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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Dave Broom
The Crocodile, Tokyo, September 3rd 2009
Serge, as well you know when a rock artist decides to do “a reggae number” one heads for the hills (or the door), but I’ve found that normal rules do not apply in Japan. In any case, this country is home to the Ska Flames and the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra and if they aren’t the best in the world at their chosen genre then I’ll eat your beret. Tonight, I am also prepared to waive my usual aversion to attempts to master reggae by artistes who should know better [or AMRAWSKB for simplicity’s sake] because the man in question is Joe Yamanaka.
Do I hear you ask, “who is Joe Yamanaka?” He’s the 6foot, half-Japanese, half-black singer who fronted Japan’s pysych legends Flower Travellin Band in the late 60s and early 70s. If you’ve got yourself a copy of Julian Cope’s book ‘Japrocksampler’ (and you should) it’s the FTB who are on the cover.. naked.. riding motorbikes. Their music was a mix of Sabbath, Can, Indian scales, drones, crazed guitar solos and Joe’s three octave voice screaming above it all. If there was a band which typified Japrock it’s FTB, especially on their second record, ‘Satori’. Check the track ‘Satori II’ to see what I mean.  
Flower Travellin Band, circa 1971
Anyhoo, these days as it transpires, Joe has ditched the wild Afro of FTB days and opted for bum length locks and as his very tight band kick into a roots reggae groove it appears that he’s also forsaken his former vocal style for one reminiscent of a Japanese-inflected Horace Andy.
I should also mention that tonight is Joe’s 63rd birthday and tonight’s gig, in a tiny Shibuya dive called Crocodile, promises special guests. The audience consists mostly of old bohemians (FTB fans no doubt), but there’s also table comprising a couple of Russian hookers hostesses, a 50-something local actor doing an impersonation of Fat Elvis and a pimp; while at the bar sits a woman who appears to be wearing a lap dog as a hat, sitting next to a clutch of old rockers, all black shirts and leather. Oh.. and us ... The Whisky Mag Japan crew: the Giant Gaijin -- a man who has just the day before discovered Joe and FTB and finally, thankfully, thrown away his Hayley Westerna cds -- the Fixer, the Yokohama Bureau Chief, the Boss and myself.
The thing about Joe, I realise, half way through the set, is that he sings everything with complete belief, so that even the clunkers, ‘Banana Boat Song’ anyone? are imbued with such sincerity that he somehow gets away with it. The numbers are interspersed with well-wishers giving him presents: flowers, a cake and a watch from Fat Elvis whose table is ordering increasingly frequent rounds of buckets of beer and tequila shots, many of which are being passed to the guitarist.
Joe Yamanaka
Joe Yamanaka
First set over, the stage is taken over by a bunch (posse? pose?) of rappers average age 12 - or so it seems. There’s a lot of posing, grabbing of crotches (maybe to check if their balls have dropped) and RnB crooning -- though in a vocal style that brings to mind a mosquito in a jam jar. I really do believe, Serge, that virgins shouldn’t be allowed to sing about sex. Still, it is all rather amusing.
The Russian hostesses disappear to the john -- which despite being little more than a portaloo is still furnished with a heated, spraying, bidet-equipped toilet. This is Tokyo after all. Joe then re-emerges, dressed in black with a reggae tam and red gold and green waistcoat. The music’s heavier, dubbier -- for a while anyway because then he starts crooning standards. Meanwhile, the Russians have returned, though one of them appears to have her knickers on back to front (she’s wearing hipsters, standing in front of me, I can’t help but notice); more tequilas are ordered and given to the guitarist, while Joe starts singing “You Are So Beautiful.. To Me” and once again, despite the maudlin nature of the song, manages to make it genuinely touching.
As this ends the band leaves and two of the old rockers get on stage. I look at Giant Gaijin. Can it be? FTB back together? The drummer kicks into a mororik tribal beat, the tequila-fulled guitarist unleashes long phased raga-like runs, then hits the riff to ‘Satori II’. Joe lets out a Tarzan-like howl. Suddenly its gone from chicken (or crocodile) in a basket to deep psychedelia. More tequila arrives, fat Elvis is screaming, the Russians are wiggling and the 12yo hip-hoppers are throwing shapes. Heads are being banged, arms are waving, quite where the lap-dog has gone I know not - trampled junderfoot perhaps and all the while a 63 year old Japanese rasta sings his lungs out. It’s one of those Tokyo moments where you shake your head, shrug, smile and leap right in. Russian
Joe and the FTB leave and a bleached blond soul singer (whose name we find out later is Shark) leaps on stage to grind out the most lascivious version of ‘Mustang Sally’ that I’ve ever heard. Elvis is sweating, one of the Russians dashes out to throw up, the pimp following shouting “Anya”, there’s a breakdance competition on stage, one of the hip hoppers’ trousers fall down, Joe is bouncing around, we’re all singing Happy Birthday, it’s total, hilarious, chaos. Joe Yamanaka. Hero. What more can I say? – Dave Broom
Listen: Satori, Pt. 2 (from Satori, 1971)

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