Monday, April 25, 2011

I'm Too Ugly for MTV

The Beatoes
"I'm Too Ugly for M-TV" b/w "Unemployed Total Videoid Blues"
(UK Spud Records, Baltimore, 1986)

On the way out of Normals bookstore this past Saturday, Rupert pointed out this 1986 single by the Beatoes, the band representing the writing partnership of Chris Dennstaedt (Poverty & Spit) and the late, great Mark Harp (Mark Linthicum, aka "Harpo" and "Corky Niedermayer"). What a score! It was another release from UK Spud Records, the same label as my ex-band Thee Katatonix. (Insert sound of thunderous silence here.) The 45 sleeve was designed by Mark Harp and "Aziza" - the latter being ertswhile Katatonix chanteuse, keyboard player (and girlfriend) Aziza Doumani.

It seems that every time Amy and I drop by Normals, we find some trace of her ex-husband Mark Harp lingering there. In previous visits, I scored the Cabal LP (Harpo's band after Null Set - basically Null Set with a name change), while Amy scored Mark's Insane! CD. (Amy suspects that the three Art of Noise records we saw there were also probably from Mark Harp's vinyl collection, as he was a huge Art of Noise fan.) Among the many players listed on the back is Ceil Strakna (Boy Meets Girl, Big As a House), erroneously listed as "Ceil Stranka."

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mas Que Nada

Real Madrid: 2011 Kings of Europe?
Mas que un club ("More than a club") - FC Barcelona motto
Mas que nada - In Brazilian Portuguese slang: "Yeah, right!; in Spanish: "Better than nothing"

Royal Pain: Real Madrid hoists the 2011 Copa del Ray trophy

It pains me to say this, but I predict Real Madrid will win the 2011 Champions League final against Manchester United in an historic victory that will make Jose Morinho the first coach to ever win three European soccer crowns with three different clubs. I hope I'm wrong, but if I was a betting man, I wouldn't bet against it. And it pains me because I am an FC Barcelona fan through and through. Every night when I go running, I proudly don one of my three Barca jerseys (usually getting sympathetic car honks from cab drivers and only the occasional raspberry from Real Madrid or Man U detractors) as I pretend I'm Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta or Xavi Hernadez repeatedly running the length of the Camp Nou for a 5K jog.

But anyone who's a realist, anyone who's been following soccer lately has to admit it: Real Madrid may be second in La Liga (8 points behind Barcelona), but in everything else their current form is world-class. Even Barca coach Pep Guardiola agrees, admitting that the recent extra time loss to Madrid in the Copa Del Rey final and the 1-1 La Liga tie at the Bernabeu makes his team underdogs for the upcoming clash with their arch-rivals in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final meeting at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, April 27.

Barcelona may be "more than a club" (as in their motto, mas que un club), but they aren't more than human.

You got the silver: All that glitters isn't gold at Barca these days

Both sides were exhausted by the long and extremely physical Copa del Ray final, but Mourinho's "reserve" team - if one can call last year's leading Madrista scorer Gonzalo Higuain, Brazilian former World Player of the Year Kaka (also the second most expensive player transfer in history, after Ronaldo), and Karim Benzama a "B-side" - was much more impressive in its next game, a 6-3 win over a very good 3rd-place Valencia team, than Barca's reserves were as they struggled at home to beat an outclassed 17th-place Osasuna side 2-0; Barca reluctantly had to insert its exhausted superstars Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi into the game to ensure the victory, with starter Dani Alves having to play the full 90 minutes despite running his legs off in the recent Copa del Ray clash.

The problem with Barcelona is simply this: they are small and they are thin of bench - and they rely far too much on one player, Lionel Messi, whose 31 league goals and 50 (!) total goals (in all competitions) this year have carried the Blaugrana on his miniscule back.

