5Cent Meijikan live house, Fukuyama City, Japan
20th September, 2013
One of Louder Than War’s resident Japan based writers checks out UK band Skimmer who have a considerably bigger following overseas than in the UK.
This is the 7th night of Skimmer’s 8th Japanese visit and it has seen the band visit all corners of the country, from Sapporo up in the North, down to Shikoku Island. The tour is to promote their forthcoming album Hang About, which is due for a UK and Japanese release at the end of October. Japan has been kind to Skimmer and past tours have been met with enthusiasm. However, the band has had a recent blip when just a few days ago, drummer Warren Beater had to return to the UK. He was hastily replaced by Lars, who, as we are informed, had been rehearsing with the band for a little over 48 hours.
Although by no means huge, Skimmer have a good following here. Fans who spoke to me were knowledgeable to the point of obsession, (I should have done more research)! They own every CD (Japanese and import), they travel the length and breadth of Japan to see the gigs and they chat passionately about their favourite songs and best live performances. Of course for a band that has been around since the early 1990s, it is expected that there will be a clutch of hardcore fans. But the following here, for a relatively underground British pop-punk band, is quite surprising.
Four local bands kick-off the evening, firstly GK Dave who shakily plough through their set with youthful vigour and enthusiasm. They are followed by 3-piece band Minor Aura who set out their stall from the off with a cover of Sham 69’s Borstal Breakout and, it has to be said, a very satisfying version of Madonna’s Like a Virgin. Next up are Japanese thrash-punk outfit anticlockwise whose set rushes by, amidst overdriven guitars and screaming vocals.
The final support slot was taken by a band from nearby Okayama City, Lost Numbers (see pic right). Recently there has been a considerable buzz about the band and they have gained quite a reputation though their live performances. Watching them tonight, it is not really surprising to see why they have caused a stir. The band delivers a sound which owes much to late 70s British punk, ska and mod revival. Add to this a talented group of musicians with a strong stage presence, and what we get is a set of tunes which on one hand sound distinctly British, but are then subverted a little to give the sound a distinct Japanese twist! They look the part too, but as ever the proof is in the songs which, throughout their set, rely so heavily on credible influences such as early Jam, The Clash and Japanese 90s indie-punk band The Blue Hearts. Highlights in the set include Do You Remember Tonight and the final song Jimmy, which closes the bands performance on a high.
One thing which lets the band down, however, is actually a trait that 99% of Japanese bands (amateur and professional) suffer … too much talking! A local band will usually play for 20-25 minutes wherein 8-10 of those will involve lengthy, between song chatting. Now, it is cultural, the audience like it and the bands are expected to do it (crowds get quite upset if they don’t) but firstly it interrupts the flow of the performance, and secondly if the chat was scaled down, then bands could play an extra 2-3 songs. This trend blights all the performances tonight, but especially that of the Lost Numbers who had huge momentum midway through their set, but then stopped for a ridiculously long chat. I am not out to change Japanese gig culture (God forbid), but it is something that I have never, or will ever get used to.
Finally, headliners Skimmer (see pic, right) roll on stage and for those of you that are / were into American inspired pop-punk during the 90s, this is band that you will undoubtedly remember. They fly into their set with Local Elections and the crowd respond in earnest, bouncing on the couches positioned around the stage, and pogo-ing across the small but packed dance floor. By the time they get to Four Eyes, the game is up, and in this tiny venue the band have the audience in the palm of their hands, relentlessly steaming through their set with a bunch of short sharp songs, delivered at blistering pace. Their first single Better than Being Alone (played surprisingly early in the set), is received enthusiastically (the audience singing along with every word), as is the new single, Stress Bomb. The new songs, like the old, encourage immediate comparison with American bands such as Blink 182, NOFX, and Less Than Jake, and it is quite apparent, from the newer material, that the band still relies heavily on such influences.
Their success here may come as something of a surprise, until you see the way in which they perform. The band know Japan, they play the game here perfectly and are mindful of what songs to play and how to treat their audiences, hence the dedicated following. Smatterings of Japanese from lead singer Kevin, only adds to their appeal and as the band are called back onstage for an encore, the whole place is literally shaking. As they end their set, microphone stands go flying, and fans fall onto the stage as the band bring the chaos to a close.
Skimmer have been around for twenty-years and their experience shows. They work the crowd, they are a tight unit (despite the drummer issues), and they deliver what is expected. This final point is the band’s strength, but at the same time could also be construed as their weakness. There are no surprises here and we all know what is coming. Tonight’s set is relentless and there are few breaks (minimal chatter here), but the songs kind of meld into one another, there is no compromise – 100 mph for 50 minutes. The problem could be in-part, down to the band’s output which, from the early 90s, has not particularly altered. They write songs to their blueprint, and have not really offered anything markedly different. Listening to early tracks is much the same experience as listening to the newer material. Not much has changed over the band’s career and this is reflected in the songs on show tonight.
Although this observation could be construed as a criticism of the band, many might (would) argue that if you are comfortable with what you do, and the fans are still digging it, then why change? Tonight, Skimmer rip the place apart, the atmosphere is electric, the walls are dripping, and the audience are wild. Maybe, if it ain’t broke …
Skimmer Website (out of date):
Venue: 5Cent Meijikan live house:
Check out Skimmer playing Four Eyes live @ 5Cent Meijikan Live House, Fukuyama on THIS Soundcloud link.
All words by Paul. Check out more writing on Louder Than War by Paul here.