Sunday, November 25, 2018
So where even to begin?
This trip was very unusual and demands an unusual report. I feel obligated to clear an impossibly high bar - a self-imposed standard that I know I'll never be satisfied with. The memory should really be quite enough but the unfortunate truth is that memories fade. I sometimes want to take moments and bottle them up to save. Then maybe open them from time to time for a tiny sip to savor. But you can't so that so you have to savor the moment as it happens - if you're lucky enough to remember to stop and do it.
See, this happened, right? It's over now, but it fucking happened, y'all.
Since I really don't know where to start I might as well start at the beginning. Late last winter we received a curious email from a company in Japan called Vinyl Junkie. They simply asked if we'd be interested in doing some dates in Japan. This sort of proposal had been made before by others but for different reasons it never came to pass. So rather than get excited we pursued the offer cautiously. This time things developed more positively and by summer we were given dates and venues. We still had not yet been given our plane tickets however, so we maintained a cautious optimism. Finally on September 6th Jeff texted me very early in the morning informing the tickets had come thru. It was now official. We were going to Japan.
In the meantime we were dealing with a bunch of other important things. Our attention was primarily focused on the anniversary show, which took a lot of work and preparation. Amid that we were dealt some serious personal blows which I won't detail here. Suffice it to say this fall has been difficult. Somehow we have persevered and never lost focus. Suddenly we were staring down the barrel of this trip - a trip that has been a longtime dream for Jeff and something I never thought even remotely possible for myself.
We had barely rested after the anniversary before we began putting together a set for the Japanese shows. We wanted to include some of the stuff the band this band does best, our sort of "Americana Punk" for lack of a better description. The stuff that retains our southern flavor and gives this band character amid the otherwise loud, fast, rules approach we also gleefully employ. We also were keen to mirror the few releases we have in Japan. In addition we learned we would be playing a professional wrestling event that would feature the insane "deathmatch" style wrestling that inspired some of our songs. So it was only natural we include some of these songs in our set as well. We had a long way to go and a short time to get there.
In the days leading to the trip I became increasingly apprehensive. I hate flying. I hate everything about it. It's a necessary evil to get to do these otherwise amazing things. But holy hell do I ever hate air travel. There is of course the notoriously difficult measures of maneuvering the many obstacles of an airport. The ticket lines, the security lines, the labyrinth of mazes that comprise the concourses and terminal gates, all crowded with a mass of humanity which leaves me dizzy, anxious and exhausted. And then I have to board a tin cylinder that will catapult thru the air at 35000 feet. Evel Knievel I ain't. Nonetheless we convened at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on a rainy Tuesday for the first leg of the journey to Tokyo...
DEPARTURE - Nov 13
In advance of this trip we arranged to rent all our gear for these show, including guitars. This would help alleviate the hassle of additional luggage as well as the cost of checking the baggage. We were all able to pare down to a single carry-on bag. We of course stuffed a bit of extra swag to take with us, customs be damned. We were on a mission to share the our noise as much as possible. The only concern was baggage weight is restricted to 22 lbs. Fortunately we all eked by.
We march up to the dreaded security checkpoint. I'm surprised to be met by a very jovial cat who asks about our band. He tells us he was once in a punk rock band in Houston back in the late 70's. It was pretty cool and made the process a lot more tolerable. After that we head out onto the concourse. Before heading to the gate we stop to change our currency from dollars to yen. With a fistful of yen we then walk towards our gate. A guy suddenly approaches me asking if I can take a picture. I'm momentarily confused. Barry follows up figuring the guy wants one of us to take a picture for him. No, he wants a picture with us. "You're ANTISEEN, right?", he asks. I'm taken aback. I'm not used to being recognized. The guy is connecting flights to Miami and is stoked to see us. Personally, I'm more stoked. It's a cool way to start the trip.
After a short delay for maintenance we board and are soon in the air for the short ride to New York City. We are switching planes at JFK. The rainy weather makes for a bit of a bumpy ride. I have a window seat but the clouds prevent any benefit. It was a little clearer on approach to NYC. I'd hoped for a spectacular view of the nighttime skyline but am on the wrong side of the plane. Oh well.
