RAW: OzAsia Festival – Shugo Tokumaru – Space Theatre – 4K

Singer/songwriter Shugo Tokumaru, has garnered great popularity in his home country of Japan, as well as successfully breaking into the US and European markets. Not the easiest thing to do when your lyrics are all in Japanese and your music defies pigeon-holing into one genre.

“Quirky pop” is probably the closest you’ll get to summarising the sound. While Tokumaru took his place up front on guitar and vocals, he was ably supported by a five piece band comprising Yumiko Hishinuma, Shingo Shimmachi, Yoshinari Kishida, Kenji Ho and Kei Tanaka. Along with the more usual drums and bass, accordion and melodica were used to accentuate the harmonies, while not one but two toy pianos, a glockenspiel and an eclectic array of toys, added cute, amusing and peculiar highlights to the pieces, weaving an intricate sound-scape.

While undoubtedly modern, the first few songs had a traditional Japanese flavour to them. Tokumaru melded old and new in a similar way to what the likes of Mumford & Sons and The Decemberists do with Anglo-Celtic folk-pop, just with an Asian feel. As the set progressed however, we heard pieces more akin to mamba, 60s Brit-pop, 80s love ballads, and even a good ol’ country hoe-down. A heavily accented, acoustic version of Video Killed the Radio Star, brought smiles all ’round.

Not understanding the lyrics of the original songs meant that more focus was directed to the musicianship on display (which was of an impressive standard) and Tokumaru’s voice simply functioned as another instrument in the mix. This is not to say that there weren’t several points where it would have been nice to speak Japanese, so as to understand what was being sung about with such passion or joy.

After closing the set with an energetic piece, reminiscent of Sigur Ros, full of thumping drum beats and glockenspiel, the performers returned for an encore. This included Lahaha, the hit track from Tokumaru’s latest album Exit, and a short instrumental segment involving all five backing artists banging away on the drums while Tokumaru showed off his prowess on the guitar. It was a good way to end the evening, sending the crowd away invigorated and impressed.

Kryztoff Rating: 4K

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