Punkspring 2012 : Japan’s biggest punk fest : live review
Makuhari Messe Convention Centre, Chiba. Japan
31st March 2012
Just outside Tokyo’s tight urban landscape- like a fallen Goliath, enormous, bloated and inanimate- lies Makuhari Messe, home to baseball, all things expo and regular point of action for big name bands and festivals for like minded souls to fill with colour, passion and soul at irregular-regular intervals throughout the year.
Baltimore’s All Time Low deliver an exuberant grin inducing speed pop punk. Vigorous, well constructed a set punctuated by fun one-of-the-lads banter “Thank you for the underwear”Â coos guitarist Jack Barakat. Their bonhomie extending so far as to get one of the crowd on stage to translate. Heavy on tracks from their fourth album ‘Dirty Work’, which had lacked the grit and verve of preceding releases (it felt propagated and devoid of the band’s previous impetuosity), live, though, the tracks do have a depth, the fervour is more evident and the cavernous setting chips at the smoothed edges.
Lyrically askew, even petulant yet backed with mature solid melodic power there was always something about the Descendents that warmed you to these west coast new wave pop punks. Thirty four years on from inception and a solid body of work, the Descendents have in recent years returned to playing the occasional show or festival. Milo Aukerman self styled anti rock star throws him self stage front his voice strong and vehement “TOKYO!! TOKYO!!”Â. Much of the crowd, delayed by weather conditions, are arriving in numbers now and they are swinging between air punching and throwing themselves in to swirling moshpits. Unexpectedly playing tribute to musical and local brethren a blistering and meaty cover of Suicidal Tendencies ‘Institutionalized’. The set consisted of their most well-known tracks ‘My Dad Sucks’, ‘Hope’, a lion-hearted ‘Weinerschnitzel’ and not with even the slightest whiff of irony ‘I Don’t Want to Grow Up’. Immense.
Four decades of thick rich idiosyncratic funk punk thrash with Mike upfront there is never going to be a time when live Suicidal Tendencies are not going to deliver.
“First of, let’s take it from the start Straight out, can’t change what’s in my heart No one, can tear my beliefs apart You can’t bring me down”Â
Its like a rally cry, a summon, a manifesto all mashed together with molten rapture. In a country were conformity is expected without question, the crowd claw at these statements.
An Atlantean drum solo from Eric Moore slices through ‘Subliminal’ and Mike Muir takes to the breaker barriers, touching hands, working a frenzied chaos to even higher levels, the moshpits have extended to include anyone and anything in all but the back of the audience. ‘Cyco Vision’, ‘Possessed to Skate’ and ‘Institutionalized’ keep everyone riding the wave. It was a foregone conclusion that they would be a highlight of the night and as they are preaching to the converted all we had to do was soak it up, there was a crushing vacuum as the last re-verb died out and a hush, punctuated only by out of breath gasps, covered us heavily.
ONE OK ROCK are a four piece Japanese rock band, singing in Japanese with occasional English lyrics, it’s not essential to understand Japanese to understand ONE OK ROCK, they are very musically balanced group- the guitar and bass work as equals, the sound is a strong, clear and simple rock. Their singer Taka is enigmatically engaging, his voice sonorous, smoothed with a wistful lightness, as are their lyrics ~ themes of chasing dreams, personal strength and spirit move in balance with the sound under them.
Our day is swiftly being taken from us, the casualties of brews and shots crashed out at the back, the superheated front rows have those lost of breath extracted ~ a respite to reflect and to recharge. The night’s two headline acts are next as sweat drenched bodies wear their names across chests and backs, voices whisper hoped for desires.
