Up until the 16th century, Japan lived in almost complete isolation from the west. Their external cultural influence was almost solely Chinese, assuring that by the time westerners visited the tiny island for the first time, their culture was well established and impervious. What did happen, and happens to this day, is that Japanese ingenuity led to the best parts of western culture being mimicked and absorbed into Japanese culture, increasing and exaggerating their effectiveness, and ultimately redefining them.
This can be seen very clearly in music, which follows the Japanese working method of taking what parts they like, and reconstructing them in a way only the Japanese could. Part of it is to mimic, and part of it is to rewrite, and the resulting effect is seldom short of baffling genius. The extreme becomes more extreme, the cute becomes cuter, and the bizarre becomes outright unfathomable.
Electric Eel Shock, a Tokyo band unknown in this country to all but rock 'n' roll aficionados and Japanophiles, sum up the eccentricities of Japan's take on western music. There was the drummer: stark naked bar a comically long, well-placed sports sock, toting a pair of drumsticks in each hand, placed in the ol' 'rock fingers' diablo-saluting position. The singer-guitarist: Flying V in hand, eyes maniacally wide, bonding with his audience through sheerly weird broken English (yet universal) statements such as 'I am bastard, are you bastards?'. The bassist: elegantly groomed and handsome, but with a glare so able to cut through human beings it prompted eerie recollections of a seemingly-meditating Shoko Asahara. All three were smiling, but in a way only the Japanese can - with the unnerving disregard of a kamikaze pilot.
It was stunning. Truly and utterly stunning. Spending as much time ringing out louder-than-bombs chords, and revving up the audience, Electric Eel Shock were performers of the highest order, blurring the lines between music and theatre with little more facial expressions. Sludgy, murky rock that belied the band being merely a three-piece raced from the PA and blanketed the crowd in an almost tangible fog of intensity. The music matched the people playing it… rock'n'cliché taken to a level so far it was alien and unique. Had this band not have been Japanese it would have all seemed contrived, but there was no doubting the sincerity of Electric Eel Shock, and it's safe to say there was no one watching them who weren't completely blown away.
Mach Pelican also display the very Japanese characteristic of mimicry taken to unusual lengths, though their attack is the polar opposite of Electric Eel Shock's. While EES are more about the moment and the physical presentation, Mach Pelican are more about the songs. In the same amount of time it took Electric Eel Shock to play five songs, Mach Pelican had lined up 15. Much like The Ramones, and the legions of bands borrowing heavily from them, Mach Pelican queued up track after track with the precision of a DJ fighting to avoid dead air… a 'wan two sree foah' count-in was all they needed. Brilliantly written in so much that they are timeless, Mach Pelican's songs are true works of art. They might be simple in their mathematics, but to write memorable melody after memorable melody is an enormous gift, and Mach Pelican's drummer/songwriter Toshi Maeda is far more gifted than most.
The band played songs new and old, and although the crowd sang along with the older, more familiar numbers, so immediately catchy are Mach Pelican's songs that even those being heard for the first time felt like weathered classics. A familiar selection of covers was updated to include a brilliant rendition of The Victims' Television Addict that further highlighted the impact Australian rock'n'roll and punk has had on these precious human imports, and all seemed well with Mach Pelican. Sporting one of the best bass players, and one of the best drummers you could hope to find, there is a much greater level of musicianship in Mach Pelican than they are given credit for, but even ignoring this and focussing solely on their penchant for three chord ditties, the band is amazing.
Again, had this have been three locals clad in leather jackets and baseball caps they would be something of a non-issue, but in true Japanese style Mach Pelican take the obvious and turn it into something far more peculiar. It's a wonderful thing to be an audience to.