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Friday, February 22, 2008

Happyfunsmile Unplugged

NEW YORK, February 19 — On an extremely windy night, I went searching for the Aruba Bar Lounge (100 Park Avenue) in order to attend a Happyfunsmile performance. The bar was a hidden side room in the Peking Park Restaurant.

Aruba Bar Lounge had a strange atmosphere. The place was much smaller than the Forbidden City Bar and Lounge, Happyfunsmile’s home bar. It was also very darkly lit except for the stage area. The stage lights consisted of a strange mix of candy red and yellow-orange hues. The stage light gave the whole room a reddish glow.

Aruba Bar Lounge was a tiny room with a huge horseshoe shaped bar in the center. It was strangely cramped. The bar occupied most of the room, and the seating area was thin strip between the bar and the wall. This made it difficult to walk around the bar. The customers were literally up against the walls. The bartenders had a huge work space.

I quickly found a seat at the bar and ordered a few drinks. I started looking for the band. I couldn’t find any colorful wigs or Japanese Happi coats, which have become distinct parts of a Happyfunsmile performance. After a few minutes, I took a closer look around the bar and began to recognize Brian Nishii, Rodrigo Morimoto, Akiko Hiroshima, and Kaori Ibuki. They were dressed in their normal casual street attire. I barely recognized any of the band members without their bright outfits and neon colored wigs. Happyfunsmile decided to perform a stripped down show.

The stage area was extremely small. Only a handful of band members could fit in the stage area at one time. The rest of the band hung out at the bar. The musicians had to rotate every couple of songs throughout the night. Happyfunsmile performed some amazing acoustic versions of their songs.

At one point, Brian and Rodrigo took the stage to sing a duet. Brian tried his impression of Michael Jackson a la "Smooth Criminal", while Rodrigo went into his suave crooner mode. They sang a few tunes together. During the set, Akiko and Kaori sat behind me at the bar, and they began to sing background vocals. At first, I was a little surprised at the voices coming from behind my barstool. The main band played in front of the bar, and Akiko and Kaori sang behind my chair. It created a weird surround sound effect around my seat.

The whole night was very strange. The oversized bar, the tiny room, the strange lighting, the stripped down performance, and the surround sound effects combined to create a surreal experience. The whole scene was straight out of a David Lynch film.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Exhibition: We Make Our Art Our Life, We Make Our Life Our Art

Sakoto (left) and Terumi Yamamoto (right)

NEW YORK, February 15 — Sakoto and Terumi Yamamoto, two amazing Japanese artists, held a joint exhibition at Harlem’s Tribal Spears café lounge (2167 Frederick Douglass Blvd). The show was called "We Make Our Art Our Life, We Make Our Life Our Art". It consisted of individual works and combined collaborative pieces. All of the pieces were created in Japan, and they were shipped to New York on Tuesday. Yoko Myoi, a noted puppeteer and performance artist, was the curator of the exhibition.

"Memory" by Sakoto and Terumi Yamamoto

I met both artists at the gallery opening, and they were very polite. They did not speak English, and my Japanese is vulgar at best. Yoko politely translated for us, and I got acquainted with these extraordinary artists.

Relief Sculpture by Sakoto

Sakoto is a trained sculptor and ceramicist whose work was stunningly beautiful. Her pieces were ceramic relief sculptures with metallic and glazed highlights. The western influence in Sakoto's work was clearly evident. Her careful ornamentation can easily be compared to Romanesque relief sculptures from the beginning of the 10th century. However, the tone and touch of the artists seems uniquely Japanese. The careful line and the triangular compositions stem from a primarily East Asian culture.

"In and Out" by Terumi Yamamoto

Terumi Yamamoto is an avant-garde calligrapher. Her work was very close to 1960s Minimalist painting in spirit and form. Her brush stroke had the elements of Chinese/Japanese calligraphy, but her forms were not restricted to traditional Kanji. She utilized large sweeping organic shapes, and the simple black and white composition was striking. Yamamoto used contrast and space like Jasper Johns. I found her work to be absolutely amazing.

During the gallery opening, there were several performances. There was live music and a puppet show. However, the real treat of the evening was Yamamoto's live performance of her calligraphy. She had paper and ink set-up on the floor of the gallery, and she took requests for Kanji. The audience shouted requests, and Yamamoto painted live pieces of calligraphy. For many artists, their creative process is very personal and intimate. It was brave of Yamamoto to share her process with the audience, and I was honored to be apart of it.

Terumi Yamamoto performing live calligraphy

It was a great evening with amazingly creative people. Sakoto and Yamamoto had a successful gallery opening. Yoko Myoi did an amazing job with the gallery show.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tibet House Benefit Concert 2008: Celebrating the Year of the Earth Rat

NEW YORK, February 13 — On a wet and gloomy night, I attended the annual Tibet House Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall (West 57th Street and 7th Avenues). The concert benefits several charities such as The Tibetan Community of New York and New Jersey, Batonga, and Farm Aid.

This year’s concert was a little bit more somber than previous years. The absence of Patti Smith, a regular performer for the Tibet House Benefit, was apparent. In previous years, she brought the raw punk energy to the benefit. She did not play this year, and I missed her presence.

The performers included: Philip Glass, Ray Davies, Band of Horses, Nawang Khechog, Ashley MacIsaac, Marisa Monte, Drepung Gomang Monks, and others.

There were some good performances. The highlights included performances by Ashley MacIsaac, Nawang Khechog, and Ray Davies.

The first high point was delivered by a Canadian fiddler, Ashley MacIsaac. MacIsaac’s performance was filled with high energy. His instrumental music, a mixture of Irish folk and pop, was a hit with the crowd. His fiddling was very percussive, and it quickly energized the concert hall. As his tempo picked up, MacIsaac started a mean Irish jig, and the crowd went into a roar.

The next notable performance was given by Nawang Khechog. I’ve seen Khechog several times, and he never disappoints. He was exceptional tonight. On his second song, Khechog collaborated with the drummer to produce an amazing composition of percussion and horn. He played the Tibetan Ceremonial long horn with grace and mastery. He is a uniquely talented musician.

The benefit ended with a powerful set by Ray Davies, formerly of the Kinks. His set included hits like "Lola". Davies closed the benefit with "All the Day and All of the Night". As he rocked out, Carnegie Hall was electrified and the audience roared out of their seats. He rocked it hard, and the audience loved it.

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