I was introduced to the music of The Captains by Hajime Kusano, the manager of a Japanese rock band called The Emeralds. Hajime sent me a gift box of CDs in the fall of 2006 and I was immediately attracted to the cover art for The Captains’ The New World EP. The band looked like characters from The Rose of Versailles if it had been created by Leiji Matsumoto and their matching retro, military-esque outfits just screamed “Group Sounds,” a musical genre very dear to me. I fell in love with the band upon my first listen of that CD with its eleki-based guitar solos, surf-styled drumming, and lyrics that focused on the concept of idealized love. Gimmicky or not, The Captains were completely unique: a half throwback/half modern pop unit that were the complete opposite of the brooding, tough guy rock and roll image. I’d been wanting to start a record label for years and was just waiting for the perfect band to launch the project, which I found in The Captains. Flash forward 10 months …
September 10, 2007
New York, NY
The Captains’ Last Group Sounds, the first CD on my newly formed Tokyo No Records label, arrived from the printer this morning just in time for the “Last Group Sounds U.S. Tour 2007.” The CD turned out pretty well; hopefully we’ll sell enough on tour to break even. I met the band at JFK at 6 pm: Kizuhiko (guitar/vocals), Hizashi (guitar), Ted (bass), Yosuke (drums), Yusuke (road manager), and Hiro (band manager). I had spent the summer practicing my Japanese speaking abilities and greeted them with, “I speak a little Japanese, but I am not very good yet.” My words were true as I was quickly reduced to hand motions and language dictionaries for the remainder of the day, although the band members speak pretty good basic English, Kizu in particular.
We stayed at a hotel right off of Times Square, the band in one room and management (including myself) in the other. Hayden from the NYC-based Japanese rock promotion outfit Karate Rice escorted us to dinner at a Korean BBQ. While en route on the subway, a drunk man who said that he had been riding the train for 10 hours insisted on repeatedly touching every one of us. The band was confused, but I quickly looked up the word “crazy” in my dictionary and we all agreed that this gentleman was a fine introduction to NYC.
September 13, 2007
The Captains impressed the hell out of me tonight: they set aside their flashy red coats in favor of their older military-styled shirts and did a set comprised of fast sing-alongs that had the audience pumping their fists in the air in unison. The show was a great success, the band sold a lot of merchandise, and the Thee Michelle Gun Elephant-loving sound guy Kurt invited us to stay at his house. [Kurt would later be named The Captains number one fan as he went on to see the band on four separate tour dates.] We are currently all sprawled out on Kurt’s living room floor. His house reminds me of various punk rock houses I’ve occupied in the past and I feel happy, safe, and at home. The band, who fell asleep immediately, are also in very good spirits. Things are going well.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
“I can’t believe I got the weekend off for this,” said a young cosplayer who just walked by The Captains’ merch table. It’s about 8 pm and I’m sitting here alone watching the hyperactive teens in Halloween costumes run back and forth before me. The T-Mode attendance must have topped out at around 300 people, which everyone seems pretty disappointed by, but I guess the climb to anime convention fame is a long one.
It’s now 4 am. The Captains’ live set went very well with at least 70 people in attendance. They posed for photos and signed autographs for a good hour post-performance and we were all thrilled with their reception. Anime conventions are really the perfect place for them to perform. We soon headed across the street for sushi, drinks, and karaoke. I was urged to head back to the hotel at 2 am since I have a long drive tomorrow, but as I passed through the hotel lobby in a half drunken stupor I somehow ended up participating in a LARPesque game that involved a circle of people closing their eyes and tapping their knees while werewolves preyed upon them. The Dungeon Master would say things like, “Kill the wolf or die, shaking in your beds, hiding under your sheets, try to find the wolf!” It was the nerdiest thing I’ve ever done, but kinda fun at the same time. The Captains spotted me upon their return and laughed at seeing me in this cult-like circle of late-night outcasts. It was impossible to explain, not that I fully understood it myself. Tonight I’ll dream of hyperactive werewolves seizing our nation’s capital.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
I phoned tonight’s venue, The Milestone, to find out the load-in time and the answering machine told me in a heavy, snotty Southern drawl, “You can leave a message, but we only check them once a month.” About 30 people watched the Captains perform and we barely sold any merchandise, although it was one of the band’s best sets thus far. A drunk guy kept getting on stage and taking Hizashi’s mic away from him in order to yell “One, Two, Three, Hey!” This happened at least three times. A dog was running around the venue and the owner kept yelling out “Get ‘im, Boots!” That combined with our post-show visit to Waffle House for “Belgi waffles” was fine evidence that we were now officially in the South.
Two locals took Kizu and I out to a honkytonk club post-show tonight, a very uncomfortable experience for the both of us. Kizu stood out like a sore thumb among the cowboy hats and trucker types as he danced around the bar with a rose in his mouth to the sounds of a lousy cover band that spits out tunes like “Wild Thing” and “Smoke On the Water”. We were appreciative of our escorts, but quite happy to be back in our hotel room.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
A man dressed as a schoolgirl cat walks by me looking lost and confused. A young guy carrying a five- foot-tall tin foil sword somehow trips over an empty paper bag. The girl standing next to us in the elevator just said, “So Angela is going to bring the Keyblade tomorrow.” Yup, we’re at another anime convention. Upon entering the Anime Weekend Atlanta hotel lobby, the band looked up at the massive 14 floors above them and stated “The Beatles.” It’s a beautiful place and I’m sure that the band is feeling some sort of degree of success at reaching this point.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
I spent the entire day today at our dealer table promoting tonight’s convention performance. The Captains are scheduled at the same time as the costume contest so I did everything I could to lure people away from what is commonly considered the most popular event of any given convention.
The doors to the massive ballroom opened at 9 pm and an overwhelming 600+ attendees filed in. Kizu wisely catered to the audience at hand, which wasn’t difficult as the band members are anime fans themselves. He opened the set stating, “I love Naruto!” to great applause and went on to replace the lyrics of “Love Ninja” with “Love anime.” The crowd ate it up and I realized that anime conventions may be the new all-ages show. The Captains were someone in the room’s first live music experience and I was proud to have had a hand in making it happen. It’s a good feeling that I don’t get to experience a lot at my video store retail job back in Philly.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
It feels great to be back home. I took the band to the Art Museum today for photographs on the “Rocky steps.” They took pictures with a Rocky impersonator that the city stations on the steps who the band described as “fake Rocky.” Upon our arrival at the International House there were five Japanese girls waiting out front wearing Captains t-shirts. They turned out to be Captains fans from Japan who flew to Philadelphia for the last two tour dates, which I was endlessly impressed by.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
New York, NY
Before heading to our final venue we stopped off at a gift shop and the band bought 50 “I Love NY” t-shirts. As the tour wrapped up at a nice little bar in the East Village called Pianos I felt a degree of sadness. The band heads back to Japan in the morning and, despite language barriers, I feel like I’ve become very good friends with all of them and will be sad to see them go. Fortunately we’re already working on next year’s tour.
Eric Bresler is the director of the film OTAKU UNITE!, available from Central Park Media.