Monday, November 02, 2015

Seeing a band at a Japanese "live house" - Yen Town Band at Zepp Tokyo 10/22/2015

My wife's been a Chara fan for many years, and she's been a fan of the film "Swallowtail" almost as long. In that film, Chara plays a prostitute who becomes a singer as her little group of gangsters tries to go legit, opening up a live house (rock club) in the process. The house band is known as "Yen Town Band".

It was a fictional band created just for that movie, but this year they're going out on tour. It's kinda like Spinal Tap, except Chara's a real singer and it's not a comedy band.

My wife and I saw them at Zepp Tokyo on October 22. I'll talk a little about them but since I don't know all that much about Chara, I thought I'd use this post to also talk more about the process of going to a Japanese live house show. It can be a little daunting and really confusing for a westerner, because it's so different than how these shows work in the US.

I've had a couple people ask me this directly, so I may as well try to answer in public. The best way to get show information is through a band's official web site. Just Google the bands you like - adding "" to your searches might help you find their official Japanese site, although some Japanese bands do have .com web addresses. When you find their web site, click the "Live" tab that almost all of them have.

If you're not looking for anyone specific but just want to go to a live show, there's no single English language site that I trust to have everything, but Bandsintown actually seems like it might. You can also try browsing through Time Out Tokyo, Songkick or go for the master lists at e+ or Ticket Pia, but beware that the latter two can be pretty dense for a non-native speaker.

By nature, live house shows are small. For a big singer like Chara playing in a tiny venue, you're probably not going to be able to get tickets through official channels. We tried to get ours through e+ as soon as they went on sale, but the site crashed and by the time we could access it, tickets were sold out. We finally bought ours through Yahoo Auctions, which you can do through a shopping service like Japonica Market or Buyee.

Japan has a lot of online ticket brokers as well, Ticket Street being one example, but you'll still need a shopping service to use them. Alternatively, you can visit a ticket broker physically when you get to Japan, but that's a gamble.

If a concert doesn't sell out, you probably still can't buy through the official ticket seller because you won't have a Japanese credit card. I've ranted about this before, but one way you can get around that is if you plan on staying at a hotel, the concierge might be able to handle the purchase for you and have your tickets waiting when you arrive. This probably depends on the hotel, though.

You'll notice your ticket has both a section and number on it, for example my Yen Town Band tickets say B and 49. At SCANDAL the night before, my ticket said B 393. That is the line number, and at least at both Zepp DiverCity and Zepp Tokyo, each letter section had 1,000 people in it. So B 49 means I was the 1,049th person let in; B 393 means I was the 1,393rd. Generally I think this system is a really good idea; there's no point lining up hours or even days in advance, because you're gonna be let in with the same group of ten people no matter what.

About 70 or 80 minutes before the show (10 or 20 minutes before the doors open), the organizers will start to get everybody penned up. At Zepp Tokyo, they took the B section out back and had us line up down the sidewalk.

One tip - you'd better have an extra ¥500 on hand for a drink. It's mandatory.

(I was paying for two people.)

Since Yen Town Band was sold out, the crowd was basically as much as the organizers could handle. They flew through line numbers like they were running a cattle auction. Amusingly, the active group of line numbers was displayed by hand, and the "flipper" was just constantly flipping numbers. (You can see this below - they were up to 0710.) Without being able to understand the guy speed-talking through the numbers (even my wife had trouble, and she's a native speaker), all I could do was constantly watch those numbers, especially once the A section was done and our "B" sign was pulled away.

When your line number's called, you'll enter through the gate, pay for your drink token and then have free reign inside the venue. Generally there will be merchandise tables set up. At both Zepp DiverCity and Zepp Tokyo, my wife and I got our drinks before doing anything else, because we didn't want to wait in line later. Then we hit the merch tables, then the coin lockers to store our unwanted stuff (this is a huge convenience that I think most larger live houses would have, not just these two).

Zepp gives you a little clip with their bottled drinks so you can clip it on to your belt or bag if you want. I recommend not buying beer, because it will come in a cup that you will have to hold in your hand through the entire concert, unless you are secure enough with your spot on the floor to step outside and then back in. (I know this from experience.) This is not America - you can't just drop your cup on the floor.