We are soon herding thru the checkpoint at JFK. They aren't fucking around. They are moving people through really fast, scarcely checking anything. The vibe is very much "Oh you have a bomb and manifesto? Drop it in this bucket, buddy and keep moving. We ain't got time for your shit". It's all GO, GO, GO. Seriously it doesn't take ten minutes before we are all through. We have a few hours to kill but I'd rather kill it at the gate than standing in a security line, so I'm happy.
After a gate change we eventually load on the big jet that will take us to our next connection - Shanghai, China. We sit on the plane for about an hour before we taxi to the runway but are given no explanation. I guess communist airlines don't need to explain shit. I don't have a window seat so I crane my neck and can see the city twinkling out on the horizon. I try to get as comfortable as I can. It's marginally cramped but I have sufficient legroom and there are a few decent options on the in flight movies. I only sleep intermittently.
Shanghai - Nov 15
It's Thursday morning here. We've entirely lost a day in the 13 hour flight due to crossing the International Date Line. If I think about it too much my brain melts. All I know is we made the entire flight in the dark. I thought I caught a glimpse of sunlight slivered out in the darkness at some point over Alaska but now I'm not even sure. Even as the sun rises it is covered by looming gray clouds. The airport is gray. Even the staff are gray. This is a seriously depressed place, save for one guy who apparently didn't get the memo. He's a cherub-faced fella chortling in Chinese at nobody in particular. He laughs at whatever he's saying to himself and continues on his path. We suffer another checkpoint with watchful guards in helmets and signs reading "BEWARE OF COLLUSION". I don't even know what that means.
We finally arrive in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon. I caught a glimpse of Mt Fuji peeking over the clouds on approach. It has taken nearly 24 hours to get here. For some reason Gooch gets his bag searched at customs but they let him pass. We are met by Milly Bison and Sexy, members of Ryuketsu Blizzard. They are our host band and opening act for our shows here. Milly is the guitarist and Sexy is the drummer. Milly speaks a decent amount of English but she leaves separate from the rest of us. It is Sexy who drives us to our hotel where we are met by Kaoru, the woman responsible for organizing all the logistics for this trip. She speaks some English as well. She helps check us in and gives us an itinerary before splitting. We are on our own until tomorrow.
I room with the Gooch. Our room is small. The beds are are very low like a child's bed but comfortable. The bathroom is pretty tight but overall its a cozy room. The only downside is that wi-fi is only available in the lobby. I turn on the TV and happily discover a channel with sumo wrestling. We try to catch a nap but are all too excited to be here. Pretty soon we are wandering the streets. Everyone here walks very fast or is on a bicycle. I feel oafish and in the way. We maze thru alleys and walkways, all populated with shops and bars of some sort. There s no wasted space here. We try to find a record shop but are unsuccessful. I feel like we are getting farther and farther away from where we started but Barry assures me we are working a circle, He's right, somehow we come back around the opposite side of the hotel. I crash out early - or at least early on Tokyo time. What time is it back home?
Ikebukuro - Nov 16
Woke up and fell back asleep while the others went out for breakfast. When I finally get up Barry and Gooch take me to a pastry shop they found. Good stuff. We are picked up at 1:30 - which seems odd but I discover shows run early here, much as in Europe. We ride to the Ikebukuro district. Tokyo is so massive it basically is like 23 different cities stitched together into what is the most populous metropolis on the planet. I don't know how anyone can navigate the city but Sexy does so effortlessly. I sit in the back of the vehicle and stare out the window at everything. It's a lot to take in.
The club is called CHOP. It is located in the basement of a building tucked away on a side street. The descending stairwell is plastered with posters heralding upcoming shows including our own. The photo used on our poster isn't a particularly good one but I think it was chosen because we are grimacing. Expression is very important here. Everything is loud flash. Even the nightly news is visually punctuated with loud colors. Our poster is no different. Unlike American posters and flyers which are often photocopied black & white efforts, the Japanese poster is loaded with red, yellow and blue.
The room is small with black walls, red and black tiled floor and a low ceiling. The stage runs along one side rimmed with a barricade. The barricade seems unnecessary given the low stage but it's built into the room. A back line of drums and amps are already onstage. Apparently here the clubs proved all this stuff. This makes load-in pretty much non-existent save for merch, and that is handled by the promoter who has brought in help for the task. Thy have all the bases covered. Basically all we have to do is soundcheck.
