December 22, 2007. Everywhere was busy with Christmas shoppers and people trying to finish their work before New Year’s. While all the action seemed to be taking place around Tokyo, I took the late afternoon Shinkansen to get out of Tokyo, and found myself an hour later in Takasaki, the southernmost city of the Gunma Prefecture. There was a very good reason for this half-day roundtrip to a city I had never been in before – MERRY’s live at the Takasaki CLUB FLEEZ, a popular live house that many famous bands have played at before.
After confirming with the very helpful officers on duty at the police box to make sure I wasn’t completely lost, I arrived at Takasaki CLUB FLEEZ, an underground live house with a lit up sign on the outside and a flyer taped to it: “MANY MERRY DAYS #3: MERRY.” Suppressing my excitement, I entered the vicinity to find myself surrounded by highly energized fans whose anticipation seemed to keep each other out of the cold December winds.
I was let in to a slightly blocked off area reserved for family members, acquaintances, and industry people, but that did not promise a good view of the stage, as it was only a step or two higher than the “floor.” As I tried to find the most comfortable position to stand on my tip toes so I could see more of the stage, the lights darkened at exactly 6:00PM, and the crowds’ cheering got louder and louder. Applauding to the rhythm of the first track of their latest album, M.E.R.R.Y.’s “M.E.R.R.Y. MARCH,” the fans’ cheers filled the live house as each of the members of MERRY made their appearances: NERO, TETSU, KENICHI (wearing sunglasses despite the dimly lit venue), YUU, and finally, GARA.
All dressed in a black and red theme except for GARA’s purple scarf, the members went to their usual positions – from left to right, KENICHI, TETSU, NERO/GARA, then YUU – and the intro to “UTAGOE KISSA ‘MODERN’” started to play. GARA climbed up the podium set directly in front of him, holding a small antique clock, and started to sing, officially welcoming the audience to MERRY’s “singing cafe.” “SAIHATE NO PARADE” and “DEKIAI NO SUISOU” followed, which to the latter song the audience excitedly yelled out “Pinky fish!” during the main chorus. As the last note of the song finished, the instrumental track “PEEP ♂ HOLE” played to a screaming crowd, and the members took a short break onstage.
After about a minute, GARA magically pulled out a tambourine and the song “HARAISO” started playing. As the crowd sang along during the chorus, the members played with more enthusiasm. When the song came to a stop, the lights darkened again and NERO’s drumming was accompanied by an eerie red light that covered the stage – “BINIBON NICHO-ME YACHIYOKAN” washed over the audience erotically, with the members bouncing at times to the rhythm. On a streak of seductive songs, the next song “SEINEN HIMITSU KURABU” opened with NERO’s solid drumming and YUU’s enchanting guitar. TETSU’s bass play was remarkably filled with energy. Weaved by unusual guitar riffs and bass line, the song led the audience deeper and deeper into the wickedly sexy world of MERRY.
“PEEP ♀ HOLE” played to a blue stage light and the crowd screamed just like the last time and patiently waited for the next song, “BLIND ROMANCE” to begin. KENICHI finally removed his sunglasses, revealing his barely made-up face. As GARA’s singing filled the live house with longing for love, the yellow light lit from behind NERO’s back and the dry ice smoke covering the stage set the backdrop for “TASOGARE RESTAURANT. The next two songs “HINODECHO-, MACHIKADO TSUNDERERA ~ Episode 2nd Platform~,” played in a very jazzy manner, and “LULULU LALALA” which even had NERO singing along, wrapped up the softer, more romantic portion of the night.
The next segment was one that everyone has been waiting for: GARA’s calligraphy. Although GARA has been known to have started actually talking during certain MCs, his calligraphy is one of the trademarks of MERRY’s live performances. Tonight’s writing: “Genki desuka? Tanoshinde ne! Kyou ha ikkyoku demo ooku yaritaina. Yoroshiku!” (How are you? Please enjoy! We would like to play as many songs as possible tonight. Thank you!”
