Japan Nite US Tour | 03.14-24.13

A preview of this year’s edition of SXSW’s annual spotlight on Japan‘s best and brightest bands.


Japan Nite finally turns legal this year, but if you thought the Austin tradition would rest on its laurels in its 18th year, you’ve got another thing coming. The folks at Benten Tokyo and SXSW Asia have put together what may be the most eclectic lineup yet, and the follow-up tour crosses into Canada for the very first time. Read on to find out what’s in store for this year’s tour.
Charan-Po-Rantan [Website]
If the fairy tale outfits didn’t give you a hint, expect something wild, unpredictable, and theatrical when Charan-Po-Rantan hits the stage for this year’s Japan Nite. The two sisters (19-year-old singer Momo and 23-year-old accordionist Koharu) blend elements of French chanson, Gypsy music, klezmer, and classic Japanese pop to create a swirling mass of histrionic vocals, accordion, horns, and strings. The end result plays like the soundtrack to a French-Japanese carnival at the end of the world, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Given the duo’s flair for the dramatic and experience honing their craft as street performers, imagine quite the spectacle will occur when Momo and Koharu take the stage. It’s a shame, then, that the band will only be present for the tour’s Austin date.
Four Minutes Til Midnight [Website] [Facebook]
If there were an award for “Japan Nite band most likely to be played on American radio,” Four Minutes Til Midnight would be a shoo-in, and not just because singer Eli Taylor hails from Sonora, California. No, it’d be thanks to the band’s radio-friendly sound, the party-ready rap-rock that’s been garnering steady airplay on stations like our own KPNT for over a decade. “Brothers,” the opening track from the band’s 2012 self-titled release (and first for Universal Music Japan), offers up 311-style rap-rock with a reggae kick and feel-good vibes (“Why don’t you and I/ Put our guns aside?/ Let’s hold hands tonight/ And make love to each other”), while follow-up track “Kiss” features Red Hot Chili Peppery punk-funk with a snaky bass line and a catchy chorus seemingly designed just to bait Prince’s lawyers, and “Little Bird” supplies a blue-eyed soul slow burner to the album’s back half. Elsewhere, the band gets more experimental, pairing a gently picked acoustic guitar with a trip-hop-beat (“Inside of Your Mirror”); building a sound collage out of looped handclaps, French spoke-sung lyrics, autotuned backing vocals, and not one but two choirs, one female and heavenly, the other male and Benedictine-y (“Gens Du Monde”); and crafting a pair of eerie, cyberpunky interstitials with throbbing industrial beats and somberly spoken Japanese lyrics (“Samizdat 96” and “Monochrome 167”). Taylor’s vocals swing from aggressive rap to Allen Stone/Robin Thicke-style soul while guitarist Kenta Hayashi offers up twisty, John Frusciante-style guitar licks and bassist Yusuke Ikegaya gives the songs a funky, danceable beat, and the slick production buffs everything to a high sheen.
Jake Stone Garage [Website]
So many rock bands send critic-types like myself scrambling to the thesaurus for a new hyphenated designation that it’s nice to find a band like Jake Stone Garage that just straight-up rocks. The trio (singer/guitarist/founder Satoshi Watanabe, bassist Tsukasa Nishi, and drummer Hideaki Iwanaka) is modern rock taken to its primal basics: loud guitars, lightning fast bass, thundering drums. Single “Himitsu (Secret)” opens their latest mini-album (2012’s Feels) with a percussive guitar riff straight out of the Hives playbook before sliding into a blistering fast, punky chorus, while “Touch the Sense” (the EP’s undisputed highlight) plays a tribal drumbeat, chugging bass, and shouted vocals in the verses against a massive, anthemic chorus whose lyrics (“Come in, you dance? Break it down!”) are as earwormingly catchy as they are nonsensical. Instrumental “Cut It” uses a choppy, Gang of Four-ish guitar riff, a funky, burbling bassline, and giddy disco drums as the background for a series of overlapping sustained guitar notes that soar above it all. For contrast, the sixth track even offers up a new wavy ballad, a midtempo number driven by Watanabe’s palm-muted guitar and insistent, emotive vocals. Loud or soft, fast or slow, Jake Stone Garage rocks, plain and simple.