We arranged to have guitars rented for our use for these show so we wouldn't have to risk cost, loss or damage of our own gear in transit. We did bring our own pedals and cables however. I've been provided a black on black Fender telecaster. Barry has a Fender Precision Bass. I also have several amps to chose from - a Marshall rig, a Roland combo or Fender Twin. I of course choose the Fender. It only takes about a minute to dial in. And holy hell does it sound good. There are two sound guys, neither of whom speak English. I expect this will take some time but am happy to be proven wrong. They know this room and their gear. We set our levels and run a song we added for this trip, "Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match". I insist we give it a few tries because I don't feel we really practiced it sufficiently before leaving. Sure enough I make a mistake but get it sorted out. And the sound is great. The low ceiling and soundproofed walls absorb all the usual echo we usually endure in rooms of concrete and steel.
We meet the other members of Ryuketsu Blizzard (hereafter referred to as simply "Ryuketsu"); vocalist Juda and bassist Yogore. Ryuketsu translates to "bloodshed" in Japanese. It's pretty obvious they are into rock & roll judging by their street wear but they are about to transform into their onstage personas. They spend a lot of time patiently applying heavy make-up and spraying their hair. It's a theatrical enhancement of the punk rock look.
The other band opening these shows arrives. They are called Shootmaster. They are also a theatrical act with each member adopting the persona of a professional wrestler. The singer, Mutuwo, assumes the character of Mr. Pogo, a legendary Japanese deathmatch wrestler. One of the guitarists dresses like the American wrestler Sabu, the other as Japanes legend Tiger Mask. They enter the dressing room and produce all their wares; implements of destruction known in wrestling as "foreign objects". They incorporate this stuff into their show. They also produce a giant bottle of sake, insisting I partake. "Japanese tradition!" says Mutuwo. I don't particularly care for sake, however in the interest of maintaining good international relations, I drink.
With some time to kill Barry and I decide to explore the local area around the club. By now night has fallen and everything has suddenly exploded with electric light as if we suddenly walked onto the set of the movie Blade Runner. One thing I immediately notice is that although crowded and dense it doesn't feel as claustrophobic or oppressive as large American cities like New York and Philadelphia. There is no sense of danger and everything is clean. The only scent in the air is that from the multitude of restaurants.
We return to the club to catch the other bands sets. Walking down the stairs I find Gooch talking with a photographer assigned to follow us. She says her name is Tatami, but I later find her name is Keiko. I think Tatami is a professional name or something. Anyhow her English is limited but she's a lot more casual and laid back than the others. She pats my beer gut and says "baby". Gooch laughs his ass off. She then sticks an old backstage pass on my shirt and says "good name". I don't even know what that means. I leave them to their conversation.
I go backstage where Jeff introduces me to Toshi, one of the earliest Japanese supporters of the band. He was responsible for a Japanese-only "best of" release called "The Great Pogo Hits". It featured the aforementioned Mr. Pogo on the cover biting into an ANTiSEEN record. Toshi is wearing a rare t-shirt from the bands tenth anniversary and a really cool custom one-of-a-kind belt buckle of our logo. I also meet a photographer named Shigeo. He looks pretty intimidating but is really cool.
Shootmaster soon takes stage and tear into their set. They play metallic-hardcore and do covers of GG Allin, Dwarves and surprisingly, ZZ Top. There set climaxes with a wrestling match between the singer and one of the guitarists as the rest play on. They are followed by Ryuketsu. Milly runs onstage and starts ripping out licks on her guitar. She wears an outfit that reveals her ass, on which she has written large Japanese characters that I learn mean "slut" and "whore". She plays so hard she literally flips head first over the barricade. She pops up and continues playing, quickly re-tuning her guitar without stopping. Initially I can't tell if this is part of the act or not. I only find out later it isn't. Either way it's very impressive.
Their set is very energetic and tight. Onstage they are much more animated and expressive than they are offstage. The theatricality allows for this dynamic. They close their set with this weird dance number. Sexy comes out from behind the drums and goes into some sort of rap that apparently is about sex. They do choreographed dance moves to a prerecorded track. Since I don't understand Japanese I find it confusing but the crowd laughs and applauds accordingly. It's so over the top you I can't help but be entertained by it all.
