Friday, January 30, 2015

Sayonara, Uzuhi!

We bid adieu to your sweet lovely ongaku!

United We Smile: Uzuhi's Final US Tour

"We are UZUHI! We play Music! We want to make you Happy!"

I am so glad that Amy Linthicum and I were able to say sayonara to NYC-based Japanese rock band Uzuhi ("oo-zoo-hee," the name means "sun" in Japanese) on their "United We Smile" Farewell US Tour, which stopped at Baltimore's Charm City Art Space (1731 Maryland Avenue) last night. The tour marks the end of Uzuhi's 10-year run playing music stateside with various lineups since forming in the Big Apple in the fall of 2004.

Uzuhi always take a picture of the audience at their shows; here's a shot showing the large turnout (pretty good for a Wednesday night!) at last night's gig, where they headlined a 4-band lineup that also included Dead End Lane, Clockbreaker, and The Street Parade:

Uzuhi singer Gosha took this photo of the audience at Charm City Art Space after their final Baltimore appearance on January 28, 2014

Singer Gosha (Takeyoshi Gosha Oba, a Curly Howard of Three Stooges clone) and keyboard-playing wife Tsubasa (Tsubasa Matsuda, who joined in 2007) had a baby and are returning to Tokyo on the "Island of Sushi" to carry on. Here's wishing them a great life back in Tokyo, where Tsubasa promises to keep making music while new dad Gosha will bring home the bacon (or sashimi) as a Salaryman.

Baby Uzuhi

As a musical concept, Uzuhi mixes punk-pop energy with unabashed sentimentality, a formula that successfully engages diverse and disparate people with its simple message: Smile, dance and be happy. It works - even the slam dancers last night were a respectful & happy lot. Uzuhi also believe that music has no borders, being able to transcend cultural and geographic differences to unite all people - especially young people who have not yet grown old and cynical (celebrated in songs like "This Is Our Generation" and "The Braves") - the world over with life's simple pleasures, which include love, dancing, eating, kids, and so on. Lyrically, their songs are not deep, but then a band that hopes for global appeal, regardless of language and beyond borders, must keep its message simple (as in their tune "S.O.S. - Simplicity of Satisfaction"). In a nutshell, that zeitgeist is "just do it," "go for it," "live your dream." As Gosha confided to the Charm City Art Space audience, he initially disappointed his father when  he told him he wanted to come to the US and be a "rock star." But, he added, he got to live his dream, playing countless American cities and meeting and connecting "with all you out there, and making you smile."

At their best, Uzuhi channel the anthemic punk energy of Japan's Blue Hearts and the J-Pop cuteness of a Puffy or Shonen Knife. Keyboardist Tsubasa Matsuda is the glue that holds together the band's sound (which they call "Positive Pop Punk" and "Japanese Energetic Punk Rock for This Generation"), one hand playing the melody while another works the bass lines that anchor the pop-punk beat. Not that the other players - drummer Yukiyoshi Kurata and blue-haired guitar shredder A-Key (Takaaki Ando, who also plays guitar in Shinsei and bass in Harlots Vice) - aren't aces on their respective instruments. The original drummer (Shu) and guitar player have long since departed (the drummer returned to his native Miyagi Prefecture in Japan following the Fukajima earthquake-tsunami disaster of 2011), with Tsubasa and Gosha remaining the core (and spirit) of the band.

Uzuhi keyboardist Tsubasa bonds with Amy Linthicum at Charm City Art Space

Gosha's voice will never be compared to Freddie Mercury's, but like the Queen frontman, he is a charismatic stage presence, one whose humor and joie de vivre cannot be denied. He's a fun and energetic guy, one who will suddenly jump off stage to dance with the crowd and grab fans to come onstage and sing with the band. As I said before, physically he reminds me of Curly Howard of Three Stooges fame (especially since he shaved off all his hair), frenetically scooting across the stage with whoops and hollers and always willing to play the clown. Resistance to Gosha's energy is futile. He's a force of positive vibes to be reckoned with!

Send in the Clowns: Me, Gosha & Chris Schatz @ Ottobar, September 2010

Tsubasa, Gosha & official mascot Peach Matsuda @ Sakura Matsuri festival

Amy loves what she calls Uzuhi's "broken but heartfelt English," as evidenced in song titles like "Sweet Lovely Chocolate Smile" and "Dear My Honki Friends." And new songs like "Kids Are the Future" from newbie parents Gosha and Tsubasa are almost embarrassingly innocent and wholesome for a band inspired by the Sex Pistols and punk rock - but then that's what makes these guys and gal so appealing. They are unabashedly positive and friendly in a jaded age of cynicism and irony. Or, as (half-Asian) Amy says, "It's a Japanese thing to be kinda corny about that sort of thing." (No wonder Japan is the land of kawaii, or saccharine-sweet "cuteness.")

Amy and I first discovered Uzuhi when they played the April 10, 2010 Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) in Washington, D.C.and have been fans ever since. We liked them so much, we caught them when they came to Baltimore for the first time (a great show with Peelander-Z) at the Ottobar in September 2010, as well as their return appearance at DC's 2011 Sakura Matsuri (alas, we missed them there in 2014 thanks to a bathroom malfunction!).

We will miss seeing Uzuhi, who leave behind two CDs worth checking out,  2008's self-titled Uzuhi (containing their best - and most complex - composition, "The Braves") and 2009's Ongaku (it means "music" in Japanese). Most of the set performed at Charm City Art Space came from Ongaku (theme song "Uzuhi," "This Is Our Generation," "S.O.S. - Simplicity of Satisfaction," "Pura Vida!," "Sweet Lovely Chocolate Smile").

Related Links:
Uzuhi @ 2010 Sakura Matsuri
Uzuhi @ 2011 Sakura Matsuri
Uzuhi/Peelander-Z @ Ottobar (a Flickr set)
Uzuhi on Facebook
Uzuhi on Bandcamp
Uzuhi on MySpace
Uzuhi on Twitter

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