“COQ D’OR MAMA” started the second half of the live, followed by “POESY,” a fast tempo track accompanied by flashing, colorful lights. “MEISAI NO SHINSHI” was finger-licking good, as GARA attested to it. The audience’s excitement was incredible; the crowd sang in unison and the male audience in front of me was excitedly dancing to the beat. The heated live house was not about to cool down; the upbeat “CHARLIE” was brought to a climax as GARA striped off his top, musically and visually seducing the audience.
Then came the usual second MC of the night, conducted by NERO, who calmly and coolly pulled out a comb from his pocket and started brushing his hair. He thanked the audience for coming tonight to the last show of MANY MERRY DAYS #4 in the Kantou region… except that the live tonight was #3. To a laughing audience, he quickly corrected himself and went on to pump the audience up for more of MERRY tonight, starting with “LOST GENERATION.” This fast number definitely had the crowd pumped up, and KENICHI and YUU switched sides during guitar solos so they could interact with more fans.
MERRY was showing no sign of slowing down. As the intro to “JAPANESE MODERNIST” rocked the house with TETSU’s solid, powerful bass and NERO’s fast drumming, the crowd’s shout was not to be defeated. The end of “JAPANESE MODERNIST” transitioned smoothly into “SWEET POWDER,” which brought on a singing crowd, and YUU’s remarkable harmonization. Finally, after 17 numbers, MERRY performed the last official number of the night, “ORIENTAL BL CIRCUS,” a fun and fast tempo track written by NERO that is filled with “oriental” colors.
As the members exited the stage, NERO taking the giant MERRY flag with him, I checked my watch: 7:30. The crowd had not had enough of MERRY; the encore-call promptly started when NERO’s back disappears into the backstage. After five whole minutes, the members reemerged with different, simpler shirts. Having assumed their positions again, encore 1 started with “YELLOW GIRL,” “VIOLET HARENCHI,” then “AIKOKU KOUSHINKYOKU,” at the end of which GARA yells out “BANZAI!” with the crowd shouting after him, and NERO making a big “O” signifying that the crowd did good. The band stepped off the stage once again.
Another five minutes of encore-calls passed by. By this time I was really impressed with the MERRY fans’ determination. The band appeared again to a still excited crowd, with MERRY tour t-shirts and a make-up-less GARA. They went on to play “LAST SNOW” to a soft white light and a clapping audience, and “KOMOREBI GA BOKU WO SAGASHITERU…” The members of MERRY stepped off for the third time at about 8:05PM, and reemerged three minutes later, with GARA holding a banana in his hands. The last two songs of the night, “YASASHISA KID” and “T.O.P.” were being played with the same energy as if the live has just started. Suppressing a girly laugh, I watch as GARA opened his fly to poke the banana through the opening. Smiling like a naughty kid, he pulled it out, peeled it, smiled and ate it. As the icing on the cake disappeared into GARA’s mouth, I made up my mind to attend a MERRY live again whenever I get the chance.
At quarter past eight, the live came to a conclusion. As the crowd gradually dispersed for the night, I waited patiently as the manager led me to the gakuya (backstage studio) in preparation to interview the band. We finally sat down to a corner of the live house, and as YUU and KENICHI sipped away at their cold beers, I started on the second objective of the night: our interview.
JRR: Do you have any plans to go overseas in 2008?
YUU: We haven’t really planned for it, but if we have the opportunity, we’d like to go.
JRR: After you performed at JRR Festival 1, you stated in other interviews that because it was a festival and not a one-man live, you were uncertain of the full effect of MERRY on the American audience.
YUU: Before we went to America, we had performed in Germany; the feeling of performing there and in America, participating in a festival, was pretty alike, so…
JRR: Are there any differences between the European fans, American fans, and Japanese fans?
YUU: In general, the European and American fans are very similar; but the overseas fans are definitely very different from Japanese fans.
KENICHI: The overseas fans are a lot more passionate than the Japanese fans. We didn’t do much but they were still very responsive.
