LIVE REPORTRED MARQUEE7/26 FRI
TOTSUZEN SHONEN (selected by ROOKIE A GO-GO)
Not the Band Japan Deserves; The Band Japan Needs!
A HUGE backdrop of the band’s name in kanji (突然少年) hangs in the background; as a silently screaming statement of their unapologetically Japanese aesthetic. A small subtitle of “Suddenly Boyz” lingers below, perhaps for humorous effect. An MC runs onstage and starts greeting the crowd in the brashest of shouting voices, as the band pick up their instruments. Totsuzen Shonen’s lead singer starts the first song by playing and singing a few bars solo, in a delivery reminiscent of early Death Cab for Cutie; or Rivers Cuomo of Weezer on heroin. Then, his band dives in to back him up, and the resulting ruckus presents a beautiful noise perhaps heretofore unseen in Japan. It echoes hints of early Radiohead, and soundtracks to movies whose themes tend to run along the lines of “everything must crumble and die but, I love you. And, I’m glad we got to live through this”. Well spread out, with room to gently swing their arms in between them, people in the crowd take in this majesty with an energy speaking volumes; like a melancholy unspoken truth that the whole band should collectively occupy the post of Japan’s prime minister, but everyone knows that they can’t. Despite the fact that Totsuzen Shonen clearly don’t need it – considering their set takes place at midday – the lighting tech makes the overhead rig explode like a supernova of white light. This is Japan’s Oasis, but better than Oasis, because it possesses cinematically woven guitars, and an anthemic quality that Noel Gallagher would sell a small appendage for.
As the band draws their first song to a close, in a noisy and tastefully disjointed fashion, the crowd breaks into a raucous but deeply respectful round of applause. The lead singer gently thanks them for putting his band on this stage. It is thanks to the audience’s support at last year’s Rookie Stage, he confesses, that Totsuzen Shonen were requested to play at this year’s festival. He also takes the opportunity to thank their friends that lent them the guitars they needed to play this show. As they dive into the next song, it is an even more glorious noise than the first track, starting off like an anthem to blow up the world, and evolving into layers of Sonic Youth, early Nirvana and – once again – Weezer; all wrapped around a candy-coated world-class talent for writing cohesive pop songs.
As the band kicks into the third song’s intro, Totsuzen Shonen’s lead singer gently slips off his Telecaster, rips off his sweat-soaked t-shirt, tosses it onto the drum riser, and then slings his Tele back on; just in time to land his first vocal cue. This third track rests on a beat reminiscent of California’s pioneers of hardcore punk. However, the comforter on the bed of this music remains a tapestry of furiously weaving overdriven guitars, mined from who knows how many inner torments. The fourth song would come across as an answer to Nirvana’s “Endless Nameless”, if Kurt Cobain had partaken in speed rather than heroin.
As the noise once again dies down, the lead singer gently thanks the crowd in the manner of a junior high school boy thanking his first date for going to the prom with him. Then suddenly, in complete contrast, Totsuzen Shonen tears into the fifth track with a ferocity that would put Motörhead to shame, had the former band existed thirty years ago. Once again, the verses drive home urgent emotional appeals that one might need a lyric sheet to decipher, but one is nonetheless tempted to agree with; sight unseen. These are the grandkids of Sonic Youth. They have learned the lessons of their parents’ parents, and can rise like prized flowers in the garden; rather than hide subterraneanly like their predecessors.
The bassist starts the sixth song off with a riff akin to a 21st century version of U2’s “With or Without You”, while the lead singer once again thanks the audience, using his boyish charm. He tells the show’s attendees that we all struggle, and we all have our fights, but we can also realize that most of us draw happiness from similar sources, and we can focus on that here at Fuji Rock. The chorus seems to voice the idea that “when kisses start, things can look brighter”. Totsuzen Shonen is a dream, and perhaps a dream come true for the Japanese recording industry; noisy enough to appeal to the “true music fans”, and possessing enough poppy hooks to fit into both movie soundtracks and commercials alike.
The song ends to melodic feedback, and their logo lights up in pinks and blues reminiscent of those that used to divide stereotypical gender roles, but now end up conveying the feel of the transgender community’s flag. The lead singer thanks the audience again, in a voice that has seemingly become even higher and more gender-free than before. He confesses to the crowd that it’s a bit scary to play in front of so many people but, since he knows so many people in the audience, that helps. And, he feels, that with their help, Totsuzen Shounen can “do this”.
He then introduces the last song before the band tear into it. It’s a mid-tempo number that pilfers the classic feel of “one fist in the air, and a beer in the other”. The bass meanders melodically in the higher registers, as the whole band now rocks out topless and sweaty. As they wrap up the last song of their set with a vamp worthy of the Smashing Pumpkins in their heyday, almost every audience member has both hands in the air. Many faces glow as if witnessing the triumph of one’s little brother. This is definitely a band on which to bet money.