Sep 19

[live report] The Return of Harajuku Dance Rock

With tensions mounting against Japan in recent weeks, one glimmer of hope shines amongst the chaos and disarray: Harajuku Dance Rock is back. And by that, I mean An Cafe. Nearly three years after announcing their hiatus, the bouncier-than-a-bouncy-castle band resumed activities with their two September live performances ANCAFESTA ’12 SUMMER DIVE. Rumors circulating amongst the foreign press say that An Cafe might be the ones to solve all the world’s problems. And I mean all of them.

OK, maybe An Cafe wasn’t there during the September 9 show I saw to make any big political, social, or otherwise deep statements about the wrongs in the world. They were there, however, to dust off those old Harajuku Dance Rock shoes for a show that was all about that legendary, ancient, but not forgotten custom of NYAPPY.

What is NYAPPY? Frankly, I’m still a little unsure on the concept, but from a layman’s prospective, it’s exactly what one would see at an An Cafe show. To open the show, the band marched around the Yoyogi National Gymnasium Second Building, a circular venue that normally hosts basketball games and probably gladiator fights. Their costumes resembled pastel versions of 1930′s hobo clowns, complete with oversized pants, jackets, and knick-knacks. Dinky circus music played in the background as fans reached out for a piece of the An Cafe action. One male fan earnestly shook vocalist Miku’shand. It was truly a touching moment scored with an almost-cover of “Baby Elephant Walk.”

The first song, “Maple Gunman,” went off with a set of fireworks. And with the explosion came a sea of perfectly choreographed hands and arms making overly complicated motions to the music. How the fans remember all these dance moves is beyond me, but their devotion to precision was admirable. And that wasn’t the only impressive thing coming out of the audience. After “Kawayu’s Rock” screeched to a halt, every single mouth hole and vocal box in the venue screamed, “NYAPPY!” at exactly the same time and length. This was followed by a crisp, if not slightly eerie, four-second silence. I think everyone reached a greater understanding of the universe.

The music had more or less remained unchanged since I saw their “final” live a few years ago. The title track off their new mini album, amazing blue, is light and fun, if not a little too fast to truly dance to. “Natsu no Owari,” a new track featuring a bit of acoustic guitar, brought out thousands of shimmering,blue star glow sticks. Along with the song’s twinkling synthesizer, the stars bounced hypnotically, lulling any sitting listeners into a pleasant, calming doze.

As the band played “Smile Ichiban Ii Onna,” a little girl and her mother were standing in the back near where I was sitting. The girl sang each lyric with all her might, pointing her star wand as high up into the air as she could without having to let go of it. This was what the show was about. An Cafe might not be the deepest and most profound band (nor do they pretend to be), but if you are not tempted for one moment to yell, “NYAPPY!” and wave around a blue star wand, then you’re not listening to this band in the right way. The sound, the costumes, the atmosphere, and the choreography tell the audience that it’s OK to forget about whatever’s weighing you down. Just Harajuku dance.