It’s been roughly two years since the Hostess Weekender first opened its doors at Ebisu Garden Palace, bringing a mix of up-and-coming minor bands with more established indie favorites to headline their shows.
By Christopher O’Keeffe
The format was unchanged this time around with five bands per day playing over the Valentine’s weekend at Shin-Kiba’s Studio Coast, recognizable to most as Tokyo super-club Ageha. When tickets for most shows in Tokyo cost around ¥6000 for a single band, usually kicking off at the unfathomable hour of 6 pm on a weeknight, Hostess Weekender has always provided a good value, offering a solid lineup and a whole day’s entertainment. Tokyo Weekender was in attendance to check out Mogwai and The National headline the two-day event.
Tickets for Saturday sold out well in advance, mostly down to the dedicated fan base of veteran performers Mogwai and the appearance of current hot-new-thing Chvrches.
The day got off to a slow start, perhaps because of the slushy snow outside or maybe because it was the morning after Valentine’s evening, but many people, this writer included, where still turning up as Errors finished their set. By the time singer-songwriter Ásgeir took to the stage the house was packed and it was tough getting through the doors to find a decent view of the stage. I was hoping Asgeir would give some clue on how to pronounce his name during the set but the Icelandic artist wasn’t big on words, sticking firmly to the music and performing a gimmick free set of sentimental folk.
Third act Daughter gave a solid, if contradictory performance, as they ran through songs from last year’s debut, If You Leave. The three-piece band has an intense sound that incorporates haunting vocals over an atmospheric sound but the mature music was undermined by a lack of confidence displayed by the youngsters when addressing the crowd. Guitarist Igor Haefeli nervously mumbled through a story about the weather and singer Elena Tonra sounded utterly terrified as she thanked fans for being there and Hostess Weekender for putting them on. Best to let the music do the talking for the moment.
Chvrches had a busy 2013, making a name for themselves at home in their native UK as well as here in Japan where, unfortunately, a large part of their success is down to the kawaii-factor of frontwoman Lauren Mayberry. The band proved they’re more than just a pretty face, launching themselves into the opening number with an energy that had been missing all day, particularly from Martin Doherty who attacked his synthesizer with gusto. The 80s-inspired electro got the crowd moving as Mayberry’s impressive vocals and sharp lyrics that lend themselves well to a pop hook worked their magic. Doherty taking over vocal duties for “Under the Tide” was a highlight, more for his manic energy and enthusiasm than vocal abilities.
Mogwai have been around since the late 90s, and they’re a solid festival band with a dedicated following here in Japan that was out in force today. The band must have been delighted at the chance to come and headline the festival and promote their latest album Rave Tapes and enjoyed the fact they were the third Scottish act to take to the stage that day. The slow-burning and anthemic tracks from the new album – “Heard About You Last Night,” “Blues Hour,” and “The Lord is Out of Control” fit nicely into a set that played like a big, epic film score that continued ringing out long after the band had left the stage and the fans had wandered out into the cold night.
Sunday was noticeably less busy than the previous day, a shame as the lineup was the more interesting of the two. The previous day had been great for music but low on action due to the introspective quality of many of the artists.
The clumsily titled Buke and Gase (named after their instruments, a combination of a guitar and bass and an electrified ukele) were up first, warming up the crowd with their experimental indie rock but it was King Krule who really got things going with an angry ferocity that shook the shoe-gazing audience awake. Few bands can get away with a bit of spoken word poetry, but it’s a testament to the artist formerly known as Zoo Kid. With his intelligent, streetwise lyrics and London-patois delivery he could do what he liked on stage and pull it off. The band are tight: like seasoned jazz pros they keep a solid rhythm through the exchange of glances and head nods, despite the fact the members are all around 19 years old. The biggest crowd reaction was reserved for debut EP track , “Noose of Jah City,” but with their unique look and sound this is one band to watch.
After squeaky-voiced man-child “Youth Lagoon,” returned to the Weekender stage with a bigger band and beefed up sound, it was time for LA quartet Warpaint, back after a four-year hiatus with a well-received, self-titled sophomore album. The band has a sound not too dissimilar from yesterday’s Daughter but while that band sounded unsure, the years Warpaint have spent together have resulted in a unity in which the four members are comfortable and clearly enjoy playing together. The band’s moodily atmospheric and delicately beautiful songs were all present, from debut album tracks “Undertow” and “Shadows” to newer numbers “Love Is to Die” and “Teese”. The more upbeat, bass-heavy numbers lend themselves to the stage and lead singer Theresa Wayman didn’t miss the opportunity to encourage the audience to get up and dance.
The National entered the stage with a much-needed swagger that had been absent so far. Frontman Matt Berninger chugged red wine between songs and threw himself around the stage with an abandon that should put the much younger bands to shame. The sharp-suited band’s mixture of Americana with British-indie rock influences span six studio albums and they played songs from their complete catalog in an uplifting set. The night ended on a high with the energetic singer returning for the encore and after launching into “Terrible Love” promptly climbing from the stage to circumnavigate the entire crowd, getting right amongst the fans and heading to the back of the venue before returning to finish with acoustic closer “Vanderlyle”.
The next Hostess Club Weekender will be at Studio Coast on June 21 and 22. For more information about the lineup, and to get tickets, check out Hostess Club’s site.
Main Image: Daughter’s Elena Tonra
Images courtesy of Kazumichi Kokei