There is a large screen they lower between bands, sort of like a curtain. They project a calendar of upcoming shows on it. We set up behind the screen and ready ourselves. We give the cue to raise the screen and begin the set with ominous opening of "Death Train". ANTiSEEN has hit Japan. We hurl into the set and I try to up my energy. I'm a little ragged from the travel and feel a tad bit off-point. Lately my fingers have been going numb when I play. I don't what's been causing this but I double down and concentrate harder. All of this leads to a few minor mistakes so I try to relax. I doubt it's noticeable to anyone else but I set high standard for myself. Other than the numbness it's psychological; I just gotta let gut instinct take over and trust my own abilities. It works. I even get the crowd to clap along during the breakdown in the middle of "Fornication". I don't know if I could get an American audience to participate like that. It's really cool. Soon we are charging to the close.
Did that really just happen??
After the show we sign a bunch of stuff. I get the impression they really don't get many American bands. At least not ones like us. Everyone is really cool and excited. We meet an American named Jeff . He's originally from St. Louis and now resides here teaching English. He tells us the Japanese have three alphabets. A lot of how things are communicated has to do with usage and inflection. He says even after six years here he has trouble with the language.
After everyone clears out they set up tables and the bands gather to socialize and share a toast - "kanpai!". This is apparently the protocol here. We are told drinks at the bar are free but all we drink is Coke and water. Kaoru tells me she thought we'd be "large drinkers". I think they are pleasantly surprised they don't have to babysit a bunch of drunken Americans. I suspect they were prepared to do just that, too. We all take the time to get acquainted and enjoy ourselves. Juda tells me very reverently that we are "real punk rock". I'm humbled.
We return to the hotel and I take a quick shower and climb into bed. Gooch plays an old Eric Burdon album as I drift off...
Shinjuku - Nov 17
I awake to the sound of someone retching. I can't tell where it's coming from but it's disgusting. I'm a Class 'A' vomiphobe of the Highest Order. It sounds like its coming from Jeff and Barry's room - great. That's all we need. Somebody barfing-sick while in the middle of the biggest trip this band has ever had. So typical. I try my best to ignore it and go back to sleep but to no avail. It continues on and on. It almost got to be funny - I couldn't imagine what could possibly be left - a lung, perhaps?
I've only slept about five hours. I toss and turn for a bit before giving up. I get dressed and go downstairs to access the wi-fi that is only available in the lobby. I'm surprised to find Jeff sitting on the sofa checking his own phone. I ask about the retching and am pleased to discover it came from elsewhere. We all remain healthy and virus-free. Good. Barry and Gooch have already ventured out. Gooch returns having discovered a head shop where he made friends with the owners. Gooch has that uncanny ability to have a good time, all the time. I envy him.
Again we are picked up by Sexy at 1:30. The trip was shorter than yesterday as we are playing the same province of the city which we are staying, Shinjuku. I'm told this area is the most "happening" area of Tokyo, although to me the entire city seems happening. It pulsates with its own kinetic energy, both day and night. It is unmatched by any place I've ever been - Berlin, Prague, Copenhagen... this place beats 'em all, y'all.
The club is called Antiknock. The venue is legendary having been in operation over thirty years and hosting a "who's who" of western punk and hardcore bands. It is located near Takashimaya Times Square, a busy spot in Shinjuku. As with CHOP, the club is located in the basement. It's a larger room but essentially the same - black soundproof walls, low ceiling and stage with a barricade. There is also the back line of equipment laying in wait for us. Once again I opt for a Fender Twin. I dial-in my sound but it doesn't sound quite as good as the night before. I ask the others if they can tell but they don't hear it. Maybe I'm over-thinking it. We run a few bars of "Up All Night" and everything is tight. We have been asked if the opening bands can join on our encore tonight. They have learned "Fuck All Y'all" and we give it a go. They all nail it. It's amazing to me me. Plus it sound fucking MASSIVE. I get a little emotional. I can't help but wonder what Joe Young would think of this - traveling halfway around the world and playing a song with people who neither speak your language or even ever met before. I only wish he could have experienced this.