YUU: And they sure knew how to make noise!
KENICHI: I think it’s a cultural thing; it’s a free country and they don’t worry about how others look at them. They got to act however they felt. It really was an experience.
YUU: On the other hand, they must be amazed by how the Japanese fans all do the same furitsuke. The overseas fans and Japanese fans act pretty differently in that aspect.
JRR: Which countries are you interested in visiting next time?
KENICHI: England. It’s where The Beatles are from, right? To me, England is the holy Mecca for rock music.
YUU: (Laughs) It would be nice to perform with the British bands.
JRR: MERRY’s music seems to have a lot of jazz elements. Are you interested in seeing American jazz musicians perform?
YUU: Well, MERRY’s not really jazz-based, we are jazz-ish. We probably can’t make real jazz music, nor do we want to. The jazzy-feel is just one of the elements that we use.
KENICHI: We are a mixture of different genres. MERRY is jazz-ish; if we were completely jazz then it wouldn’t be MERRY anymore.
JRR: Having a unique retro sound fused with rock which you coined “retrock,” do you find your fan base to be of certain age groups?
YUU: Our fan base is really diverse; there are people in their late teens, people in their twenties, and moms who bring their kids to come to our shows. There is a wide age range. Recently we’ve noticed that there are more and more male fans.
JRR: Yes, there were male fans tonight that were really excited throughout the show.
KENICHI: We’re very happy to have male fans.
JRR: Would you like to do a male audience-only live one day?
KENICHI: We’d love to try. It’d have to be at a smaller live house, though. (laughs)
YUU: Yeah… we’d have to start with small live houses.
JRR: Is tonight’s live house considered small or average?
YUU: Out of all the places we are touring this time, the TAKASAKI CLUB FLEEZ is about average size. Not too big, not too small. But the stage is quite low so the people in the back probably couldn’t see very well. There’s a slight level change, so people in the front on the higher platform could see, but not the ones in the back.
JRR: Do you prefer to play at larger live houses?
KENICHI: I like the small ones, because we are closer to the audience and we can feel their passion better.
YUU: I like both. We can hear the audience’s voices better at the smaller ones; yet the bigger live houses feel more open and feel good, too.
JRR: So The Wiltern Theatre was considered a bigger venue?
KENICHI: Although it was big, we were still able to feel the audience’s passion, I thought it was great.
YUU: They even did the MERRY-call (chanted the band’s name).
KENICHI: Everyone was loud.
JRR: This is my first time visiting Takasaki, Gunma prefecture. KENICHI is from Gunma, right?
KENICHI: Yes, Gunma is my home prefecture.
JRR: How does it feel to play at your home prefecture?
KENICHI: Umm… yeah… how should I say it. (Laughs) It feels quite different compared to other times.
JRR: Is your home town close to here?
KENICHI: No, it’s a distance away, but I’ve played at this venue before, in the early days of my band career.
JRR: Do you have a lot of memories here?
KENICHI: This wasn’t the location before so… But the fans in Gunma are very passionate.
YUU: We’ve played at this venue several times already; it does have a homey feel to it. Our vocalist GARA is also from Gunma, so it’s a double.
JRR: Will you go visit your parent’s home after this?
KENICHI: No, I will visit them for New Year’s.
YUU: Oh you are?
JRR: YUU is from Ehime prefecture, right? Will you go back home for New Year’s?
YUU: No. I had just gone back recently during this tour, and I’ll be busy at the end of the year so.
JRR: What’s special about Gunma prefecture?
KENICHI: Well… although I grew up in Gunma, I don’t really know much about it (laughs).
JRR: If your overseas fans were to visit Japan and decide to come to Gunma, how would you describe Gunma to them?
KENICHI: There’s a lot of mountains (laughs). And they aren’t the tallest mountains either, just kind of midway (laughs).
JRR: Is there anything you can only do in Gunma?
KENICHI: Hmm… not really… but Daruma originates in Gunma.
YUU: You know what a Daruma is? The red thing…
JRR: Yeah… the thing that doesn’t tip over right?