Counter that with a Real Madrid side of Galaticos who are big and tall (Ronaldo, Bezema, Adebayor), deep (the midfield in particular is positively bursting at the seams with Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Marcelo, Angel di Maria, Lassana Diarra, Sergio Canales, Estaban Grenaro, Fernando Gago and - oh yeah - Kaka vying for playing time) and, under The Special One's stewardship, more disciplined (especially defensively, with Morinho adding his reliable former Chelsea stopper Ricardo Cavalho) than ever. But that's what you get when you break records spending in excess of $220 million dollars to sign peeps like Ronaldo ($80 million), Kaka ($56 million), Benzema ($30 million) and Alonso ($30 million). And play defensively, which is Morinho's style.

In the Copa del Ray game, I didn't notice until the second half (when Manuel Adebayor came on) that Ronaldo was being played as the lone striker in Real Madrid's 4-5-1 attack - backed by a packed midfield of Ozil, Kehdira, Marcelo, di Maria and Alonso. They had Benzema, Adabeyor, Higuain, and Kaka sitting on the bench! And the game plan was obvious: Morinho's men were told to sacrifice their bodies contesting every ball - especially Khedira in his best game as a Madrista, who gave so much that it looks like he may now miss the rest of the thigh injury he suffered giving it his all - and clog up Barca's creative generals in the midfield. Morinho deployed three defensive midfielders (Khedira, Marcelo, Alonso) in that clogged five-man midfield, with only Ozil and di Maria left to create crosses and chances for the well-marked strikers. Real Madrid played ugly and won; Barca tried to play with class and lost, thrown off their game by tactics dictated by a master tactician.

Barca has a paper-thin bench (thinner, in fact, than Guardiola's increasingly gray-flecked hairline), with Puyol (and now after the cup final, Adriano) and Eric Abidal (first a liver tumor, now a thigh boo-boo) out injured, Bojan out for the year, Milito coming back from almost two years of inactivity, Maxwell out with a back injury following the Osasuna game...and everyone outside of Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Abidal are tiny!

There's a reason why Ronaldo got that header to win the Copa del Rey for Madrid: he's a big boy! Little Brazilian Adriano played his heart (and now injured legs) out marking Ronaldo for all but one play in the match, but he couldn't match the soaring girth of Ronaldo and that sky-high header. Size matters. That's the main reason why set plays for Barca are so anti-climatic. They don't have anyone - even Messi - who can take a free kick and score from distance like a Ronaldo. And with the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they don't have any big bodies to throw into the box on corner kicks other than defensive midfielder Busquets or defender Pique (who have to hurry and get back to guard as against counterattacks) - which is why they so often play the ball short and outside on corner kicks.

Big little man Messi and Little big man Ronaldo

And, post-Ibrahimovic, there is no big, Didier Drogba or Andy Carroll-type striker who can play with his back to the opposing goal and hold the ball up. It's all the burden of Villa and Messi to get the perfect pass from the tiny midfield trio of Pedro, Iniesta, or Xavi, or for Pedro or Dani Alves to make exhausting runs on the wings to snake through. And, unlike Ronaldo, Lionel Messi never flops in the box, always staying on his feet no matter how hacked he gets with his legendary footwork. Ronaldo may have more weapons (size, scoring at will from free kicks, deadly with headers), but Messi's heart and spirit-of-the-game are stronger; he's no cheat.

"We accept that Madrid are in the role of favourites in the Champions League," Guardiola admitted to the Spanish media. "I understand that is so, because they won the Copa and they are playing well. We also accept the challenge. We have great faith in ourselves and I have faith more than anything in my players."

I too have faith in Barca, but as I've seen over the course of the 2010-2011 season, faith is an intangible. Reality is tired legs, injury, limited bench options, and the burden of knowing you must play a perfect match every time out against a foe who can concede bodies, who can survive red cards (Madrid ended up with 10 players in its last two Barca clashes - a tie and a win), and still throw more world-class bodies at you. So while it looks certain that Barcelona will soon win its third consecutive La Liga regular season title (they now only need just two wins and a draw in the remaining five games to clinch), in the scheme of things it's really not much mas que nada. Better than nothing (as mas que nada translates in Latin American Spanish), but no silverware. No European glory.

