Oct 05

[live report] Far East to East Showcase (Gelatine, Echostream, Swinging Popsicle, Kokusyoku Sumire)

When pop group AKB48 ran across the stage waving at their fans during their debut American concert, the members were in perfect sync. When Fujishima Mineko of Swinging Popsicle ran across the stage high-fiving the audience at the Far East to East Showcase, she nearly hit her head on a speaker.

The New York Anime Festival closed with two polar opposite Japanese concerts at Webster Hall on Sept. 27. Pop fans could enjoy AKB48′s slick choreography and endearing adorableness. But two flights down at The Studio, the music was totally underground. The second annual Showcase, presented by Superglorious and NYAF, covered punk, ambient, indie pop and cabaret in four distinctive bands. It was an intimate affair all about the originality, raw energy and spontaneity that make small club gigs so appealing.


Gelatine conveyed a simultaneously dark and comical mood through the two-prong thrust of its frenetic punk music and menacing stage presence. This New York City band formed in 2001 to play both original music and that of singer Seiko’s old band, 10Yen Ana-kinoko. Its first record, the murky Gie Ji Gaii, finally came out this year. Gelatine’s chief draw is Seiko, who has the confidence and twisted humor to perform in a diaper and act like nothing’s strange about it. This time she wore a bra and bondage leash, which seemed almost tame in comparison. Though leashed, Seiko behaved more like id unfettered: swinging around from the mic stand, stomping in place, and moving from cute shrieks to aggressive snarls within seconds. The rest of the band was ready to meet Seiko at every capricious turn, and they complemented her bizarreness with their own. Guitarist Takeshita Jun literally growled his MCs about glamorous topics like the sweat in his eyes. Rock ‘n’ roll, indeed.

New York ambient band Echostream took the stage to the most enthusiastic reaction, having built a fan base by touring the country with the cult visual kei band Blood. The band’s primary feature was its eerie mood, achieved through a combination of skeletal rhythms and Ryoko’s delicate, gothic vocals. Keyboardist Tony and guitarist Tomo provided flesh and moments of gritty rock catharsis, particularly on “Way Forward.” Ryoko’s quietly pained stage presence resembled Mikami Chisako of fra-foa in her more subdued moments and suited the band’s focus on aura over visuals. Key to Echostream’s appeal was its balance—soft moments followed by loud ones and Björk-like thunderous beats contrasted against Ryoko’s impeccably smooth singing.

After Echostream had left The Studio with a dark atmosphere, Swinging Popsicle lit it up with their joyous retro rock and infectious enthusiasm. Compared to their last New York City gig in 2007, the band seemed more into this show. The three played with greater energy and interacted with the audience more. The ever-smiling singer Fujishima seemed especially grateful to be there, going on the aforementioned spontaneous high five spree and responding to audience members’ compliments on her cuteness (“Thank you! You too!”). Gutarist Shimada Osamu and bassist Hirata Hironobu expressed their happiness in more reserved ways, such as when Shimada took a photograph of the crowd.

The set began memorably with “Our day will come,” in which Fujishima deviated from her usually understated croon to stand back from the microphone and belt the opening notes. She sounded great throughout the show: melodious, crisp and perfectly on key.

Swinging Popsicle stuck mostly to material from their two most recent albums, 2007’s Go On and 2009’s Loud Cut. Even the two classic songs they played—“Snow-ism,” an ambling ballad with Beatles-style vocal harmony, and the Popsicle signature “I just wanna kiss you”—were included in Loud Cut as remastered bonus tracks. Since most of the audience was unfamiliar with their music, the band’s choice to lean on their more catchy, accessible new cuts was a good choice.

Sorely missing from this performance was a live drummer. Swinging Popsicle usually hires a session drummer, but this time they used prerecorded drums, which buried the band’s danceable rhythms. Nonetheless, the band did their best to make up. Fujishima played tambourine on two songs and encouraged the audience to follow her new dance moves to the disco grooves of “Chocolate Soul Music.”

kt_04Classical duo Kokusyoku Sumire ended the night on a note sedate, whimsical and beautiful. Though dressed identically in red dresses and purple wigs, Yuka and Sachi each contributed distinctly individual talents to their music. Violinist Sachi formed the music’s classical foundation, while Yuka built on it with both gorgeous melody in her operatic singing and dissonance in her keyboard playing. Their music played like a catalogue of their classical influences, from the cabaret of “Junketsu wa Aka” to chansons to an accordion-accompanied cover of “Habanera” from Carmen.

Kokusyoku Sumire’s approach to their set recalled the impromptu performances of 1940’s traveling singers. Fitting the dreamlike nature of their music, the women strung together individual songs with surreal scenarios (“Let’s travel to the ocean!”). Consequently, the few times they interrupted their fantasy with reality came off bizarre, especially when Yuka led the audience in a chant of President Barack Obama’s famous campaign slogan: “Yes, we can!”

Though New York City hosts several concerts promoting Japanese alternative music, such as Japan Nite and Japan Girls Night, the Far East to East Showcase was one of the most effective because of its succinctness and intimacy. It’s nice to be able to watch a band and then sit down and chat with them afterward.

The Showcase’s weakness was that its music did not seem like a match for the con goers’ tastes. The cosplaying crowd cheered loudest for Echostream’s visual kei-clad guitarist and swarmed Kokusyoku Sumire for photographs. But they seemed less engaged by the other bands, and some people even sat on the stage during Swinging Popsicle’s performance. The bands would find a more receptive audience if the Showcase were marketed to indie and alternative fans.


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Gelatine setlist:
1. New Monster
2. Flower Train
3. ‘Cause My Mom Said So
4. Let’s Go Gelatine
5. Maybe
6. Let’s Go Home
8. Alzheimer
10. Theme Of Gelatine

Echostream setlist:
1. Repeater
2. What you are
3. Way forward
4. Just kill me
5. Static
6. Earthling
7. Dragon
8. Fall Down

Swinging Popsicle setlist:
1. Our day will come
2. Snow-ism
3. I just wanna kiss you
4. Clash
5. Chocolate Soul Music
6. rainbounds
8. Perfect Loop

Kokusyoku Sumire setlist:
1. Junketsu wa Aka
2. Akai Kutsu
3. Friendship Polka
4. Habanera
5. The Happiest Bride
6. Go! The Crusades!
7. Dreaming Girl
8. Red Apple and Poison
9. A Nap
10. Canon
11. The Princess of happy
12. Sango and Ushio
13. Moon light serenade
14. Violet, be graceful forever

More information:
New York Anime Festival
Gelatine Official Site
Echostream Official Site
Swinging Popsicle Official Site
Kokusyoku Sumire Official Site