KENICHI: I think that’s about it.
JRR: What about any local foods?
KENICHI: Hmm… torimeshi. It’s so delicious.
JRR: What’s in it?
KENICHI: It’s like in a bentou box, with chicken over a bed of rice, exactly what the name indicates (laughs)
JRR: What about Ehime?
YUU: Mikan. Oranges.
JRR: Do you like oranges?
YUU: Yes. My parents would send me boxes of oranges; this time they also sent me a large box.
JRR: Did you eat all of it by yourself?
YUU: I shared with all the staff on tour; and in the end we still had some left over so we just distributed them to the fans who were waiting outside after the live in Mita. The oranges wouldn’t have lasted any longer so…
JRR: Are there any sight-seeing spots?
YUU: Matsuyama-jou (Matsuyama Castle).
JRR: What are your plans for Christmas?
YUU: Some of us are going to LUNA SEA’s live. But we will be on the road again on Christmas day.
JRR: Where is the next live?
YUU: Matsuura in Mie. The beef there is delicious.
JRR: On your blog, when your newest album M.E.R.R.Y. was released, you wrote an entry that was titled “M.E.E.R.Y…”
YUU: Oh yeah… the spelling, right? (laughs)
JRR: Yes… do you plan to change it, or you cannot go back to change it?
YUU: I can change it, but I feel that, if I change it, I’d have admitted defeat (laughs).
KENICHI: Defeated by what? (laughs)
JRR: So now it’s pronounced as “Mee-ri.”
YUU: Yeah… Think of it as a charm, don’t let it bother you (smiles)
JRR: MERRY has participated in the LUNA SEA Tribute Album this time with the song PRECIOUS. Did you select the song, and why?
YUU: Yes we chose the song ourselves. We felt that we can best present MERRY’s style with this song, and it was probably the easiest for us to re-arrange into MERRY style. All of LUNA SEA’s songs are very complete and well done, so there was very little we could do.
JRR: What are you aiming to do in 2008?
YUU: Hmm… we will have our biggest live yet for the tour finale, at the YOKOHAMA TAIIKU BUNKAKAN. Before that, we will be doing the #4 (sharp 4) TOUR, so we would like to present the completed tour with a crescendo. We haven’t had the time or energy to think about what will come afterwards.
KENICHI: As far as lives go, we’ve had a few opportunities recently to perform with other senpai (senior) bands, and I thought they all have very strong presence, so I would like to work on that and make my stage presence stronger. I don’t know if I can actually achieve that, but I would like to be able to achieve that starting with the #4 TOUR.
JRR: What about YUU? Are you going to get more cats?
YUU: (laughs) No… I won’t get more cats.
JRR: Is HIMEMARU a girl?
YUU: Yes… recently she’s gotten quite chubby. She’s overweight now.
JRR: Oh really? I have a cat too, American short hair, and she’s quite chubby now too.
YUU: Oh, American Shorthairs are pretty.
JRR: Yes. The cats are probably chubbier now because of the weather? Maybe they’re storing the fat in their body to stay warm, like fish?
YUU: (Laughs) Probably, makes sense. In 2008, I’d like to be more selfish. I’d like to do what I feel like doing.
JRR: For example?
YUU: At lives, and also in my own life, etc.
JRR: Lastly, could you give a message to your overseas fans?
YUU: We really liked the energy of the American fans, it’s something that we don’t see much here in Japan; and we would definitely like to go over there again. Please wait for us.
KENICHI: I really enjoyed doing the live over there, and would love to go again, so if you would like to see us again, let your voices be heard and we will be there. Thank you!
After thanking the two of them for this wonderful interview opportunity, I bid farewell to the two guitarists who clearly deserved a nice, hot meal of torimeshi, perhaps. As I walked the quiet, lonely night street of Takasaki against the cold winter winds, tonight’s concert left me certain that I was at one of the hottest places possible in all of Japan.
Live report and interview by Christina
Edited by Krystal