It is Saturday night/Sunday morning, 1:15 AM Tokyo time and I have not had dinner. My choices are:
- Walk to the nearest open food spots, which are McDonald’s and Denny’s
- Take a taxi to Kabuki-cho and walk through the meanest, nastiest (and funnest?) red light district in Tokyo in search of an all night ramen shop
- Take a taxi to Roppongi where there are lots of late night restaurants (and possibly some bars?) but the taxi will cost US$20 each way
- Order room service and pay US$25 for a hamburger
- Sit here and stuff my face with Oreo Chocolate Pies while blogging
The last option suits me right now and I may go for the next-to-last as the night wears on.
Anyway, I’m one of those guys who buys Q, Mojo and Uncut magazines each month. And it drives me crazy to see the ads for the summer rock festivals in the UK. Every band in the world that ever existed playing in some cow pasture within a three day period. I usually think about making a trip to the UK but traveling halfway around the world just to watch some kids jitterbug to the latest fab sounds from Swinging England seems a tad decadent.
This summer I’m saved. Overdue for a trip to Tokyo, I was informed of the Udo Rock Festival so I scheduled my business trip around it. At least the airfare is covered.
So this morning, one of my staff members picked me up nice ‘n early from the hotel and we headed out towards the Fuji Speedway. Unfortunately, this racetrack does not show up on this guy’s GPS map, so we end up driving halfway up the volcano before we realize we may have gone in the wrong direction. After finally finding the place, parking the car and walking what seems like two miles to the concert stage, the Pretenders are about halfway through their set.
God bless Chrissie Hynde, still a true rocker. She’s 55 years old now but I’d still do her (like I have a shot, right?). She still looks good in tight Levis and still commands the stage the way she did when I saw her more than 25 years ago. Drummer Martin Chambers is still there but I never caught the names of the guitarist or bass player. (Thought it might be Chris Spedding but seems he’s on tour elsewhere in the world at the moment. If anyone knows, please let me know cause this guy was not bad.) The set itself was a run through of greatest hits, mostly mid tempo stuff and hard to get the crowd really going at 2 in the afternoon.
We took a walk down “Gourmet Street” – doner kebabs, “Mexican” food, some Chinese food, lots of Japanese food (mostly noodles) and then – eureka! – Nathan’s hot dogs! At the stand selling “official merchandise,” it seems that none of the t-shirts came in fat white guy size. I held one against me, the girls behind the counter said it looked perfect, and as they were darned cute, I figured okay, at least I’ll get to wear it once before it shrinks so much that it fits my maid.
Next up, the Doobie Brothers. Featuring two original Doobies, they realized there’s a mint to be made on the oldies circuit and they sort of tear up the stage as an 8 piece band – 3 guitars, sax and keyboards, two drummers and a bass. They started off strong, hitting some of their best known hits and then died a bit in the middle as they attempted some blues and one or two of their lesser known songs and found it hard to recover their momentum, especially when they tackled some of the Michael McDonald-era hits without Michael McDonald.
Scouted the crowd in search of some talent not on the stage. This was my first rock festival in Japan, after all, and I had visions of a crowd filled with gorgeous J-girls in minimal outfits. But all of these older acts were attracting an older crowd. And with the temperature around 19 degrees and the skies a foggy shade of grey, the crowd was also a foggy shade of grey. If there were any cute rockin’ J-girls in search of some fat old white rocker type dude, I never found them.
But next up was Jeff Beck, who basically gave a one hour master class in jazz rock guitar. He started by reaching way back, opening with Beck’s Bolero and just kept cranking them out. Drummer Vinny Coliuta kept working at a feverish pace, I didn’t catch the names of the guys on keyboards or bass. The crowd knew this material well and they were brought back for two encores.
Last up, the headliner for the day, Santana. Backed by a nine piece band, opening with a couple of hardcore salsa numbers before moving into some jazz before serving up the expected hits, the crowd was on its feet and dancing for the whole set. I remember last seeing Santana around 97 or so when he played at the HK Coliseum, prior to his commercial revival. Either his band wasn’t as good or he wasn’t as motivated in those days, but this show was significantly better in every way. The band was great and Carlos was clearly enjoying the band and the crowd and in top form. Midway through I called my sort-of-girlfriend in HK, who is a big Santana fan, and held the phone up so she could listen in for awhile (hooray for 3G phones).
The famous singers who showed up to duet on the last three albums were not missed at all. Instead, we were treated to a duet of a different nature as Jeff Beck came out to tear up the stage alongside Carlos for a ten minute guitar rave-up. I captured most of it on my Sony T-30 in video mode – seems okay enough on the little three inch screen; if it’s not horrendous when I check it on my PC at home, I’ll upload it to YouTube.
The encore kicked off with a blistering version of Soul Sacrifice, which also brought back one of the more unfortunate trends of that era – a great solo from the timbale player, so-so solo from the conga guy, a boring few minutes from a bass player who thought he was Jaco Pastorius reincarnated, and then a very extended drum solo (the drummer was quite talented but, really, it wasn’t anything you haven’t heard before). A couple more numbers and then the “HMV fireworks show” began as we headed back to the car.
So some of the music was pretty darned good, a little bit was great, some was mediocre, but I was just thrilled to be at this sort of concert again for the first time in longer than I care to remember.
(For those who are curious, I’m not attending day 2 as most of the acts on the bill are of no interest to me – Kiss and Paul Rodgers are headlining.)
(Next weekend is the more famous Fuji Rock Festival. The line-up includes Franz Ferdinand, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Strokes, The Raconteurs, Sonic Youth, KT Tunstall, Happy Mondays, Madness, Scissor Sisters, Gnarls Barkley, Zutons, Kula Shaker, Junior Senior, Killing Joke, Nightmares on Wax, Lisa Ono and what seems like hundreds more spread across multiple stages and tents, but I can’t extend my visit to include that. Maybe next year.)
Driving back to Tokyo, my friend’s radar detector failed him – he was clocked at 131 kph in an 80 zone. We had to follow the cops for about 10 kilometers to the next exit. One cop got out of the car and lit a flare and put an orange cone behind us while my friend was “invited” to sit in the rear seat of the police car to find out what a bad person he was.
He’s a smart guy though (I try not to hire idiots). He pointed to the white guy in the passenger seat (me), told the cops I was his boss and that I was in a rush and pressuring him to drive faster. He was facing a 30 day driving suspension, a 90,000 yen fine, 12 points on his license and the possibility of immediate arrest. Instead he received a 6,000 yen fine and a stern warning.
Not a bad day out.