By Emily Devan
Whether it’s the bouncy beat of a pop song, the grinding guitars of rock or the sweetly, sad vocals of a ballad, nothing releases the stress of life in the big city like a little live music. And, like all big cities, Tokyo has plenty to offer. The real problem is where to start. Here are five good bets.
Buried in the backstreets of Shibuya, finding O can be a bit of a chore, but once there, finding something worth listening to is easy. The reason: O is not one hall but a complex of four. From tiny, bar-like O-Nest, to O-East, whose wide stage and tiered floor make even 1,100-person events intimate, O has all it’s bases covered. The acts are equally diverse. On same night, one might see a punk act ravaging O-Crest, whose low stage and 200-person capacity make it perfect for such mayhem, while a young songbird sings her heart out in O-West. Although most of the acts are Japanese, foreign musicians have been known to make appearances as well. To further sweeten the deal, the entire complex was redone in 2003 so the sound, lighting and amenities are all modern. The O is definitely worth the search.
Most of Japan’s biggest and most admired rock acts have played a gig or two (or 20!) at Tokyo’s answer to Manhattan’s CGBG. Sprawling beneath the heart of the infamous Kabuki-cho, the 800-person LOFT boasts two bars, several lounges and, in one corner, the small, low main stage. Acts that have graced the stage include garage rock heroes Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, pop-punk superstars Ellegarden, alternative rock chart-toppers the pillows and, many, many others. Any night of the week you are guaranteed a no frills, no filler rock experience, while you absorb the club’s history in the battered walls, low ceilings and lingering scent of cigarettes. “LOFT is Rock!” declared the joint’s 30th anniversary campaign, and it’s hard to disagree.
Shibuya Club Quattro
While Japan’s music scene is one of the most-varied in the world, sometimes you want a little taste of home. One popular venue for foreign artists touring Japan is Club Quattro. Quattro’s location on the top floor a department store is not exactly inspiring, but once you enter its dark, neo-industrial confines, visions of sale rack after sale rack of sportswear are banished. The beauty of the wooden floor, extensive lighting and easily visible stage belie the venue’s nearly twenty years existence. On top of that, the venue’s 500-person capacity means you could be seeing a legendary act like Dinosaur Jr. in a much smaller venue than you could ever dream of back home.
Of course listening to music cooped up in a black box is not to everyone’s taste, so on nice weekends, a stroll around the edge of Yoyogi Park might be just what the doctor ordered. While street musicians don’t come with guarantees in experience and charisma, the ones around Yoyogi Park tend to be a grade above what your brother and his friends sounded like in high school. This is perhaps due to the proximity of the Tokyo School of Music. To increase your listening pleasure there are always plenty of stalls selling food and a constant festival atmosphere in the area. So whether you prefer the bands that gather on the outskirts of the park or the pop groups that line the avenue across the street, Yoyogi Park is a great way to experience the raw zeal of Tokyo’s street scene and up-and-coming artists.
The Nippon Budokan
The 800-pound gorilla of Tokyo’s live venues, the Budokan is in fact primarily host to 300-pound wrestlers. But starting with the Beatles in 1966 this traditionally designed martial arts arena opened its doors to rockers and has been the stuff of musicians’ dreams ever since. Have you ever seen a “Live at the Budokan” recording? Yes, that was here. With a capacity around 14,000, the Budokan can hardly be called intimate, and newer venues might have more to offer in terms of faculties and sound. However, you are guaranteed a spectacle as artists, domestic and foreign alike, aim to inscribe their name into the legend of the Budokan.
No matter which of these venues you choose, make it a point this summer to experience Tokyo’s live music scene for yourself.
About The Writer:
Emily is a freelance writer and translator living in Japan and always heading to wherever the best music is.
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