make everything look easy. So many of these bands, despite limited access to practice spaces and demanding work schedules, consistently get up on a stage and put together some of the most technically flawless, albeit spontaneous, energetic and fun performances that I’ve ever seen. As for us? Well, even with all the extra advantages (like practice spaces and spare time), we have still shown on multiple occasions just how hard it is to pull off performances like that. But tonight, that wasn’t necessarily the case. I’d have to say that things on this night, our last show in Japan, went pretty well. It was one of those nights where any ailments suffered by one or more band members, the bits of the ceiling knocked out by flying Japanese people and the bloody lips from bumpy microphones was more of a enhancement than a hindrance. And when our hour or so was up, I felt nothing but gratitude and satisfaction. The former due to all of our wonderful friends on the other side of the world who, despite all the cultural and linguistic barriers, went out of their way to make sure we enjoyed ourselves, and the latter in that we came as close as we could to returning the favor. More importantly, the thing that made me feel really great is that none of us humans are nearly as different from each other as some people would have us believe. We all like good times and good friends, and some are willing to do anything to find them, despite it all. Yoichi made his way towards the front and told us that if we were gonna play anymore, we should play no less than six songs. I laughed. I felt tired, but good. Turning to Scott, Mike, and Shawn, we quickly considered our options. And then we played the last six songs on one of the best tours we’ve ever had together.