Of course, Sir Alex Ferguson's Red Devils will have a say in the finals as well. It's a given that they'll get past a "Cinderella" Schalke 04 squad inspired by Madrid cast-off Raul, as the 10th-place Bundesliga team is clearly playing over their heads. Though two other Madrid cast-offs, Bayern Munich's Arjan Robben and Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder, powered their respective sides to last year's final, it's unlikely given run of form that Schalke will repeat the trick (though Inter would argue otherwise!). Certainly Ronaldo is looking forward to this potential final against his former team; his outspoken critism of Sir Alex's tactics in Man U.'s loss to Barca in the 2009 final led quickly to his ouster there.

Time will tell. Until then, I'm keeping the faith, but accepting that this may not be Barca's year for European glory. Barca's aura of invincibility has passed since that infamous 5-0 drubbing of Real Madrid last November that now seems so far away and insignificant. Barca will continue to play the beautiful game of attacking football (that's why they're Barcelona!), but I'm afraid Morinho will continue to win titles, if not beauty contests.

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Stuttgart Stunner

Julia Goerges: Beauty Uber Alles

Drop-dead Goerges: Her game is like her name

STUTTGART, Germany (April 24, 2010) – Julia Goerges is my new favorite female tennis player. The 22-year-old German native of Bad Oldesloe is also probably the most *Goergeous* woman currently bouncing around the WTA circuit - a statuesque 6-footer with slender long legs and - an anomaly in the women's game (outside of Serena Williams, Nicole Vaidosova, Caroline Wozniacki and perhaps handful of others) - a curvaceous female athlete actually built like a woman: that is to say, she has a rack! (Think about it: when's the last time you saw a top female tennis player that actually needed to wear a sports bra? I have a short list of candidates - see "The All England Rack-It Club" - but only a scant few are also top-heavy in the WTA rankings.) Facially, she reminds me of a cross between actresses Jill Hennessy and Sandra Bullock.

And on April 24th, this 32nd-ranked outsider "stunned" world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 in the Stuttgart WTA claycourt final to win her first title of the year in front of an ecstatic home crowd. I put "stunned" in quotes because, cute and loveable and media-friendly as the Dane darling is, I've always seen her as a pretender and not a true contender for the throne of women's tennis - she's a counterpuncher who's pretty good in all aspects of the game without any one go-to weapon in her arsenal that's a knockout punch. And she's still never won a Grand Slam event. (I rest my case.) Now, Julia Goerges has a similar all-around game, and is not exactly fleet of foot (she's carrying around that extra real estate uptown, after all), but at 6-feet tall, her kick-serve is a force to be reckoned with. Let's hope she carries on her current excellent form to even bigger accomplishments as the 2011 French Open (where Julia lost to Serena Williams in the second round last year) nears!

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Totally Wired

Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews
by Simon Reynolds
(Soft Skull Press, 2010, 464 pages)

I just finished reading Simon Reynold's latest post-punk tome, Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews. The title is taken from a song by The Fall, one of his fave bands, and is a follow-up/companion piece to his superlative/definitive post-punk chronicle, Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984.

It kind of works like Jon Savage's The England's Dreaming Tapes, which presented most of the complete interviews that were edited down for his England's Dreaming punk rock history, in that it goes back to what were the source interviews for Rip It Up and Start Again - plus some added "director's cut" edits of previously published magazine articles and essays ("John Lydon and Public Image Ltd: Two Biographies," "Joy Division: Two Movies," "Ono, Eno, Arto: Non-Musicians and the Emergence of 'Concept Rock,'" "Glam City: Poseurs, Dreamers, Heroes and Monsters, from the Bromley Contingent and Blitz to the Batcave and Leigh Bowery," as well as the LA scene chapter that was excluded from the American edition of Rip It Up and Start Again: "The Blasting Concept: Los Angeles, SST, and 'Progressive Punk'") - and presents them whole. He evens included an interview with himself ("A Final Interview: Simon Reynolds") to further explain the who, what, where, and why of his definition of postpunk and Rip It Up and Start Again.

