San Francisco, March 4, 2006
“We are from TOKYO, JAPAN!”
Wow. When the Polysics opened their set by screaming that and going ballistic on their instruments, I thought they’d turn out to be exactly like Electric Eel Shock, who also opens its shows that way. I wonder why they do that? As if we didn’t already know. Is it because they are so excited to be touring in America, or is it that they are simply proud of their heritage? I imagine it’s the former, for both bands seemingly exuberate a love of being stateside. I also thought that maybe the Polysics would be similar to Electric Eel Shock, and they were, to a degree. But whereas EES is heavy metal J-core, the Polysics are more a throwback to the days of Devo. Synth J-pop is how I’d describe them. And they’re terrific!
Don’t even ask me about the openers. Didn’t catch the name of the first one. All I can tell you is that they were a bunch of old, 40-something Frenchmen shouting and being loud and annoying. The second band was a little better. I think they were called Los Abandanos, from LA. But they didn’t impress me much.
Not like the Polysics did. As soon as they went on stage in their orange jumpsuits (which only slightly resembled prison coveralls) and their rectangular sunglasses and shouted, “Hey San Francisco, we are from Tokyo, Japan!” and regaled us with a burst of everything they had, I was hooked. I knew I’d like them.
The Polysics have been around since 1997, when Hayashi (guitar, vox, vocoder and programming) decided to start a band devoted to Devo, but this was the first I’ve ever heard of them. Sad, but true. The band now consists of Kayo on synth, voice and vocoder; Fumi, bass, voice and synth; the newest member, Yano, on drums, and of course Hayashi. This combination is divine; Yano never seemed overwhelmed and the band was smooth all the way through their lengthy set, which was high energy the entire time. I don’t know how they did it, but they kept up their stamina through 15 songs plus 2 at the encore. I was exhausted just watching them.
Before the shouting of their mantra began, they took the stage in increments, putting a little performance art into the show. First, Yano came out, and music started playing. Then the rest of the band came out, one at a time. Almost sneakily, ready to pounce on us like a cat on a mouse. Then, the shout! Then straight into their first song, the crowd-pleasing “Tei! Tei! Tei!,” which really showed off their Devo roots. “Coelakanth is Android” had a similar feeling, but with a one-two beat with an almost all-out rivalry between Kayo and Fumi on synths. I can’t tell you who won, but the song was amusing.
Their third song, “Plus Chicker,” was heavier, and really reminded me of Electric Eel Shock, except that Yano wasn’t naked save for a sock on his genitalia.
“Mr. Psycho,” their sixth song, was a lot of fun, as Kayo took out a pair of pom-poms and got the crowd cheering once again for them. Then Hayashi said once more, “San Francisco: We are from TOKYO, JAPANNNNNNN! Do you want to hear more?”
Of course we did, and of course they were happy to provide us more. They played many a song, many of which kept our focus straight on the band. They kept taunting us with their shouts to keep us involved, and things really got going when they played “Ah-Yeah!” Here, Hayashi got us to join him in singing “kiss, kiss, kiss…” over and over again. That was one of the highlights of the show. Then they segued into a pretty much instrumental version of “My Sharona,” with the women stepping in to sing the titular words every once in a while. A great cover of a silly song, that’s for sure.
“Super Sonic” and “Baby Bias” were next; these were even faster than the rest of the songs and featured Hayashi taking a break from vocals, leaving the two women, Kayo and Fumi, to take over. Everyone was clapping along by this time; some people even danced.
“Kaja Kaja Goo,” the second to last song in the set, was also a big crowd-pleaser, and “Urge On” seemed like a tease, urging us to have them stay on stage, when, in fact, they had finished their set. Here, Hayashi went a little off the stage and into the crowd, where he found friendly hands to give support. Quite a fun moment.
As soon as they left, I realized how exhausted they must have been. They were going ballistic on stage, power-pop to the max. And yet, they came out for an encore! They did “For Young Electric Pop” and “Black Out Fall Out,” and I had to imagine it was rough for them. But they never let on.
Throughout the show, you could see and hear the mastery of their instruments and vocalization, showing a maturity that comes with being a 9-year-old band. As I said, I had no idea that Yano was a new member, for the set was seamless, and they played so fast and hectically yet technically perfect, I was amazed. They didn’t bother to announce song titles (I have their tour manager, Sean Dailey) to thank for that. They never broke character, changing from nice-looking Asian men and women at their merch table into crazy, driven musicians with attitude and with a grace and ease not often seen. They repeatedly used hooks to pull audience members back into the set. It was beautiful.
“San Francisco! They are from TOKYO, JAPANNNN!” is all I have to say for an end.
Check them out at www.polysics.com.
Check out a review of Electric Eel Shock from December in Gothenburg, Sweden at http://www.turntablebluelight.com/2005/12/electric_eel_shock.html.
- Diana Slampyak
Diana Slampyak is a regular contributor to Turntable & Blue Light.