After soundcheck we soldier out exploring again. Keiko (or Tatami) guides us. We walk a few blocks before turning a corner to be greeted by giant, life-size replica of Godzilla peeking over the top of a building. Jeff lights up like a little kid at Christmas. This is just a really cool place. Keiko takes a bunch of pictures as we explore. We take pics of our own, too. I joke that I have taken more pics in two days than all the time I've ever owned my phone. We walk a few more blocks to another building that houses a Godzilla shop. They have a film-used prop of one of the heads of King Ghidorah on display. Jeff nabs some goodies and then we head back to the club. There is so much to see it is almost overwhelming. The smell of curry permeates the air, seeping from all the many restaurants that line the streets. Even in the early evening lights flash and twinkle from the ground to the top of the towers that loom overheard. It's sensory-overload.
We nab a quickie meal from 7-11. It is unlike anything you can get from 7-11 in the States. I get chicken and rice which is served hot and is really good. I notice a bag of squid tentacles packaged like beef jerky. I'm tempted but decide not to gamble it. I sit in the club and eat while people begin showing up. Much like Europe, shows run early here. To me it's smarter - people have jobs and don't want to be out until 2am or whatever. Here the shows don't start at 10pm, they end then.
There is a direct circuit video feed in the barroom, which is separated from the stage room by two giant, heavy soundproofed doors. I watch some the opening bands sets from here. A few people greet me as they enter the club. I feel more comfortable tonight and am anxious to play. The crowd is a little larger as well. They are also older. Another American is here, a guy Gooch knows named Mark. He's lived in Tokyo for nearly thirty years. He explains some of the culture to Gooch, particularly that of Japanese massage parlors. Gooch is eager for a Happy Ending. Apparently it isn't quite that simple: "You get what you pay for" warns his friend. Also although semi-legal a lot of the prostitution is controlled by gangsters. It can be a risky deal if you don't know where to go or who to deal with. Gooch finally begins to second-guess his prospects.
Finally we take the stage. The sound is great, whatever concerns I had earlier have disappeared. I'm in the zone, that place where you feel you can do no wrong. I have no numbness and feel great. It's a hot, tight set that buzzes along at a good pace. We don't let the tempos get too fast or too slow. Everything is on point. Call me arrogant but I feel that when we are all on point and cooking, we are as good as any band in the world. We're bad, we're internationwide...
When its time for the encore everyone from the other bands line the stage and plug in. I slam into the opening riff of "Fuck All Y'all", our anthem of shared international social defiance. We drill that song like never before. Juda and Milly take turns on lead vocals along with Jeff while rest of us piledrive the music into oblivion. It's a pretty special moment, a conquering gesture shared by all three bands equally. We have forged new alliances and made new family. It is absolutely an amazing moment.
After the set I walk up to the street for fresh air and to give myself a moment. I just want to let it sink in. I may never have another opportunity to do this. I stare at the buildings and watch people walk past, oblivious to who I am or what I'm feeling. The cool night air causes me to shiver a bit. I allow myself to come down from the natural high from playing. It's been a good trip.
I return downstairs and sign stuff. The crowd quickly dissipates and as with last night, tables are set up for the bands to hang out. Jeff is giving an interview for a magazine so most of us stay in the barroom. although I've not been drinking much lately, I indulge in a shot of Jack Daniels and sip a beer. Asahi is what everyone drinks. Not a favorite but I roll with it. Plus the bartender is drop-dead beautiful. The Sabu guitarist from Shootmaster gives Gooch his jacket - a really cool one with an embroidered dragon and tiger on the back. It's an awesome gesture of respect from that guy. Gooch tries to give him money but he refuses. I finally am able to get him to take my pedals and cables. He uses the same stuff so he seems pretty happy. One pedal was my back-up, I have another identical pedal. My tuner pedal is easily replaced and I had already planned on replacing the cables anyway. Plus it frees up room in my bag.
When it's finally time to go everyone follows us up to the street waving and saying good-bye. They continue waving as we roll away.
Koto - Nov 18
Today we have a few extra hours to explore the city. Milly arrives to help show us around. We take a train over to another part of the city, I think still in Shinkuku. We are met there by Juda and Keiko. Soon we are deep in the recesses of a giant shopping mall. It's not like malls in the States, rather floor upon floor of all sorts of specialty shops and vintage stores. We happen upon a store dedicated to vintage Japanese toys. It's like a museum, only everything is for sale. Jeff spends a long time in there before finally picking up a few things. There are also stores devoted to anime and manga, which my kids love. I try to find stuff they like but I'm not really too familiar with it. They gave me some titles they like but I have no luck. It's still a fun trip exploring all the different stuff. We are stopped several times along the way by people who recognize us. Or I should say, recognize Jeff. It's cool to see him get so much respect and recognition.
