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- Posted on Aug 6th 2009 2:30PM by Maximo Park
I've spent the best part of the last two weeks in the wonderful world of Japan, battling illness and humidity to not only play the Fuji Rock festival, but to try and enjoy myself in a rare patch of time off. Lucky old me, apart from the illness bit. After a 12-hour flight I felt more fatigued than usual and I suffered a night of fever amongst other grim symptoms. However, before falling into that troubled slumber I was treated to a flock of singing ice cream vendors who were apparently warbling in order to obtain a tip, which, in my case, worked very well. Sucker! Looking for a wee Tokyo nightcap, we found some steps leading up to a '''60s, '70s and '80s bar" called Strawberry Fields with a stairwell bedecked in Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen and Steely Dan, amongst others. Dunc, our guitarist remarked, "Look, Paul and Tom's record collections are on the wall!" which, frankly, sealed the deal and we made our entry. It was like we'd stumbled into a middle-aged music aficionado's living room, which may be closer to the truth than we'll ever know. The owner certainly had the moustache of a prog rock fan, and he had a way with a Moscow Mule, too, incidentally. I have never seen as much vinyl in a bar and have certainly never successfully requested side one of King Crimson's 'Discipline.' Fripp overload was truly achieved with drummer Tom's choice of David Bowie's 'Scary Monsters' LP, which also features the Crimson axe man at his best. I left just as a wobbly Japanese man, drinking straight Jameson's, requested 'Synchronicity.' As we made our exit, I reportedly flexed my tried and tested Sting impersonation, but these rumors haven't yet been confirmed.
The next day was a personal write-off. Outside the big hotel window, loudspeaker voices reverberated, bouncing up from various buildings as people hawked their wares. Weakened by fever, face planted firmly into the pillow, I was despondent about my situation -- not only the lack of tourist activities, but worried about my ability to perform the next night. I hate letting people down. As night fell, finally I felt strong enough and bored enough for a walk into Shibuya's bustling youth parade. The buildings struggle with each other to snare your attention and the businesses are piled on top of each other, requiring lift access to most of them. The audio-visual experience was summed up by the bright yellow gorilla emblem of Go Go Curry with its repetitive jingle blasted out of stereo speakers onto the street. A video of the aforementioned ape -- really a man in a suit -- being interviewed in a blue baseball cap is replayed on a loop in a basement room lined with stacks of shiny tin cantinas. In a second-hand record shop I managed to find pristine original vinyl copies of 'The Return of The Durutti Column' and 'The Good Earth' by the Feelies, amongst many others.
Show-day began, against my better judgment, with a sausage roll. After my enforced 24-hour fast, I was clearly not of sound mind at breakfast time. Our hired coach began to head away from Tokyo and the buildings became lower and less frequent. We were entering rice country. Mountains came into view, pale in the distance; lumpy, gray camel humps obscured by mist and fog from the surrounding Gunma Prefecture. We saw Mount Haruna; at its foot the town of Ikaho, famous for its hot springs, was dwarfed and flattened by the imposing range. The bus wove its way upwards, ever higher until we pulled into the ski resort of Naeba, where the Fuji Rock festival is held. All day long I was constantly replenishing my lost salts with a fluid branded Pocari Sweat, which, in tribute to Toto's drummer, was re-branded 'Jeff Porcaro's Sweat'. Mmmmm. Anyway, it must've worked because the show was a lung-busting belter. The Japanese audience care. A lot. I was even given a note by a girl called Machiko, printed in block capitals, saying 'NO MAXIMO PARK. NO LIFE', which I'm thinking of using as a new t-shirt design. I think I know what she meant.
After the show I caught a slice of the impossibly entertaining Wilco Johnson, former guitarist with Dr. Feelgood, who seemed determined to spray the audience with imaginary musical bullets each time he played a solo. Alongside him was the virtuoso Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy, displaying a terrier-like enthusiasm as he nodded and grinned his way through the blues rock set. Basement Jaxx had the main stage crowd in the palm of their collective hand before we tried and failed to find the Mongolian State Circus, which is not something you can say about many (any?) music festivals. Over the next week I travelled to Kyoto on the famed bullet train and visited temples and shrines galore. In total, I experienced zero spiritual awakenings, as expected, but I was left with a reinforced love for the world that surrounds me, especially when Japan Airlines were extremely understanding about me accidently missing my flight home. My highlight of the week's holiday was on my last night in Tokyo -- a performance by Japanese avant-garde musician Otame Yoshihide in celebration of his 50th birthday. Joined by six other musicians, including the brilliant Jim O'Rourke, the ensemble managed to keep the audience rapt for an hour's worth of delicate, semi-improvised interplay. The simple, concrete basement venue, Super Deluxe reminded me of Tonic in New York where we once played and it left me with a determination to return here. After shaking Otame's hand and wishing him a happy birthday it was time to get back on the subway full of good wishes for the polite society I was about to leave. Arigato!