There is nothing romantic or enjoyable about the tragic, it’s sad and uncomfortable. Sum 41 come on stage after an intro from ACDC’s ‘TNT’ and it’s clear that it’s not just Houston that has a problem. Powering into ‘Reason to Believe’ the cameraman for the video screens concentrates on a stoic Steve Jocz looking much like he’s clocked in and he’s going to do the job but that’s all, however the sound from the drums is empowering. Deryck Whitbley motions the band to wind it down and silence descends, raising both arms forward into a dive like bow, the crowd cheers,“Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”Â he demands and instantly into ‘Over My Head (Better Off Dead)’. Bringing it to an end “Are you having fun? What sorta fun?”Â he asks as the sound builds then mellows out and into ‘Blood in My Eyes’.
Whitbley again winds the band down “Shhhhhhhhhh”Â he says, “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”Â, minutes pass. Pockets of the audience are booing (I’ve never heard a Japanese audience boo before). As Whibley walks along the stage- the occasional whoop punctuates the hushed air, everyone’s waiting and they spend several minutes doing nothing.
“Alright first, first, shhhhhhhhhhhhhh, first I need some Jack Daniels, I need some Jack Daniels over here- bring me some Jack Daniels (he dutifully gets it and drinks) Lets fuckin do this”Â
The music is good its strong and powerful if occasionally a little off tune but it’s the voice that’s grating, patchy and lacking any firmness- it sounds ~ painful.
Again silence falls heavy and Whitbley points “Are you having fun?”Â again he points. “Are you having fun?”Â the boos have gotten louder, “you suck”Â, “Get back to Canada”Â is being shouted from different areas of the audience. This is an unprecedented reaction, in my experience, from a Japanese audience. ‘In to Deep’ and ‘Motivation’ are thankfully more on point with Tom Thacker and Jocz doing everything they can to remind us what was good about Sum 41 but the damage is done.
‘Fat Lip’ ~ serving as a last painful reminder of the zestful punky past. Bad is an understatement, tragic is too dramatic, it was, awkward and who wants to see that?
What The Offspring lacked in blazing on to the stage was made up for the exuberant animation in the crowd. As Dexter Holland opened with “Falling. I’m Falling Falling I’m falling …”Â he was drowned out by a welcome apocalyptic loud and genuinely heartfelt reaction.
The excitement continued throughout ‘Staring at the Sun’ and ‘Come Out and Play (Keep em’ Separated)’ at which point the band abruptly stopped playing and the audience silenced. The surge and the subsequent giant front moshpits had broken the front barrier, no one was badly hurt and the band left the stage while this was repaired.
Eleven minutes later they returned and no one was going to hold back now “One & Two & Three & Four & One & Two & Three & Four”Â ~ ‘Walla Walla’, ‘The Future is Now’ and ‘Original Prankster’ it’s like we all had a mega shot of caffeine as we are bounced and throw every which way.
There has been a lot of negativity thrown at The Offspring over the past 26 years like they make nothing more than commercialized punk, yer! so what! tap my inner 15 year old boy I say! snide reviewers comment their music is novelty and disposable ~ but as the thousands of people dancing their asses off and singing till their throats give out to songs made decades ago ignore these unnecessary bitch-outs.
Noodles soft guitar and Greg K’s flawless quiet bass work lay foundations for ‘Kristy are you Doing Okay”Â one of the band’s more melodic songs from the last album ‘The Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace’. There is a reminder that the new album is completed and due for release soon, no new tracks are showcased tonight but that’s cool- people here want to party to what they know.
Back to the fun ‘Why Don’t you Get a Job’, ‘Your Gonna Go Far Kid’ and ‘Pretty Fly (For a White Guy) “
Its been a great day today”Â, who’s had a great day?”Â asks Holland, “We’re on a crescendo here”Â knocks back Noodles there is an almost missed comment “who was that that was not Sum 41 tonight who was it”Â
Bringing things in the only way possible on a high “The Kids Aren’t Alright’ and as the neon burns our eyes and fades to floating clouds ~ they are gone.
The layer of heat above our heads floats as a reminder of the day’s joys, as one quiet focused horde we move forward into the limited options available as we are reacquainted with discarded personnals, ushered in the direction of a cold dark night, the slow packed trains and with ringing ears, bruised bodies and voiceless mouths, we take our journeys and our dreams home.