Like Rip It Up, it's a fantastic, informative read. Reynolds is my favorite music writer. He gets it, and articulates it, in a way no one else can. Hip without being snarky. Intelligent and thought-provoking without being pedantic, elitist, or patronizing. The only chink in his critical armour to me has always been his adulation of Public Image Ltd (PiL) as the inspiration and starting point for post-punk. Sorry, I never cared much for them - and the telling ting is, I don't think John Lydon does either - he re-united for filthy lucre with the Sex Pistols - not (tellingly) PiL - and PiL garner barely a passing mention in his bio! (Guess he knew his legacy, fame, and fortune rested with the Pistols - much as he purports to detest Malcolm McLaren - not to mention the unseemly fallings-out he had with various PiL members)

While I enjoyed all the interviews collected here - Ari Up, Jah Wobble, Alan Vega, Gerard Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh, David Thomas, Tony Wilson, Bill Drummond, Mark Stewart, Dennis Bovell, Andy Gill, david Byrne, Andy Gill, James Chance, Lydia Lunch, Steve Severin, Nikki Sudden, John Peel, Alison Stratton, Green Gartside, Gina Birch, Martin Bramah, Linder Sterling, Steven Morris, Richard H. Kirk, Alan Rankine, Paul Haig, Phil Oakey, Martin Rushent, Edwyn Collins, Steven Daly, Paul Morley, Trevor Horn - my fondest connection came when Reynolds defined the pre-digital, pre-Internet world that we all lived through in the postpunk 1980s...the world of true "Boredom" (ba-dum, ba-dum), when there wasn't the massive reissue industry and availability of "everything-ever-recorded in the history of music" that there is today and that is just a few clicks (or cliques) away. It was the era of a scant few music magazines, whose rock press scribes (like Paul Morley, Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs, Nick Kent, Jon Savage) become as much stars as the musicians they were writing about.

"One thing that came to me as I did my research was how much music and the rock press in those days was a lifeline that I and oter people who lived in small towns across the UK grabbed onto. If you didn't live in one of the big metropolitan centres, you were starved of stimulation. Boredom is a great motivator. A vista of emptiness is something you want to fill. It was a different kind of boredom in those days to the kind you get nowadays, which I think of as this sated, distracted-to-death boredom, the problem of having too many options. [This condition speaks to this ADHD-afflicted blogger's soul!] We didn't have that problem in the seventies. As a kid at that time, there were big stretches of time where the sensation of boredom was so gnawingly intense it was almost spiritual. In the UK back then there were only three TV channels, and they were off for stretches during the afternoon and closed down completely around midnight. There were only a few radio stations and the time they allotted to left-field music was pretty restricted. We didn't have video rental or DVDs to buy. There were no blogs or online message boards, no YouTube or internet radio. Kids today living in small towns probably suffer from not having much to do, but they still have infinitely more in terms of stimulation and distraction that they can siphon into their computer or mobile phone. They can download and get what they want instantly, legally or illegally. But during postpunk days the avenues that existed for accessing cutting-edge music were the local record store, John Peel's radio show, a couple of TV shows that might occasionally have something left-field on, and the music press. Those were your connection points and they became enormously highly charged. It created a relationship with music of an intensity that I don't see today. Both information-wise and in terms of getting hold of the music itself, it was a scarcity economy. An economy of delay and anticipation: you had to wait for the record to arrive in your local shop; you had to wait until 10 p.m. for Peel; you had to wait for the weekly music papers to arrive in WH Smith. The day the new issues of the music press came out was the best day of the week. They were like little capsules from a world where all the excitement and all the ideas were. Lots of people would read them from cover to cover." (Simon Reynolds, "A Final Interview")

Those were the days, my friend. And I was was one of those avid readers, devouring Creem, Bomp!, Trouser Press, New Yorker Rocker, Punk, Slash - whatever was at hand.

Watch The Fall's "Totally Wired."

