Thursday, 20 January 2011

Super Great! Welcome To The Cheap Seats

I saw this on a truck ages ago but I didn't have enough time to stop and take a snap. While the guy was unaware sleeping behind the wheel, I stealthily moseyed up with my iPhone and took a quick one. Yay!

Apt to this title, I was feeling "super great" when on Monday I snapped up cheap tickets to both Sting's "Symphonicity" (17th Jan), and Mary J. Blige's "Music Saved My Life" (20th Jan) tour.

When Sting came to Japan last with the reformed Police, I was kicking myself for missing out on what would've likely been a last chance event. I've never seen him before live, and with an orchestra my interest was more than piqued.

The tickets were listed at 12,000 yen. I thought the orchestra was an interesting gimmick. Sting's material suits an orchestra quite well, particularly "Russians" and "Fields of Gold". The rockier songs made the orchestra seem a little redundant though. While the mix was extremely clear, I'm sure he could do a concert like this with keyboards filling out the sound perfectly well.

His singing was top notch. When singers that have been around as long as he has, you always wonder if they've lost the magic. Sting's still got it. His backing singer on the other hand, didn't quite "wow" me. She sang good enough, but her movements seemed a little overdramatic for me. Speaking of drama, did we REALLY need to have couple dancing for "When We Dance"? OK, I get it. Where's the cheese?

The guitarist pulled some great tone from his Les Pauls. Listening to the recordings I never suspected they were Gibsons.

Our seats were practically right at the back of the (legendary) Budokan (actually 2nd last seat). I shouldn't have expected that much for the price I paid. At times I looked at the stage and thought, "Is it really him down there?" He did an almost 3 hour set, so you can't say it wasn't worth it. Definitely a Symphonicity show to catch.
I have to say that before I bought the ticket, I wasn't a big fan of Mary J. Blige. In fact most R'n'B leaves me quite a bit "meh" with its sameness. Listening to her setlist before we went didn't change my mind on this. Her most recognisable classic song is "Family Affair", which undoubtably brought the house down.

Tonight she owned this crowd. Ms. Blige definitely knows how to work the room. If there wasn't a person moving, that person would not have a pulse. There was some serious booty shaking going on. Oh, and I loved her "lightsaber" mic stand. Very cool!

Unlike someone other R'n'B "acts", the tight backing band weren't hidden, and the backing dancers weren't onstage outstaying their welcome either.

I didn't get the chance to see Whitney Houston, but from what I've heard of her lacklustre performance, Mary J. has the well-deserved Queen's crown of R'n'B. She did short versions of a lot of the songs but her set was close to two hours, so I guess she had to do that to fit as much of her repertoire in!

The JCB Hall is a smaller room than the Budokan so our seats were much closer to the stage making it a much more satisfying experience. I didn't like how we were "obliged" (meaning "HAD TO") buy a 500 yen drink on entry. What's up with that? We didn't have to do that when we saw John Mayer in the same venue.

Check her out, even if you aren't a fan. This is a great show.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Usually Wednesday is my Yokohama day.

Coming back to work on the first day I was instead stationed at Kinshicho. I often pass by this station. It's a very active area, although there aren't too many shops to my liking. How do I judge that? No UFO catcher arcades, or guitar shops.

One great thing about coming here is that I get the chance to take some pictures of the Tokyo Sky Tree. Last time I came here it was 398m high. Today it's already up to 539m.

Like before there are still many people watching it's progress. I've even saw tour groups! There was a strategically placed Sky Tree cafe along the main road, so there's no shortage of people looking to cash in on it's location.

Even though it's not completed yet, the main structure is quite visible with only the last 100m of spire/antenna left to go. As well the neighbouring building is taking shape.

Passing by on the train everyone always checks out its progress, including me.

Won't be long till it's finished.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Price Off! Off! Off!

We made our way to Yokohama a second time these holidays.

Often Ishibashi has 10% off sales on it's used music gear, and this weekend I put on hold a very new Ibanez floral Jem. Before I was planning to buy it, I had to try it out, so that's why we went out to this part of town. I love Yokohama though. So it's not like I need an excuse to be here.

I found the shop that sold the Korean snacks that I got as my secret santa present at the Yokohama Christmas party. I don't know what these are called but they taste like heaven. Best way to describe it is sweet and spicy. I'd give the link to their website, but it brings up a malware warning, so maybe that's not such a good idea.

Before we went there we walked over to Minato Mirai, towards the red brick warehouse. Something that is really cool there is a temporary outdoor skating rink, Artrink. It'll be there until the 28th of February. Entry is 500 yen (adults), and 500 yen for skate hire. What a great idea! All I need to do is learn to skate.

We've walked along the Osanbashi pier area before, but I thought it was a restricted area leading onto the freeway. It's actually a port terminal for cruise ships! This time there were two cruise liners docked, so we had a closer look this time. From underneath it looks like an airport terminal, but you can walk along the roof which resembles waves. It was very cold and windy. I think this'd be a good place to come during the day.

We were thinking of walking to Yokohama's Chinatown, but it was getting late, so were headed back towards Yokohama station.

So what about that guitar? I got cold feet. (I heard my mother's voice). To be honest I like the original 80s floral design a whole lot better, AND there was another one on my mind too, so I hesistantly (after trying for a further discount) let it go. Saved yet again.

We had a Gyu Kaku dinner before heading back home.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Valve Pack

I don't really have to mention when the coffee runs out, but I picked this up in Yamaya today. The only reason I chose it was because it was the cheapest one to get.

Only later did I notice the typo, "Valve pack".

As a guitar player with a preference for tube/valve sound, I thought this was pretty funny. And wouldn't you know it, this coffee actually tastes pretty good. If you're like me and prefer moka pot coffee to instant coffee, keep a look out for the kanji 粉 ("kona"), or else you'll get coffee beans, meaning you'll have to get a bean grinder, and if you get a manual one it's a real pain to use every time you want a cuppa.

Mmm.. コーヒー

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Open House - Imperial Palace & Meiji Jingu

Most days it was extremely difficult getting up before midday. Some days it was something crazy like 2:30pm. With the constant rain around my hometown I would've probably slept most days there too. An expensive sleep!

Since I was hanging around Tokyo this year, I thought I should experience what Japanese people do this time of year.

It was WAY too cold to go to a shrine to ring a bell on New Year's Eve, so instead why don't we go to the most fricken busy shrine there is, Meiji Jingu instead! While we were at it, the Emperor opens the Imperial Palace to greet everyone a happy new year.
I expected the Palace area to look a bit more lavish. They gave us all paper Japanese flags, and once the royal family came out everyone waved theirs excitedly while yelling out, "Banzai!" They had sessions almost hourly throughout the day. It was crowded, but not as much as I expected. I enjoyed getting frisked by the female security. What was that bulge in my pocket? My wallet :(

There're plenty of shrines to welcome in the New Year, but it seems like the whole population of Tokyo chooses Meiji Jingu. I realized it's been three and a half years since I've was here last. Wow. Time has passed so quickly!

During this time I had mochi (rice cakes). I'm pretty sure I've had it before, but it's a traditional thing to have to welcome in the new year. It's also tradition for many people to die choking, eating the sticky cakes. This year's toll was six. A not so happy new year to them. It's also year of the rabbit. I'm hoping with that, certain areas of my life pick up a little.

Giddy up!