We eat lunch at a cool steak place called GUTS. Pretty coincidental since Vinyl Junkie has issued a CD single of our song of the same name for these shows. The restaurant staff all wear a t-shirt with a logo fashioned after the famous Ramones eagle logo. Gooch and I try to buy some but they aren't for sale. Too bad, they'd clean up selling those things to tourists like us. The food was killer, though.
We eventually head to the venue for tonight's show. Along the way we persuade Sexy to drive us past Budokan, the arena that has hosted everything from the Beatles to Olympic Games to the infamous Muhammad Ali / Antonio Inoki match. It is also the recording location of several live albums including Dylan, Ozzy, Clapton and the legendary Cheap Trick live album. It's kinda surreal to see it in person. There is some sort of karate event being held and kids surround the place in their karate uniforms. We don't have time to stop but we snap pictures from the window of the van. We snake thru an older, more conservative part of the city. This is where the government buildings are.There isn't the garish flash of advertising here but the architecture is still impressive. We pass Tokyo Station, a legendary and historical train station. Over 100 years old, it has witnessed the assassinations of two Japanese Prime Ministers and endured the American bombing raids of WWII which destroyed parts of it. It has survived and continues to be one of the busiest rail stations in Japan. Truly, everywhere we go there is something interesting to see.
The venue is called Shin-Kiba 1st Ring. It is a venue used by a variety of independent professional wrestling promotions. That's right, tonight we are playing a wrestling show. Its an event called Genocide Fest and features several "deathmatch" style bouts. For the uninitiated, deathmatch wrestling is like "extreme" or "harcore" wrestling in the states, only even more violent. Tonight's matches will include barbed-wire clubs and beds of bamboo spikes. In between the matches are scheduled punk and metal bands including the legendary Japanese band Abigail.
I walk around the venue to check it out. The set up here is not unlike American wrestling shows. There is a stage to one end that serves as the entrance way for the wrestlers. A runway leads to the ring which dominates the center of the room Bleachers line the opposite side. I try to gauge how we will be set up onstage and realize the bands are regulated to one side. It's gonna be a tight squeeze, an area smaller than most club stages we play. Also tonight I will be forced to use a Marshall amp. I don't necessarily mind, I just am not familiar with them. I wont have sufficient time to dial in my sound properly.
There is a ceremonial opening to the wrestling card which we are asked to participate in. All the wrestlers and band members are given small plastic balls which we customize with markers to include our name and some sort of personal message. I don't catch what the significance of this is other than we are to toss them to the audience when cued. We then are given sashes to wear with our names written in Japanese on one siide and band name on the other. We nervously fidget to ensure we are wearing them correctly and then head towards the entrance way to the ring. We are instructed to go last as we are the headlining band and guests of honor. Jeff has been designated as the one to make the "grand proclamation" opening the event. When we walk out the entire spectacle is surreal. People chant Jeff's name. We are taken by this. He makes the opening proclamation and everyone toss the balls to the audience.
We return backstage. Shootmaster aren't playing this show however their singer is also a wrestler and appears in the opening match. I go to the stage and watch peeking from the entrance way. His match was the traditional old-school type. They set up some comedic spots that includes one guy baring his ass and knocking guys over with it. It's silly fun. There is also a women's tag-team match. Unlike the States where women's wrestling has only recently earned legitimate respect, Japanese wrestling has long featured women on equal billing with the men. There are shows here of nothing but women's wrestling. Tonight's show also features and man against a woman. These are all on the undercard before the deathmatch bouts.
I only watch a bit of the other matches. Jeff loves this stuff. He's been a fan since he first acquired tapes back in the early 90's. This style of hardcore deathmatch wrestling is a gruesome spectacle. Personally for me it's hard to watch. People are actually torn to pieces with barbed-wire and spikes. It's kinda like going to see a magician and he actually saws the lady in half just to heighten the legitimacy of his act. I notice one wrestler's back. Its a scarred mess of rip rap flesh. I wonder how much money he has earned doing that to himself. In the end it's entertaining in its own shock value, a transgressive take of stylized violence that defies you to witness it.