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gaia: Stick Up Artist

Though I abhor graffiti and most invasive street art, I have to admit liking the paste-up poster art I've seen around town on abandoned, ghost buildings. Every day, on my way to work, I walk past examples of it on Franklin Street between Park and Howard Street. These images enliven what is otherwise a depressing urban blight eyesore - all those boarded-up, decaying buildings that look like potential Factory Records album covers or post-war Europe circa 1945. I think street artists themselves describe their actions as "co-opting urban space" in order to make a statement or communicate something/anything to passersby. I recently posted a query asking if anyone knew who was responsible for these posters (shown below)...

...and I think I've found my mystery man. Could it be Gaia, the classic mythology named (after the Greek Earth Goddess) former MICA student whose work was profiled last year in Urbanite magazine? To quote the Magic Eightball: "Signs point to yes."

In an October 2010 piece entitled "The Oracle," writer Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson tracked down and interviewed the artist whose art frequently depicts creatures that are half human, half-animal —people with the heads of bears and birds reflecting the what the artist sees as a connection between the wild and civilization.

Cock blocked by street art

"Baltimore's been a fantastic canvas, which is sad because ultimately my work wouldn't exist if there wasn't any neglected space," Gaia was quoted as saying. "What that neglected space allows for is a certain freedom and grassroots, democratic, public space. The artist has full agency, and there aren't any boundaries or obstacles for an artist to produce work besides the law of posting on property."

The artist at work

This one's funny: the New York Fried Chicken joint on Charles Street and North Avenue.

Read the full Urbanite article here: "The Oracle" (Urbanite, October 1, 2010)

Click here to see a map of where Gaia's pieces can be seen around the city.

Related Links:
"Street Art @ Franklin & Howard Street" (Accelerated Decrepitude)
"The Oracle" (Urbanite Magazine)
gaia.streetar's photostream (Flickr)
"Gaia Plasters Baltimore" (

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sakura Matsuri 2011: Stand With Japan

51st Annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival
Washington, D.C. - April 9, 2011 (11 am - 6 pm)

Welcome to pix and video from the 51st Annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival (aka the "Cherry Blossom Festival") in Washington, D.C. from April 9, 2011. As presented by the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C. (, this year's theme - in the wake of Japan's tragic March 11, 2011 earthquake(s) and tsunami - was topically entitled "Stand With Japan." As the festival program guide stated, given that backdrop, "This year's Sakura unlike any other because of the tragedy that befell Japan one month ago...We want the Japanese people to know that we stand with them at this time of great need. We hope you will support the efforts that are being made at Sakura Matsuri today to assist the relief and recovery effort in Japan."

One of those efforts was charging a first-ever $5 admittance fee to the festival, which it was a pleasure to pay (and a small pitance to pay considering all the good cheer and entertainment value on display between 9th and 14th Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue that day). There were also volunteers conducting fund-raising on the streets for the American Red Cross Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund, while the Bezos Family Foundation pledged to donate $2 for every origami paper crane made that day at the festival's Children's Corner tent.

That said, my girlfriend Amy and I eagerly returned to the Federal Triangle for our fourth consecutive Sakura Matsuri festival, joined this year by defacto Japan-America Society of Cockeysville chairman David Cawley - making his Cherry Blossom Festival bow in the nation's capital. It was the coldest Japanese Street Festival we've ever attended, and a shivering David Cawley later remarked that in hindsight he probably should have dressed warmer than just a polo short and his thin-cotton Ben Sherman jacket - but, in his words, "I always choose fashion over comfort!"

Dave "Fashionista" Cawley: "I don't care if I'm suffering from hypothermia
and my lips are frozen - I look good, dammit!" (He wants you to notice his Ben Sherman jacket. So, please, do.)

He truly suffered for his sartorial splendor on this day, his head only mildly protected from the cold chill by a thin plastic (albeit officially licensed) Astro Boy (aka Tetsewan Atom) children's mask. He even had to forgo his usual iced coffee due to Mother Nature.