You'll notice that all of this takes time, meaning people who just want to get as close as possible to the stage can zip right by you regardless of your line number. In other words, a low line number is no guarantee of anything - it only exists to keep you from lining up too early. If you do want to get close, get in on the floor ASAP and get your drinks and merchandise on the way out (if you even can).

Not every live house has this, but both Zepp venues have railings spaced about 10 feet apart from the front to the back of the floor. This creates almost what looks like little pens on the floor. People make a beeline for these railings because it's something to lean against for the hours you may be standing there. When we got on the floor for YTB, there were already people filling up every railing in the house, from front to back. And most of the standing space in between was already taken too. We ended up freestanding near the right side doors; it was as close to the stage as we could get at that point.

Japan has a reputation for politeness, but that all goes out the window at a live house show. Japanese club show crowds are, and I hate to say this, worse than American club show crowds. Chara is an older singer now and she attracts a somewhat older crowd - most of those at the YTB show looked to be aged between 20 and 40. Still, people will push you, they will crowd into you for no reason, they will try to weasel their way in front of you any way they can. And girls are worse than guys. The guys at this show were mostly just standing their ground as the girls all tried to go "under" them, kind of crouching down and splitting between people like they're walking through a corn field.

Throughout the show, I had one girl who started behind me but who very meticulously inched her way in front. I was shoulder to shoulder with another guy on my left, but somehow this girl got her hand in between us, then her arm, then her shoulder, then one leg, and eventually I had to give up and cede my spot to her. This happened over a period of about 30 minutes. I know my wife had similar experiences because she'd start out next to me and several times I turned and found her behind me. I'd then have to back up and let someone else in front of me to get her next to me again.

The SCANDAL show was a little different, but it wasn't sold out and there was more personal space available on the floor. We were pretty close to the stage there, but nobody was crowding or trying to weasel past us. YTB seemed over capacity, to be honest. It was completely full front to back, and even being only about 10 feet from the door, I wasn't sure how we'd get out if we needed to.

Since this is really about the YTB show, you might wonder how I liked the show itself. Well, unlike larger "one man lives", these live house shows usually have multiple bands, so we had to sit through three other bands/artists before getting to YTB. The opening band I don't even really remember; they were pretty generic. Amazarashi had some good melodies but they played behind a giant screen the entire time, which displayed various bits of video. It just got a little tiring.

Lily Chou Chou was interesting because she's also a fictional character made for a movie ("All About Lily Chou Chou"), like Yen Town Band, and I guess created by the same guy. But her music's a little too slow and ethereal for a super-crowded show like this - you need to be able to relax and just take it in.

Yen Town Band came out and used the same setup as Lily Chou Chou (photos here) - thankfully without much of a break. By then my back was already pretty much blown out from contorting my body around other people pressed up against me. Chara was cute when she introduced herself as "Glico" (her character's name from the movie), then funny when she replied to someone who yelled "Chara!" with a pause, an arm gesture towards her body and then "Glico desu" ("I'm Glico").

She played the three Yen Town Band songs from the movie, including a cover of "My Way", then a few of her own famous songs and a couple of new songs that seemed to get mixed reviews. Of course the fans went wild over the known songs; I get the impression that it's not easy to see her like this.

I was actually having back cramps by the end of it - it was almost four and a half hours standing in the same spot and twisting and compressing my body around other people. Of course this is easier to ignore if you're a fan - I just don't know any of these artists too well.

Leaving from Zepp DiverCity the night before had been no problem, but the capacity crowd at Zepp Tokyo began pushing and shoving almost immediately. I was lucky to be able to get to my locker, and then we got swept up in a sea of people who were pressed together so tightly that some people's feet weren't even on the floor.

I mean there was serious danger of someone being trampled - I told my wife I'd be surprised if everybody got out alive. She in turn told me that this was not the Japan she knew - this made her embarrassed to be Japanese. And this was at a Chara show. It'd be kind of like having a crowd like this to see Stevie Nicks.

It took us about 10 minutes to make it the 30 or so feet to the front doors. We then ended up waiting outside in the overflow area until the crowd dissipated before going out behind the venue.

Your mileage may vary, but don't expect the crowd to be all manners and etiquette just because it's Japan. They take any opportunity they can to cut loose, because they can't often do it otherwise, and a live house show is one social acceptable place to do it.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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