The schedule runs long and soon bands are playing as the matches take place. Or maybe it was scheduled this way on purpose, I don't know. As headliners we won't play until all the wrestling is over. I wonder how many people will stay and watch us. When I walk out onstage I'm happy to see most everyone has left the bleachers and have crowded down in front of the stage. We tear into the set and the place erupts. They are seriously into it, more so than either of the previous shows. People slam dance and stage dive. We are cramped on our tiny corner of the stage but it only adds to the intensity. I go full aggro, perhaps the most aggro performance I've given since joining. The Marshall sounds like shit and I manage to knock my cables lose a couple if times but it doesn't deter or throw us off point. I fix my shit and jump back into the fray. It isn't the tightest set but it certainly is the most intense. Soon Jeff is a bloody mess, rivaling the wrestlers from earlier. We speed thru this set with an unsettling urgency. It's our last show here and we mean to leave an impression.
After the show Milly finds me and tells me this was her favorite show of the three. She tells me I played very aggressive, more than I had previously. I admit that it was an effort to match her own performance. She seems taken by the compliment. It's not bullshit and she knows it. She is amazing performer, as is everyone in Ryuketsu. They set the bar pretty high and we had to really deliver. It wasn't competitive, it's just everyone gave their all. It's the right way to do things. Bring it like you mean it - otherwise you're just wasting everyone else's time. They bring it.
Today is Clayton's birthday. The promoters surprise him with a cake and everyone sings Happy Birthday. I can tell he's genuinely moved by this gesture. After we pack up we are driven to another restaurant for one last gathering. We drive thru Tokyo and again are amazed at all the scenery. It's like Las Vegas amplified a thousand times over. We lean out the windows with our phones capturing as much of it as we can. We finally arrive to the restaurant and take over a corner. Here you order your food on a touch-screen menu and it is delivered to your table. We are served endless skewers of beef, chicken and fish. Keiko persuades me to have a beer, insisting to "party!"
Juda gives Jeff a birthday present which he has thoughtfully taken the time to have nicely gift-wrapped. Jeff opens it to find a cool resin statue of an Ultraman character. Jeff has been a fan of Ultraman all his life. He even has Ultraman tattoos. This gift is really perfect. I can tell Jeff is a pretty overwhelmed by everything that has been happening. I mean, we all have been overwhelmed on this this trip but for Jeff to be here in the country he most wished to visit, doing and seeing the things he most wanted to do and see - and on his birthday no less - it's clearly affecting him deeply.
We hang out long and late. We are having a lot of fun however there is underlying sense of melancholy. After tonight it's gonna be over. We hang out probably longer than we should given we have to up early. We don't want this to end. Eventually we get ready to leave. Everyone follows us to our vehicle to see us off. They continue waving goodbye as we pull away.
By the time we get back to the hotel and shower, it's almost 3am. I still have to pack up. We have a little bit of extra stuff now, mostly t-shirts. We all will have to tote an extra small bag to handle it all. I pack my stuff pretty easily but I fall asleep to the scuffling sound of Gooch still stuffing his bags...
TRIP HOME - Nov 19
I had set my alarm for 9am but Gooch set his for 8. Oh well. Today is gonna be a long one. When we all finally go down to the lobby we surprised to be greeted by all the members of Ryuketsu Blizzard as well as Mutuwo from Shootmaster and photographer Keiko. They've all made time in their schedules to come here on a cold Monday morning to say goodbye one last time and see us off. I think we are all deeply impressed by this gesture of kindness.
Soon we are locked amid the rush hour traffic in Tokyo as we slowly wind our way to the airport. This is our last opportunity to see the city. As we snake along I wonder what everyday life must be like here. Everyone seems to posses a dedicated work ethic and operate with an efficiency that makes it look seemingly effortless. I'm reminded of the old maxim "work smart, not hard". Everything seems smart here. Even the traffic moves with deliberate purpose amid its own congestion. We finally arrive at the airport, unload our bags and saunter towards our gate. Sexy walks with us. We find our line say our final goodbye to the guy who has chauffeured and chaperoned us most. He starts to walk away only to suddenly run back and snap a few last pictures.
