Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra’s performance and the crowd’s reaction tonight was almost enough to make me believe the home of ska is Japan. I may never take reggae in Japan seriously, with its lyrics of smoking ganja and Babylon at total odds against the reality of life in Japan, but the pure instrumentality and dedication to fun in ska from this band is incredibly impressive. The band kick straight into the groove, blaring brass and the punch of baritone sax hitting you almost physically. From the hopping beat of the rhythm section, each instrument solos against one another with the triumphant tones of trumpet followed by the skirling keyboard.

The band’s eleven members are a whirl of sharp edged suits, twirling instruments and constant movement. This insane energy is reflected straight back at them by the crowd. The first 40 minutes of the set are pure ska with skanking guitars, rock-steady drums, echoing percussion and that unique brass tone from all four brass players. It does feel a little bit samey after the half hour mark but the band start to mix it up, with hints of swampy reggae, some haunted rock’n’roll and even some purer funk and jazz numbers towards the end. The sheer skill of each member is amazing. When your baritone saxophone can match your guitar in a duel, you know you have a real band!

The band also adapts a number of well-known songs for their own purposes. The James Bond theme is given a ska makeover that makes you wonder why it wasn’t originally like this. There’s also everything from ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ to the folk Tetris theme. Even classical music isn’t safe, as for a finale Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is ska-ified into an insane but brilliant, wrecking instrumental ride. But the biggest reaction from the crowd is when the vocals are introduced, half of the frontline brass players putting aside their instruments for microphones. It sends the front half of the audience into a frenzy of dancing, all restraint lost. Having seen this band live, I can now understand why they are one of the names that every Japanese music-lover knows.


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