This is actually the first concert that we, as a couple, have paid to go to in the entire time we’ve been together. There were two previous concerts that we ended up at, because we volunteered to help Mark’s sister at the Gentlemen of the Road event in 2013, or because we went to Celebrate Fairfax (VA) in 2013, and some bands were playing.
So this was, like, our first concert that we CHOSE to go to together, which is strange when you consider the fact that we effectively bonded first over our shared love of a specific style of music, and have shared music ever since.
But what a great first concert. Prior to this, we’d bought tickets to see the Knife in Brighton, but then they canceled the concert and now they’ve broken up. We tried to buy tickets to alt-j, but they sold out too quickly. So we TRIED to go to concerts before this, but failed. Thankfully, we were on-point with this one and heard about it early, thanks in part to Mark’s sister, who somehow read about it in England.
So clearly, we had to go, once we saw who was playing. The big draw for us was St Vincent, of course, but we were also excited to see that Caribou, Tune-Yards, How to Dress Well, and Temples were playing. Thurston Moore was also mildly interesting. So we bit it and bought the two-day pass, and scheduled our FIRST WEEKEND OFF since arriving in Japan in January of last year. It was kind of a big deal for us.
We actually went ahead and worked on Saturday morning for a few hours and then met at the train station, changed and ready to go. Because we’re crazy. The trip was a straight shot from Ikebukuro on the underground right to Shin-kiba. 30 minutes, there, no problem! It was almost too easy.
By comparison to ‘festival concerts’, this was super-small. All in one building, maybe a little larger than the 9:30 Club in DC. It was not big. It was indoors. The space around the venue outside was big enough to have some food stands and a small kind of garage, where they played chill music and occasionally some of the artists went to do small side-shows.
We got there with JUST enough time to catch How to Dress Well, and then walked around the space to check it out once he was finished. Sadly, the band t-shirts selection was kind of weak, so we opted NOT to buy shirts. Mistake #1. Then, we walked around. There were a literal TON of CDs for sale, by the artists at the concert and others who had played there before. We didn’t buy any CDs at that point. Mistake #2. Then we went and got drinks. And vegetarian burritos. We were really lucky that stand was there.
We got a really great spot on the floor for Tune-Yards, and that was an excellent show. We didn’t notice at first, as the band set up, that it was actually THE BAND doing their own build-up. We were kind of just standing around talking, not paying attention, and then Mark was like, ‘isn’t that her, doing the sound check?’, and then I turned around was like, ‘holy shit, yeah, that IS her!’. Well, that’s humble of them. Their show was great, as promised by most of my friends who’d seen them live before. It was really nice to see so many people having so much fun on stage. What a fun set. It seemed more like friends hanging out, making noise, than an actual show.
After they finished, we rolled out and had another look around the venue, and basically killed time before Caribou came on. He was a big draw for us to get the 2-day ticket. While we were standing at the bar, we noticed there was a table and some chairs set up in a roped-off area. It was then that we got to witness ‘the autograph signing’, which we’d only heard about before. The people were all lined up, back onto the stairs and up through the lockers. They were all lined up to see Merrill, who would be signing. At the same time, there was a huge video projected on the wall, and one of her songs was playing. It must have been surreal for her to walk out into the hall, see herself HUGE on a big screen, and then autograph CDs for a long line of nearly-hysterical fans who couldn’t speak a whole lot of English, most likely. We stood there and watched for a while before we went back in to try to get a spot for Caribou.
Too late, everyone had already packed in. This didn’t stop people from walking through the crowd, though, so we got to witness the amazing power of ‘excuse me’ at work: apparently in Japan, you say that and people at the concert actually LET you walk past them, towards the stage. This is a HUGE contrast to most concerts I’ve been to in the US and Germany, where the general attitude is ‘fuck you, you’re late’. Lesson #1 learned.
It was also nice to realize that my height is pretty ok for Japan, and that I wasn’t the shortest person in the place. That was awesome, and made the experience a lot better than it could have been. And of course, Caribou was effing amazing live, even though he didn’t play the song Mark really loves from the new album. I played it for him when we got home.
We were on the fence about whether to bother staying around for Belle and Sebastian or not, since neither of us are huge fans. But we figured that since we were there and they were there, we should stick around. The crowd went pretty crazy for them, which was a little shocking for us. But after about the third song we were still feeling pretty ‘meh’ about them, so we decided to leave early and beat the traffic back home.
Things that are interesting about Japan (Tokyo): most concerts and shows end early, since this city is ruled by the train timetables. So had we not left early, the concert would have still been over at around 10:30pm. We got home around 10. Still enough time to watch some Adventure Time before falling asleep.
