Stumbling Through Japan: Arrival in Tokyo

EDITOR’S NOTE: I originally hand planned to write about this trip soon after I had taken it — in fact, the majority of this entry was written while I was actually on the trip. But the tried and true blogger excuse — I got busy (aka – I got lazy) — kicked in and whelp… here we are a year and a half later. (If there is some form of extreme blogger repentance I should be doing, please let me know.) I know that I have probably forgotten a lot of the details of the trip that I would have liked to remember — the exact feelings and thoughts that were running through my head at the time or the funny little things I had noticed — but I’m going to do my best to try to pound this sucker out… you know, for posterity.

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In April 2013, I took an amazing trip to Japan — all by myself. No friends or family to rely on, just me, my suitcase, and my pocket Japanese phrasebook. At the time I was in the midst of tending to the wounds of a recent heartbreak, and I needed to get out and do something that would force me to challenge myself.

My plane took off around around 12 noon from JFK on a 14 hour flight to Tokyo’s Narita Airport. I’ll admit, I was a little afraid I would go stir crazy, or the time would just drag on and on, but I actually found that the time flew by so fast, I hardly had time to sleep.

I flew ANA, which I had read was one of the best airlines to Japan, and rightly so. The food was fantastic — a healthy Japanese dinner (salmon, sushi rice, fruit salad, soba noodles, and a whole load of pickled things, with a miso soup and green tea AND a tiny carton of Hagan Daaz ice cream for dessert!) and a not-so-Japanese penne pasta with fruit for lunch.

The plane, a Boeing 777-300ER, was super comfy and modern – with multiple USB ports to charge devices, ample leg room, and cushy seats.

Spending the majority of my time listing to Japanese language lessons and music on my phone, it was only in the final hour or two of the flight that I finally cracked open the checked-out Rough Guide to Tokyo library book I had brought along. Whoops, so much for “planning on the plane ride”.

NOTE: I will pause here and report to you without remorse I pretty much played Maroon 5’s Overexposed album on repeat the entire time, with only a bit of the 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift’s Red, and my “Japan” Rdio playlist mixed in. When flying, I want the audial equivalent of Dipsy Doodles and mac ‘n’ cheese.

In hindsight, I will tell you, for me, the hardest thing about traveling in Japan was simply getting out of this airport:

Not shown: My look of utter confusion
Not shown: My look of utter confusion

I’m not kidding. It was probably a mix of jet lag and the barrage of unreadable Japanese words written on every backlit, glassy surface that spun me into a spiraling whirlpool of “HUH”? Never before and never since then have I ever been so confused as to how to even get OUT of an airport. I swear I must’ve spent at least two hours sorting through some mass confusion of locating the *correct* booth where bullet train tickets into the city were sold and hunting down my bank ATM. By the time I found the JR East office (where the issue the combo deal SUICA card + N’Ex pass), I saw this crazy line:

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I headed back up to the smaller booth for N’Ex passes only that was upstairs, only to find that they closed EXACTLY at 5pm (it was probably 5:02). Back downstairs to the dreaded line. Took FOREVER, and they wouldn’t issue JR Passes unless you were activating it that day due to “high volume”.

Safe and sound on the Narita Express or N’Ex, as the cool kids call it, I headed into Tokyo proper! From here on in the transport was pretty much smooth sailing. Not only was this train incredibly clean and modern, outfitted with comfy red stadium seating style seats, but it had awesome digital graphics in both Japanese and English that told you exactly what was going on and where you were:

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THIS HIGH SPEED TRAIN IS GOING TO SPLIT APART?!?! *Mind explosion*
THIS HIGH SPEED TRAIN IS GOING TO SPLIT APART?!?! *Mind explosion*

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Getting off Shibuya station, my taste of Tokyo was being plopped right into the classic Hachiko Square scramble crossing — neon signs hanging from every imaginable building surface, casting a other-wordly glow on the hordes of people walking every which way with shopping bags and briefcases in hand, shuffling through a pedestrian crosswalk that split in endless combinations. All the while cars impatiently waited for the light to turn green, seemingly ready to mow down anyone who dared to still be in the scramble once the vehicles regained control of the road. It was the equivalent of getting off in Times Square, during the theater rush, while on LSD, on Black Friday:

An accurate depiction of what it looked like through my jet lagged eyes at the time -- tree obstruction and all.
An accurate depiction of what it looked like through my jet lagged eyes at the time — tree obstruction and all.

Here’s a video (not mine) of what it’s like:

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Roseland Ballroom Is No More. Here’s Me, Not Shedding a Single Tear.

Today I read something shocking: Roseland Ballroom closed down for good last nightand people are sad about it!

I get it guys, we are all getting soft in our old age and love the nostalgic feelings we get thinking of our concert-going days of yore. But there is no way you will sucker me into a warm and fuzzy revisionist history of Roseland. (Next thing you know you will be trying to convince me that the horrible blue neon sign at Sin-e did NOT burn holes in your corneas when you accidentally looked at it.)

Look, I can’t vouch for what it was like there pre-2000, but based on my own personal memories and experiences at that place, I am pretty sure that ROSELAND BALLROOM WAS THE WORST VENUNE IN NEW YORK CITY. PERIOD. That place had horrible sight lines, terrible sound, and for some reason it always was full of mean frat boys who would spill beer on you. (Except for that one time I went to see David Gray with my friend Joe… then it was pleasantly filled with mellowed out DMB fans and lesbians.)

