At: Shinjuku Red Cloth, March 3, 2007
Line-up: Romanes/The Mighty Moguls/Kegawa no Maries/Nylon

Shinjuku Saturday night and the long crawl from West exit through Kabuki-cho. A wide trail of pleasure lovers and profit seekers gets in the way to NATURAL BORN ROCKERS night at the live house known as Shinjuku Red Cloth. Suddenly, a line of vintage scooters emerges from out of the velvety dark. Kids in skinny jeans and greasy hair stand around sucking on Marlboro Reds and guzzling Ebisu tall boys. This must be the place!

Inside, the Romanes—a three-piece female Ramones tribute band who mix up covers with familiar-sounding originals—are already on the stage doing their thing, slugging out 1-2-3-4 dum dum rawk. The look is vintage CBGB: leather jackets, stripey shirts, dirty sneakers. No one uses their real names, opting instead for monikers like “Johnny” (guitar), “Joey” (bass), and “C.C.” (drums). The Romanes play in town a lot and recently had their first CD come out on the Deckrec label. But this is the first time I’ve seen them and I’m forced to pass a quick judgment. The act is a bit of a gimmick and just on the other side of amateurish. But the girls, probably in their early twenties, look like they are having a blast. Maybe it’s a kind of gender-bending cosplay for people into old punk rock instead of anime. Still, there’s a reason why the Romanes are on the bill as the opening act …

Old time fixtures The Mighty Moguls are up next. They’ve ditched their usual caveman toga uniforms for a Louisiana Hayride look tonight: overalls and string ties. The Moguls play wild and primitive frat rock—with just a touch of rockabilly—better than just about anyone, and are blessed with one of the fiercest front women in the Tokyo garage scene: vocalist and bassist Miffy. She shrieks and wails her way through a set of greasy numbers that make the audience twist and shout, including a revelatory version of Disney’s “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” (sounds weird, I know, but the strange power of Japanese rock and roll make it work somehow). Usually a three-piece, the band has a special guest tonight in the guise of “Chucky” Nonaka, a long lost member of the band who adds some crazy electric piano to the set. The crowd loses control and it’s quickly becoming a big beery party in here … one that’s about to go supernova.

Kegawa no Maries stumbles on stage. The drummer, Fujio, is beefy, shirtless. On his head is an inappropriate afro. Lead singer Ryohei looks like a shaggy-headed stork someone put makeup on and stuffed into a white sailor suit. Bassist Hiroko burns cool in a leather Emma Peel meets Planet X catsuit. Kegawa no Maries’ music is more sleazy glam-punk than studied retro rock, which is a very good thing. Their studio-bound 2006 debut CD was a bit disappointing, but the band is all aces live. In between thrilling Stooges-meets-Stones numbers like “Lovedogs” and “Velvet Gold May,”

Ryohei gobbles the mic and makes borderline incoherent (but oddly sincere) statements like “I love women! They don’t care about politics or if something is cool or not! They just love cute things!” Their fans, mostly cute girls by no mean coincidence, eat it all up, while the boys can’t take their eyes off that dreamy bassist. The group looks and sounds great. Were it 1973, they’d be selling out stadiums. Still, for those in need of authentic rock gods during these most desperate times, Kegawa no Maries might just have the goods.

But the real monster comes roaring out of the cage for the final act. Nylon is a four-piece all-girl band from Osaka wearing matching Reservoir Dogs suits and ties. There’s no stage banter with this crew, or even time to breathe in-between bouts of their spastic, frantic, just-barely-melodic rock attack. All eyes focus on guitarist Shimano, a young lady seemingly possessed by the spirit of a young Pete Townsend. She doesn’t play guitar so much as it plays her via windmills, duck walks, crowd surfing, and blank-eyed voodoo spazz-outs. The rest of the band struggles to keep up with her, and there’s an element of “look at me too!” to the lead singer Meg’s performance. But it’s kind of hard to turn your attention away from the star attraction when Shimano leaps from the stage and onto the shoulders of a nearby spectator for a solo. Wait a second! That’s no mere spectator. That’s me!

Soon everyone spills out of Red Cloth sweaty, goggle-eyed, wanting more out of life. NATURAL BORN ROCKERS night did the trick. After a four-ring rock and roll circus, the remainder of this Shinjuku Saturday night seems positively tame by comparison. BACK TO TOP.

OTAKU USA. Copyright 2007.