Monday, November 07, 2005
The other night I went to a small live house in Akabane with my parents and old family friends. The Suzukis have known my parents since before I was born, a fact that Mr. S. pointed out to the singer of the rockabilly band we were there to see. The Suzukis have been frequenting this bar for awhile, and have made friends with both the barkeep and the band, to the extent that the band played at their daughter's wedding.
The bar is very small, seating perhaps 30 people at capacity, which it was filled to that night. Everyone in the place looked over forty, with the exception of myself and a girl at the front next to the stage, who turned out to be the singer's fourth-grade daughter. The table next to us was filled with septa- and octo-genarians, one of whom remarked that we were the kokusai (international) table tonight. Their table was a lively one, the old folks knocking back the drinks, coffee, and cigarettes with impressive alacrity.
The band mildly rocked, playing lots of Elvis covers and the like. They wore a rockabilly uniform of coveralls (singer/rhythm guitar), overalls (stand-up bass), flannel shirt (guitar), and jeans. The guitarist, who had played with some of Elvis's ex-backup musicians at some past date, was talented, with lots of hot licks and a charmingly demure stage presence, offsetting the singer's slightly obnoxious hamminess. The singer spent approximately fifty percent of the stage time telling anecdotes and jokes, most of which, being in Japanese, went over my head. He kept poking fun at the table of old timers, guessing at their age and making predictions about their demise. The old folks took it in stride, shooting witty, cranky comebacks toward the stage.
After an hour set, the frontman told the crowd that the old-timers were actually old-time rock stars, and after a little cajoling, coerced them on to the stage. Two guys and a woman took the stage and belted out a beautiful Hawaiian wedding song; next she sang a near-impeccable Tennessee Waltz. Then another old guy replaced her and sang his ass off, doing Sunny Side of the Street complete with Louis Armstrong vocal chops.
They were utterly fantastic: their English talent in singing and stage presence blew the other band out of the water; but even that aside, they had something the other band didn't. Grace, style that didn't come with hokey requisite costumes, genuine likability rather than trying-too-hard comedy...
The rockabilly frontman reclaimed the stage a bit later, with jokes about how the old fogeys' group was called the "Heabenly Fathers", who could sing to you from the other world. But while I'm not sure I would pay to see his band again, if the Heavenly Fathers were on the bill, I would certainly attend. Jokes aside, these folks' time probably IS running short, making them seem all the more valuable. I couldn't seem to get a good picture of them with the crappy camera phone - maybe the halo around the lead singer is indicative of something.
After the show, we saw a few of the old folks in the train station, and told them how much we had enjoyed the show. I hope to see them again on this side of the great divide.