Do you want to know how I know this? Here are some examples from the archives re: dear ol’ Roseland:

May 2, 2006: Review of a Yeah Yeah Yeahs show:

Tonight’s Roseland show defo had more enthusiasm since many more people knew all the new songs, but the crowd was lame in that “Roselandy” way we are all too familiar. You know what I mean. Something about going to Roseland always brings out crazy dudes who just want to push little girls down to the ground. I saw two guys get into a fight as one guy was leaving. Seriously, who gets into fights just as they are about to go? Some drunk guy turned around, screamed at me and gave me a face full of his Jack and Coke scented breath as I walked out of the concert for no real reason. The wonderful Maxwell’s show it was not.

November 25, 2003: Post from the Little Room message board about a White Stripes show at Roseland:

Only towards the end did security stomp through the crowd and remove just 1 of the idiots. One poor girl had to be taken out of the crowd she was so banged up. Then during the encore, Jack announces they got 1 song left for us – It’s Boll Weevil.

They begin – and the crowd surfing has started to pick up. Jack tells Meg to stop. He says “We’ll just wait until this guy finishes (referring to a crowd surfer)”. Then he goes “So Everyone get their teenage angst out tonight?????!!!!!!” Of course he was being sarcastic but the idiots didn’t realize it. Bollweevil resumes. Then during a solo, that’s it. Jack has had enough. He throws down his guitar and leans over the stage and starts screaming at a crowd surfer. He gets back to Mic:

“I am sick of these Frat F*ckers crashing our gig! People are just trying to have a good time, not have some A**hole crash down on their neck!!!” He takes a breath. “And now the last verse, which is about myself”. And the show ends smoothly.

April 3, 2006: Describing the worst venue I’ve ever been to in the USA, the Electric Factory in Philly, in the only way I knew how:

I think it was a combo of the fact that the EF is the pit of hell (think of Roseland, but worse–luckily I was in the balcony.

So there you have it folks, I’m definitely not sorry to see that place go.

On a related note, congratulations to Terminal 5 – with Roseland no longer in the game, you now officially the worst venue in NYC!

IKEA Discontinues EXPEDIT Shelf; Offers Record Collectors KALLAX as an Alternative

When IKEA announced that the EXPEDIT bookshelf was being discontinued, devotees of the beloved storage system unleashed a torrent of disbelief across the internet.

The EXPEDIT is especially dear to record collectors, since its shelf dimensions are perfect for storing vinyl. Will record geeks be forced to spend money on custom shelving instead Vault subscriptions? Has IKEA pushed vinyl hoarders into a life of crime; striking America’s supermarkets in a spree of milk crate thievery?

Well, not quite. In order to quelch some fears, IKEA announced plans to replace EXPEDIT with a new, nearly identical bookcase called KALLAX. KALLAX looks very similar except for the fact its outer edge uses less wood, giving it a less hefty look. IKEA is quick to point out that even though the sides are thinner, the inner shelf dimensions will match that of the EXPEDIT.

IKEA EXPEDIT vs KALLAX

But why change the popular shelf in the first place? According to Gizmodo, it may have to do with IKEA’s desire to advance on their promise of sustainability.

The Swedish fast-furniture supplier accounts for 1% of the planet’s commercial wood usage, and likely sells tens of millions of EXPEDITs. Therefore shaving off an inch or two from EXPEDIT means less shelf, but it also means a lot more trees stay standing.

Although the EXPEDIT will be missed, you can’t really complain against saving a bit of forrest.

Purity Ring & Young Magic @ Webster Hall: January 11, 2013

I was very happy to have Purity Ring be my first concert of 2013 at their first stop on this leg of their American tour, at the NYC show at Webster Hall.

A lot has changed for the duo since the first time I saw them in 2011 at CMJ: At the start of 2012 they were signed by 4AD and Last Gang Records, and in July of that year they released their stellar debut album, Shrines.

The difference was even clear from their stage setup – still the same arrangement — “percussions” on the left side of the stage for Corin Roddick, and a bass-drum type instrument that singer Megan James occasionally beats — but this time suspended from the ceiling were creepy/ethereal light cocoons that would light up in sync with the music.

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The fact remains, everyone loves jazz hands!

The fact remains, everyone loves jazz hands!

The synth machine setup itself had gotten more elaborate, moving from a handy-man special of pipes and tubes, to a more sophisticated set of individual lanterns.

I’ve always been impressed by how no-nonsense and professional Purity Ring have been despite the band’s young age. As per usual, their show went off with not so much as a hitch — with Ms. James commanding the stage with her sweet, yet somehow powerful disposition. Diminutive in stature, with some of the tiniest hands I’ve ever seen, she often elegantly swiped her hand across the stage, as if to cast some sort of magical spell on the audience. When she wasn’t doing that, she’d sway up and down, ball-heeling herself to the beat, or grabbing a portable work light with a metal guard and holding it above and below her face for dramatic effect.

Purity Ring @ Webster Hall

They also performed a cover of Soulja Boy’s “Grammy” — giving the rap tune a totally new spin. Loved this version!:

Brooklyn band (and CMJ 2011 TMA fave) Young Magic also performed, although my enjoyment of their performance was severely hampered by the unbelievable bass-heavy sound system at Webster Hall, which literally had me dry heaving b/c my vocal cords were bouncing against one another with every surge of Young Magic’s drum machine. If you stand front and center at the main stage of that venue, and the band happens to be bass heavy, you are in for a world of pain. Every time a song would start and the bass kicked in, my stomach would hold on to the rest of my body for dear life. I kept thinking – “I don’t want to die at Webster Hall!” (Can someone, for the love of god, fix that sound system?)

Read more at: NYT, BV