Josy [Website] [Facebook]
Who needs guitars when you can have two keyboards? That’s the philosophy behind the proudly “guitarless rock band” Josy. The all-female quartet uses those keyboards to good effect, whether it’s the minor key organ groove and gang-shouted vocals of “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”, the bouncy ragtime bop and “doo-doo-doo” vocals of “Bosom Buddy,” or the swirling, Doors-ian psychedelia of “Land Ho!”, all from the band’s most recent EP, To the Light. Formed in Shinjuku, Tokyo in 2010, the foursome—singer/keyboardist Cumi, keyboardist Mami, bassist Non, and drummer Nanohana—garnered early attention by selling out their very first gig just months after forming, and kept the momentum going by taking first prize at that year’s Studio Penta annual band competition. The following year, the band scored a trio of dates on the 2011 Japan Nite US tour, and with an increased presence this year, the band’s brash organ-pop sound seems destined to make an even bigger impression stateside.
Kao=S [Website] [Facebook]
Modern and ancient Japan collide in the form of Kao=S, a four-piece that blends Tsugaru-shamisen—a form of traditional music from the island of Honshu played on the shamisen, a fretless, three-stringed banjo—with more modern influences. The band doesn’t just blend the traditional and the modern, they also blend the aural and the visual by pairing Shuji Yamagiri’s vocals and acoustic guitar and Jack’s shamisen with vocals and traditional Japanese sword dancing courtesy of Kaori Kawabuchi, a motion actor for the Final Fantasy video game franchise. The band’s appearance at last year’s Japan Nite saw the addition of auxiliary member Daisuke Kaminaga—who plays shakuhachi, a kind of bamboo flute—who has since joined as a permanent member. The music of Kao=S has a melancholy, minor key beauty even when the lightning quick shamisen heroics on “Night Roar of Kyoto” pick up the pace, and the dynamics of the music are only amplified by Kawabuchi’s subdued vocals and theatrical flair, as evidenced by the video for “Ogre of the Cherry Tree” available for viewing on YouTube.
Pirates Canoe [Website] [Facebook]
In a line-up as eclectic as this year’s Japan Nite, Pirates Canoe stands out by excelling at the least likely of genres: Americana. Formed in 2009 when mandolinist Sara Kohno struck up a conversation with Kanako Keyaki (because it’s not every day you see someone with a fiddle case in a Kyoto baseball bar!), the trio makes folk at its most unadorned and beautiful, utilizing acoustic instruments (mandolin, fiddle, acoustic and resophonic guitars, stand-up bass, the occasional light percussion) and the sweet, soulful, and sublime vocals of Arkansas native Reiko Hunt. The trio’s second EP Pirates Canoe, Too (2012) opens with “Dragon,” a lilting Joni Mitchell-esque ballad backed by bracing, John Cale-style violin, while on the sweet “Love Song,” Hunt channels Norah Jones’ gentle croon over a lightly plucked banjo ukulele that sounds like the melody from “Rainbow Connection” played sideways. Pirates Canoe expand their palette on “Hotaru,” offering up repetitive, mantra-like lyrics in Japanese paired with layered, almost Radiohead-esque (though still acoustic) background instrumentation, while the sad ballad “Powder Moon” quiets things back down with mournful fiddle, gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies, and a gently raining mandolin. But the undisputed highlight is album closer “Cocktail Wanderlust,” a rollicking country tune that plays like the aforementioned Ms. Jones fronting the Jayhawks doing a low key cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice.” Like New York folkies Hem, the music of Pirates Canoe is a feast for the ears, as gentle as a whisper and as refreshing as a cool spring breeze.