"I've had warmer earmuffs," Dave muses, his lobes protected by a paper-thin plastic kiddie mask

But before we got there, there was a slight hiccup at the New Carrollton Metro Station. Yes, it took all three of us - scratching our heads in utter confusion, frustration, and irritation (the traveler's trifecta) - and, finally, a very patient Metro Station Master taking pity on our special ed commuter skills before we got our tickets to board the train into D.C. and the street festival. Boy, if the SATs had a logic question asking how can three people with $20 dollars buy three round-trip tickets from New Carrollton Station to the Federal Triangle, we would have never passed and made it into college. Wait - we three all graduated from college and still couldn't figure it out (so much for a liberal arts education)! (Can you tell we weren't business or math majors? Can you tell Dave and I graduated from the esteemed suburban institute of higher yearning, Towson State?)

"Isn't riding the Metro romantic?" coos Amy

As we exited the Metro station and entered the Federal Triangle, Amy immediately was drawn to a festival merchandise booth ("Ooooo, t-shirts!") while Dave became entranced by the sight of an Asian woman singing along to a bossa nova beat on the concert stage opposite us.

Bossa Nova Band at the Japanese Street Festival

Upon closer inspection, we saw that the woman had a Chinese name, but Dave insisted she was singing in a Japanese accent. A Brazilian musical genre interpreted by a Chinese chanteusse with a Nipponese twist? worked! The music was quite enjoyable!

The Girl from Ipanema: Shanghaied and Turning Japanese

But this was mere foreplay for the true fest, which takes place on Pennsylvania Avenue between 9th and 14th Street:

Walking in the festival proper, Dave was right in his element as the first site he espied was none other than his beloved green-skinned kaiju eiga, Gojira, guarding the festival. And not just one Godzilla, but two!

The King of Monsters and his doppleganger

Godzilla takes pity on Japan's recent woes and settles for
teething on an airplane (which he later donated
to Southwestern Airlines)

"Whatever you do," Amy pleaded as we passed kiosks hawking Japanese-styled clothing and women's accessories, "Don't let me look at bags! Keep me away from them because I'll be too tempted!"

Needless to say, Amy bought a new bag. I blame myself: I helped pick it out. But it was way cool and the vendor, Chikako Mukai of Chikako Designs, is way nice. (Ladies, be sure to check out her Facebook page as well.) This lovely and talented designer from Boston always has the coolest bags on display at the festival; Chikako's hand-sewn bags demonstrate the Japanese art of temari - an ornamental, embroidered ball of wrapped thread. (Not to be confused with Temari - a supporting character in the anime/manga series Naruto!)

New Bag To Amy: "Resistance Is Futile!"

Amy also got a new hat, but I take total blame for that - because I bought it for her! I figured, if you gotta go gray, you better go gray with style!

Amy's "Hello Mousey" hat capped off her sartorial splendor

For his part, Dave also picked up a hat, as he eventually wound up wearing his Astro Boy mask as a backward-styled cap, much to the amusement of passersby.

"Oh, it's you": Punk rock chick was
disappointed when Astro Boy turned around

Apparently, the backward mask was the prevailing style of the day.

This man re-purposed his traditional Japanese mask as a yamulke

Amy made sure she stopped by the International Shinto Foundation's tent so she could pass through the shrine gate, ring the wishing bell and say a prayer for Japan, ancestral home of her mother: "Kyushu Kimi" Davis.

Amy says her prayers...

...and give thanks

Amy takes these rites rather seriously, and not as just a touristy photo op. In fact, she was so emotional, she got all vaclempt and teared up afterwards. Did I mention she's a Cancer? Very emo! (But that's why I adore her; she's a sincere, caring, self-effacing woman.)

For the record, this is how one prays at a Shinto Shrine:

We walked past the lots of visually arresting costumed fans and street festival participants...

Orange you glad you came?

Speaking of orange, we spotted Carrot Top in cosplay gear

Personally, I thought the girl in the yellow rain slicker had the coolest costume!

This brave hottie wore a miniskirt!

...and even ran into Dave Cawley's lifelong pal (and ertswhile "quit hogging the bedspread!" *roommate*) Andy Dolan.

Andy and Dave

Dave used to play in a pop-punk band called Berserk, whose records and CDs featured cover art by Andy, an award-winning graphic designer.