On Day 2, we got to have a luxurious lie-in before dragging ourselves out of bed to go back to the concert. Since we knew how long it would take to get there, we were less stressed about leaving early than we were the day before, when we knew we were going to be a little late. We got there with just enough time to catch Philip Sellway performing. What a sweet, humble guy he is! It seemed like maybe he’d had some trouble and was missing something, and maybe the set started late. That was actually the only reason we got to see him, because his set ran over the limit on the line-up. It seemed.
We were in, and then back out again. We weren’t too concerned about seeing Real Estate, so we took it easy during their set. It was in this time frame that we learned a few things.
We went back to the sales tables to check out the shirts (again), and now they were just about out of everything. No more shirts added on Sunday! So second lesson learned: in Japan, buy your concert t-shirt AS SOON AS YOU GET IN. There is no time to ‘think about it’, especially if you’re a size Xs-M: those will be sold out pretty quickly.
St Vincent was set to sign autographs before Temples came on, so we thought we might as well take part in that. I went and stood in line to get our tickets signed by St Vincent, and this was when I learned Lesson #3: If you want an autograph, you can’t just bring a hat or ticket to get it signed: you have to BUY ONE OF THE FIRST 50 CDs by said artist, and then you’ll get a ticket. That ticket allows you to stand on line and have your CD signed. I was standing in line and a man asked to see my ticket. I showed him my concert ticket, and he asked if I had an autograph ticket. I said no, I didn’t. I didn’t know I needed one. Then he told me I could only get an autograph if I had a ticket.
Ok, then. No autograph for me.
A little sad (but searching online for T-shirts in the right sizes), we went back in for the Temples set. They were really fun live, and sounded a lot better in that setting than they did on their album. This was definitely the band that had all of the little girls swooning, they looked a little like a Beatles reboot.
I had a lot of fun trying to take photos with my phone for this one, as the light show was really nice. For a small venue like this I wasn’t expecting much, so to see what they had the lights doing was a bit of a welcome surprise.
It seems that photos are on the line of ‘strictly forbidden’. When we were standing near the front for Tune-Yards the day before, the guards at the front were actually telling people to stop taking photos. There were FAR FEWER cameras up for this series of shows than I’ve ever witnessed before, and I’ve been going to concerts for a long-ass time. It seems the best way to get photos is to stand back from the front fence and out of reach of the guards. Or in the back, where we were, for Temples and Caribou.
After Temples, we had a plan. We would get some air, and then go stand in place for Thurston Moore. This wasn’t because we wanted to see Thurston really badly, but because based on what we’d seen, we knew that if we wanted to be near the stage for St Vincent, we’d have to claim our spots during the Thurston show and then not move. I’d stopped drinking an hour before this. I’ve learned a lot working my current job: if you don’t want to use the toilets, stop drinking water.
So we got some air and then went back to the tables, where we actually bought some CDs. I’m not entirely sure that buying these CDs at the concert actually supports the artists in the same way it does in the states, but our logic was that: we were going to buy certain albums anyway to add to our library, so we might as well buy the hard copies here and just load them onto the computer, later, and hope the proceeds go to the artists. We bought the new St Vincent, Beck and Tune-Yards. Money VERY well spent.
The Thurston Moore band show was fine, and the songs were really long. The highlight for me was seeing Deb Googe, who was effing excellent live. She barely faced the audience, and spent most of her time facing the drummer. That’s fine.
After the show, we stayed right where we were once the people cleared out, and then made our way to the front. We had a good 45 minutes to wait until St Vincent came on, but we were prepared for it. We ended up talking to some other Americans, also near the front, who had the same ideas. Teaching English in Japan, of course. Aren’t we all?
St Vincent came on and was fucking brilliant, right from the beginning. Out of respect for her (since she was very clear in her recent messages and songs about people actually witnessing events rather than taking photos), we didn’t try to take too many photos. Had I HAD my normal camera, though, I would have probably been taking a TON of images, since we were so close to the stage.
I can’t say it enough: she was amazing. A true performer. And she’s SO tiny. I wasn’t expecting that part. Also, I wish I could wear my hair like hers.
I’m really glad we made the decision to do the concert, and to do both days. St Vincent was definitely the highlight and worth the money to see, but the other bands put on great performances, too. We’re going to make sure to get on the Hostess Club Weekender mailing list, since they do these twice a year and have insane line-ups. Can’t wait for June.
To review: Lessons learned:
1. Buy the t-shirt as soon as you arrive
2. If you want an autograph, buy a CD as soon as you arrive and hope you’re not too late
3. If you want to get closer to the stage, just say ‘excuse me’ and people just let you pass. How nice.