Chihiro Yamazaki + Route 14 Band [Website] [Facebook]
Saying the word “jazz” usually conjures up memories of eight-plus minute songs meandering through improvisations and lengthy solos or, in other words, music that would seem an odd fit for Japan Nite. If you’re afraid you’ll be checking your watch through their set, though, fear not: Chihiro Yamazaki and her Route 14 Band prefer their jazz in three-to-four-minute blasts of pure pop energy. As their 2012 full-length Waltz of the Flowers so elegantly (and energetically) illustrates, the band specializes in jazz fusion, the rock- and soul-informed hybrid made famous by bands like the Brecker Brothers and Weather Report, with maybe just a touch of early Chicago. As drummer Satoshi Yamashita and bassist Koji Yamamoto hold down a swinging, danceable backbeat, keyboardist Hana Takami provides the mood (be it slow and pretty or fast and fizzy) for Yamazaki’s virtuosic trumpet melodies. Yamazaki and the Route 14 Band have wasted no time making a name for themselves, selling over 20,000 albums as an independent act since forming in the summer of 2010, mostly on the strength of festival appearances, including back-to-back appearances at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Kawasaki and the Park Sapporo festival before crowds of 70,000-plus. Having gone international with last year’s Toronto Jazz Festival, the band is now ready to take on America. | Jason Green
For more information, visit japan-nite.com.
03.14 | The Grackle, Austin
AFHC & BENTEN Label presents: Japan Preview show
At The Grackle
Noon to 7:00 pm Free/all ages
1700 E 6th St Austin, TX 78702
03.15 | Elysium, Austin
Japan Nite at SXSW, Austin TX
At the Elysium
Kao=S/Charan-po-rantan/Jake stone garage/Chihiro Yamazaki + Route 14 Band/Pirates Canoe/FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT/JOSY
03.16 | Double Door, Chicago
Japan Nite at the Double Door, Chicago IL
Doors: 5:30 pm / 21 + / Tickets: $10
Please note: EARLY SHOW: Show starts 5:30 pm and ends 8:00 pm
1572 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 489-3160
Jake stone garage/Chihiro Yamazaki + Route 14 Band/Pirates Canoe/FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT/JOSY
03.18 | Ruby Tuesday, Columbus
Japan Nite at Ruby Tuesday, Columbus, OH
Doors 8pm, Stage 9:45 pm/18 and Up (All ages with guardian)/Tickets $10
1978 Summit St., Columbus, OH (614) 291-8313
Jake stone garage/Chihiro Yamazaki + Route 14 Band/Pirates Canoe/FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT/JOSY
03.19 | Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY
Japan Nite at the Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY!
Doors: 8:00pm / Show: 8:30 pm / ALL AGES/ Tickets: $10
Buy Tickets Here
361 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (347) 529-6696
Jake stone garage/Chihiro Yamazaki + Route 14 Band/Pirates Canoe/FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT/JOSY
03.20 | Clinton’s Tavern, Toronto
Japan Nite at the Canadian Music Week at Clinton’s Tavern Toronto, ON
693 Bloor St. West Toronto, Ontario M6G 1L5 (416) 535-9541
Doors 7:30pm / Show 8:00pm
Buy Wristbands Here
Jake stone garage/Chihiro Yamazaki + Route 14 Band/Pirates Canoe/FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT/JOSY
03.22 | Backstage Billiards, Las Vegas
Japan Nite at Backstage Billiards, Las Vegas, NV
601 E. Fremont Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101 (702) 382-2227
Doors: 7:00pm / Show: 7:30 pm / 21+/ Tickets: $10
Jake stone garage/Chihiro Yamazaki + Route 14 Band/Pirates Canoe/FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT/JOSY
03.23 | The Amplyfi, Los Angeles
Japan Nite at The Amplyfi Los Angeles, CA
(Behind the Astroburger) 5600 block of Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038
Doors: 6:30pm / Show: 6:45 pm / ALL AGES/ Tickets: $10
Jake stone garage/Chihiro Yamazaki + Route 14 Band/Pirates Canoe/FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT/JOSY
0.24 | The Independent, San Francisco
Japan Nite at The Independent in San Francisco, CA
Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:00 pm / Tickets: $15 / 21+
628 Divisadero, San Francisco, CA 94117 (415) 771-1421
Jake stone garage/Chihiro Yamazaki + Route 14 Band/Pirates Canoe/FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT/JOSY

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