Berserk's "Giant Robots" 45 (Merkin Records, 1991)

Berserk's eponymous CD (Go-Kart Records, 1994)

Andy had a very astute observation about all the colorful costumes on display on Pennsylvania Avenue that day: "Have you noticed that these anime/manga fans are like the new Dragons & Dungeons Set?" Spot on, sir!

We finally wended our way down to the J-Pop stage, where - after first enduring the painfully lame audience repartee and charmless wit of two dorky Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C. emcees - we encountered Reni Mimura, the Cosplay cutie who also performed here last year.

The J-Pop Stage presents: Reni Mimura

Reni Mimura on J-Pop Stage

The New York City-based Reni Mimura specializes in Moe-style performance, a genre that emphasizes the cute look of Japanese pop culture and the hip appeal of Japanese animation/manga series like Sailor Moon and Evangelion. “Moe” (pronounced like Mo-eh), which started in Akihabara, Tokyo, is the term Otaku fanboys and girls use to express the happy feeling they experience when they see a cute anime/manga girl or pop idol. (Unfortunately, I learned that it has absolutely nothing to do with Moe Howard, the "cute" Alpha Stooge of Les Stooges Trois.) Otaku boys get especially "e-Moe" when they see their fictional girl idols wearing maid uniforms. (Well, I got news for the Otaku boys - it doesn't get any cuter than Sexy French Maid outfits in real life either!) Good thing Reni Mimura and her hoofer gal pals wore compression shorts under those high-rise maid skirts on Saturday - it was a bone-chilling day!

Watch Reni Mimura @ Sakura Matsuri 2011.

Reni Mimura's gal pals chow down after their set

Reni Mimura gets all e-Moey

Reni Mimura shows off her athletic legs (me likey!)

Reni heads off to sign autographs

Reni signing autographs

The J-Pop Stage presents: Uzuhi

Uzuhi on J-Pop Stage

Like their fellow Big Apple compatriot Reni Mimura, NYC-based Japanese pop-punkers Uzuhi were so popular when they debuted at the 2010 Sakura Matsuri J-Pop Stage, they were invited back for a repeat performance today! This year was much chillier temperature-wise, but the audience and Uzuhi warmed each other up. It's fitting, because "Uzuhi" translates into English roughly as "light" or "sunshine" (in fact, I now always sing "I got uzuhi on a rainy day" whenever I hear The Temptations song "My Girl").

Uzuhi is:
Gosha: Vocals
Tsubasa: Keyboard
Katsuragi: Guitar
Shu: Drums

Official Web Site:

These guys (and gal) are so cheerful and uplifting! As we passed by the J-Pop Stage before they went on, keyboard player Tsubasa and singer Gosha recognized us - they remembered us from their Ottobar show in Baltimore last year - and gave us a hug. Tsubasa remembered Amy in particular because after Amy ordered a t-shirt from the band's web site (my Valentine's present!), Tsubasa sent her a Valentine's Day card, candy, and this sticker:

Amy is a big fan of what she calls Uzuhi's "broken but heartfelt English," as evidenced in song titles like "Sweet Lovely Chocolate Smile" and "Dear My Honki Friends." In fact, after their DC appearance, Uzuhi sent out a typical thank you on their Facebook page ( "Dear our New Friends from Sakura Matsuri and Sakura Sunday! Arigato very much for all of your Sweet Lovely Chocolate Smiles :)"

Uzuhi always take a picture of the audience at their concerts. Here's the one from Sakura Matsuri 2011. Can you spot me, Amy, and Dave Cawley in the teeming minions? (Hint: I'm wearing a hat!)

Uzuhi say: "You are the music, we're just the band!"

Watch Uzuhi @ Sakura Matsuri 2011.

I think this was a new song. Oh, by the way, they had a stand-in drummer this time, because regular Uzuhi drummer Shu was stuck back home in wonder singer Gosha took time out to talk about how the recent tragic events in Japan (earthquake, tsunami, meltdown, etc.) were an opportunity to bond together human beings in this thing together!

