OSAKA, Japan -- It would have taken a catastrophe for the Presidents of the United States of America to have had a bad show in Osaka. Strangely, that almost happened.
Guitar player Dave Dederer's amp blew with two songs left in the set last Thursday night at Osaka's Club Quatro. It was a catastrophe, however, not nearly on the scale of those this nation has encountered from time to time. The Earth's crust did not take it in mind to shift suddenly, and no large reptilian creature emerged from the Pacific to put a damper on the evening.
Even though the technical breakdown interrupted the show for a good four or five minutes, it seemed to go largely unnoticed. Finally, it was remedied by a large, dreadlocked Japanese techie. In the end, it might have felt briefly cataclysmic only to the three sons of Seattle doing their best to make a stage far from home a comfortable place.
Catastrophes aside, theirs was a predictable and sure-fire opening. If you were them and had a song in your repertoire called "Japan" with the refrain "Things will be rocking out of control when we hit Japan," when in the set would you play it? Duh! Well, these guys knew what they were doing when they took the stage, guitars wailing and all.
It seems that's all it took, from that point to the Chuck Berry closing cover, the audience was their putty. The small -- though not packed -- and sleek club, uniquely located on the top floor of a downtown department store was shaken by the bouncing of slightly over-enthusiastic J-youth. Being a New York boy, (here on an extended visit), I'm used to more skeptical receptions, and was taken somewhat aback by this Eastern-ended hysteria.
Still, it's obvious in more ways than live that the Presidents really get a kick out of playing Japan, let alone selling their records here. They recently released a collection of remixes exclusively to this market entitled Rarities. Not surprisingly, the set that night included all the tracks on it played with a detectable degree of appeal to Japanese sensibility.
Somehow, it seemed, they knew the crowd and gave them a show they could love -- a simple, almost folk-song-like appreciation of the mundane runs through the Presidents' songs.
This kind of thing is eaten alive in a country where surface flash distracts from simple, basic needs left unsatisfied. Delivered with infectious zest by bassist/ vocalist Chris Ballew, songs such as "Kitty," "Dune Buggy" and "Peaches:" momo no Utah (Japanese for Utah peaches -- like I said, they
know they're loved here), hath charms to soothe even the savage salaryman
(Japanese for businessman), though I don't think there were many of those
present. Just a guess.
This along with several comic interludes, doubtfully understood,
including the repetitious introduction of the slovenly but lovable drummer,
"Ladies and gentleman, smell him, love him, Mr. Jason Finn," made for an evening ripe with the kind of child-like fun that goes over big, big, big here. In fact, it almost helped me forget paying 1,000 Yen ($10) for 2 mugs of mediocre beer.
After the amp mishap, loosely filled by a funk divergence that never
quite jelled, the Presidents needed only to pull out the big gun that awaited and
everyone was ecstatic again. A cover of "Video Killed the Radio Star" was sung almost in unison by those in the pit (yes pit ... again the workings of over-enthusiastic J-youth).
To put the icing on a cakewalk evening, Ballew, at frequent points in the
show, picked up a fan, you know the Japanese kind used to cool yourself off, and walked about the small stage fanning his audience. Shouts of domo arigato (thank you very much) were fired back at him.
It was, unquestionably, an evening of mutual appreciation. Oh, and what about that amp?
Yeah, what about it. [Tues., Nov. 25, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]