Now we are into the unpleasantness of travel. For some reason there is a snafu obtaining our boarding passes. I don't know what the issue is but we wait it out as several different ticket agents try to sort it out. Finally we are given our passes and we our on our way. Once again we have to connect in Shanghai. By the time we arrive its already getting dark again. For some reason we disembark onto the tarmac. I recall movies like Elvis On Tour and The Song Remains The Same, watching bands descend out of a jet and leaping into waiting limos. We load into a over-crowded shuttle bus and I don't feel like Led Zeppelin.
We reach the terminal and are greeted by the gray, dour faces of a populace beaten down by bureaucracy. There are Americans that aspire for this misery, which is inexplicable to me. Whatever. We make our way thru the security checkpoints quickly and find ourselves the next gate over from the one we came thru on the way in. I can't connect to the wi-fi here. Typical. I get an orange Fanta hoping for the same style drink we had in Europe but no such luck. It's the same as the States. I bum a sleeping pill from Jeff just before we board. It works - I sleep the majority of the flight over, waking about two hours before we land at JFK.
Upon landing we sit on the tarmac for about eighty minutes without explanation. It doesn't really matter - our layover here is about eight hours. It's about 10 pm and our flight isn't until 6:30am. I'm surprised to discover how dead JFK is at night. I figured the hustle and bustle of the airport would run wide-open 24/7. Nope. Aside from a few arrivals around midnight the entire place grinds to a dull halt. We can't get thru security until 4am and then wait it out at the gate. By now I'm swimmy headed, over-tired and anxious to get the hell back home. From a distant TV I can hear the voice of the late Anthony Bourdain and smile to myself. I've heard his voice in my head narrating this entire trip.
HOME - Nov 20
Our final leg of the journey strangely feels longest. The sun rises and blinds me thru the tiny windows of the plane. For once I wish people would close the shades. A girl in the seat directly across the aisle from me wears a hat that reads ASS MAN and sips a morning cocktail as she doodles in a sketchbook. It's as close to in-flight entertainment as I'm gonna get. The plane bobs and bumps along the clouds before finally making our approach. We march out into the terminal and head to a currency exchange. Counting my money I figure this trip has cost me about $38.
Gooch and I share a cab ride back to my car and I drive him home. Afterwards I make a direct trip to the nearest Bojangles...
The folks at Vinyl Junkie really went above and beyond ensuring that everything went smoothly and I think it's safe to say this was the smoothest, most well put-together trip this band has ever experienced. I'd be remiss not to acknowledge their hard work in putting this all together and pulling it off. They've provided us with the trip of a lifetime, something we shall never forget.
Way back when I first started to travel with the band I briefly thought I was going to be able to go along with them on their first trip to Europe. I don't remember what the snafu was but I didn't get to go. I was disappointed but not angry. I was genuinely excited to see the boys go on their first international tour. It was the culmination of all the years of work they had put in to that point. They then extended that tour with a full cross-country tour of the US, which I also was unable to go on. Looking back, I'm sorta glad I didn't because when they came back they very nearly broke-up. I believe the drummer at the time quit very soon after. See, touring is tricky business, particularly for a band at this level. Although there are people like booking agents and promoters that are doing a sizable mount of legwork to help organize and advertise, there are also still things that are very much DIY. So it isn't like a vacation. There's always work involved. Amid the otherwise enjoyable part of playing shows and meeting cool people there is also the stress of daily finances, logistics and travel. I mean, sure, it ain't rocket science and it clearly beats punching the clock at your straight job - but it can sometimes drain interpersonal relationships within the framework of the band.
Really, its yet another testament to the resolve and strength of character that Jeff Clayton and Joe Young possessed. I've seen other bands implode over far less than ANTiSEEN has endured. They've experienced every set-back, pratfall, put-down, betrayal and road block imaginable over their thirty year partnership and survived it all. And believe me, I would know. I've had a front row seat for a lot of it. Hell, I've even been responsible for some of it. But the band has absorbed it all without defense - that which does not kill you makes you stronger, right? So this trip was something Jeff earned the hardest of hard ways. He deserved it and it was as fun watching him enjoy it as it was for me to enjoy it myself.
Anyhow at this point I can't help but harbor some sense of guilt. These opportunities are afforded me from the work others put in long before I ever joined. I try not to think about it too much other than acknowledge what others might be critical of. My answer is simply that this has far less to do with me or my contribution than it does the band as a whole. If anybody wants to hate on my participation that's their prerogative. Meanwhile I've got a job to do.
And I think I do a pretty good job.