Watch Uzuhi @ Sakura Matsuri, Part 2.

The song performed above is "This Is Our Generation" from Uzuhi's 2009 CD Ongaku ("Music"). To which Amy adds: "This band is fierce! I was put on an emotional roller coaster as singer Gosha went from delivering a heartfelt message about the tragedy in Japan to totally rocking out on "This is Our Generation." About 5:20 into the clip you can see me grooving along." (And also at the 7:38 mark, Amy groove-spotters!)

Uzuhi's "Ongaku" CD (2009)

Watch Uzuhi @ Sakura Matsuri, Part 3.

This was their opening number, their theme song "Uzuhi," which perfectly illustrates their hybrid of hard rock and cutesy fun elements. It's from their 2009 Ongaku ("Music") CD. It's followed by two more songs from Ongaku: "Boy" and "Pura Vida!".

More Uzuhi concert pix:

Gosha sez: "Who called me Curly?"

Katsuragi chording

Shy Tsubasa hides behind her bunny pal, Peaches

"I repeat: Who called me Curly???"

"All of me, why not take all of me?" Gosha sings


After watching Uzuhi, we reconnoitered at the Children's Corner tent with Dave's pal Andy, who was now joined by his wife Kathy and their talented young daughter, Caroline.

Dave, Andy, Caroline, and Kathy

We set off for food and found it at the booth where Satoko, the wife of Amy's cousin Richard Best, was dispensing udon noodles. Warmed up by the soup, we headed back to the J-Pop Stage to catch the tail end of a performance by Pink - a group of girls who love Japanese fashion and "para para" (line) dancing.

Pink sez: "We got the beat!"

Pink sends out a wink

Then we watched a "kendo" (Japanese fencing) demonstration by the Northern Virginia Budokai Kendo Club. Kendo is a physical, philosophical, and psychological discipline that's supposed to "strengthen and enoble" its practitioners. Amy and I liked they way the kendo kids gave out these loud shouts and bellows whenever they struck each other; it reminded me of The Three Stooges.



"Hiiiii- yaaaaah!"

While Dave - who once trained with the Cockeysville Fencing Club (where he attained a "Gay Blade" ranking), looked on...

"I can do that," huffed an unimpressed Dave Cawley

...I made sure I was nice to Kathy, because she told me her uncle was a kendo master swordsman back in Japan.

Then we returned to the Children's Corner tent, where whiz kid Caroline made origami gifts for all of us.

When I mentioned how the "Director's Cut" ending of Ridley Scott's cult movie Bladerunner featured a very significant unicorn origami, Caroline took up the challenge and presented us with a yellow unicorn.

Either that's a unicorn - or Caroline's giving us the finger!

Dave wanted her to make him origami earmuffs, but contented himself with his Astro Boy mask.

Now besides knowing Japanese and how to make origami, Caroline was also a wunderkid when it came to playing the Asian game of Go. The game is played with black and white stone pieces that look like Mentos mints. Caroline challenged Dave to a match and, while Dave trash-talked the child about how he was going to "annihilate" her, we watched instead as a giggling Caroline humiliated "The Old Master" in game after game - as easily as child's play!.

"You lose again!" giggled Caroline

"This time I'll concentrate - and annihilate her!" vows Dave

"Hee-hee-hee," taunts Caroline. "You lose again!"

In fact, only the festival's 6 o'clock closing time prevented Caroline from racheting up double digits in the win column and inflicting more humiliation on Dave! Even Reni Mimura's backup singers stopped by to laugh at the lopsided battle of wits between this cunning child and her unarmed adult opponent.

"He's really bad, isn't he?" Reni Mimura's backup singers agree, as they watch Dave lose yet another game of Go to a small child

Game over, it truly was time to *Go* and we made our exit to head back to Baltimore. And so went another Japanese Street Festival. See you next year, Cherry Blossoms - hopefully under better conditions for your ancestral home, Japan!

Related Links:
"J-Pop/Rock Stars @ Sakura Matsuri 2010" (Accelerated Decrepitude)
Reni Mimura (Facebook)

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