O.L.H. From 2016 to 2017—A Year of Filth

My favorite sordid Japanese R&B band Only Love Hurts (née Omokage Lucky Hole) was pretty busy over this past year, putting on a grand total of five shows between mid-2016 and mid-2017. I could unfortunately only make it to just four of these performances, as one was in the far-off island of Hokkaido. While no new songs came out, the band’s activity on the road was greatly welcomed, and made for four memorable nights.

O.L.H.: Party Night For People Who Can’t Dance (June 19th, 2016)

The first show of 2016 was held almost exactly a year after the only show of 2015. aCKy made specific reference to this, shamelessly confessing that the opening MC about the AKB 48 election was lifted verbatim from the previous year. This year’s show, however, saw the band play in a different venue from previous years. While still located in Shibuya, the first show of 2016 was held in the neighborhood’s Quattro live house. A rather roomy space, the club is located on top of a handy Book Off location. “How many people here are watching one of our shows for the first time tonight?” aCKy inquired of the audience as hands popped up. “Oh… WOW, there are a few. Well, if you’re surprised to see that this band’s lead singer is a fat old fart, please find your way behind the large and renowned Quattro column so you don’t have inflict further pain upon your eyes,” he continued, eloquently describing a key element of the room’s construction known for obstructing people’s view.

Similar to last year, the opening act was not a band, but two performers—Konno Buruma and Nakamura Ai. Nakamura Ai appeared in the band’s only show of 2015, but Konno Buruma was a new face. Buruma’s gimmick was based on a traditional Japanese comedy routine that entails taking random topics and creating metaphors with them based on a consistent theme. Her theme this time (or all the time?) was chinko—penis. As she was taking topic suggestions from the audience, I enthusiastically exclaimed Hoppy. I should have probably seen this coming, but she compared chinko to the stiff and hard bottle Hoppy is served in.

After Buruma made her exit, the room once again went black. A few minutes passed, and the silhouettes of band members ascended the stage. After the requisite tuning, the band opened the show with an extended, funky, and psychedelic instrumental.

While the room was still pitch black, keyboardist Sone-chan broke the silence with the slight ring of his organ. This was followed by taps on cymbals and beats on drums, establishing a groovy, moody rhythm. The horns and guitar came in screaming as audio distortions danced erratically. The performance transformed into a buildup to the opening song, with each player having fun on their instruments while gradually coming together in unison. The performance sounded like the early psyched-out Santana–a heavy influence on some of O.L.H.’s earlier work.

As the the nearly 4-minute instrumental trip came to a close, the guitar, base and drums synced up to transition into… Konya Sugamo De. The crowd cheered as aCKy ran up to the stage in his pink garbs, seizing the mic. Playing upon Buruma’s routine, he made a crude comparison to manko—vaginaduring the song’s intro. aCKy continued this gag during MC interludes, preceded each time by the iconic guitar riff from Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog. The best one put “people who order lemon sours as their first drink” up against manko. “Ah, I should have gotten nama.” (Nama can mean both draft beer or fucking without a condom. I’ll let the Japanese students do the math.)

“Did you ever wonder why you had to end up liking a band like ours?” questioned aCKy of the audience during his opening speech. “Ikitsurai desho?” he interrogated. Once again, scholars of Japanese will know that “ikitsurai” has two meanings—but before anyone in the audience could ponder, aCKy spelled it out in plain English, “I don’t mean ‘difficult to come’—I mean ‘difficult to live.'”

As always, the band performed a red-hot set, consisting of fan favorites like Vegetable Blues, Compass, and Pachinko. One surprise was Seifuku de Matteite (Wait in your School Uniform)–a song they performed live for the first time. The cut appears on the 2012 album On the Border, released just before their 20th anniversary tour. It’s a story about a once-divorced mother living in poverty with her daughter and her new husband. The lyrics primarily repeat the mother’s intention to pay for her daughter’s school lunch, school trip, and—exclusive to the live version, a “Nintendo DS”—but only if that month’s welfare check comes in. The build ups to the chorus mention mom’s new husband, and her pleading with the daughter to “please sleep with him.” The breakdown calls back to the title, begging the child to “please wait in your school uniform–he likes that.” The hopeless horns backing the chorus and the skeezy tweaks of the keyboard establish a sordid vibe, which hit even harder thanks to the rich, live sound.

This was also the first time I heard Tama Plaza Kaikyo live. “Now, I will perform a song about an illicit love affair that I wrote 20 years ago,” exclaimed aCKy as the band broke into the song’s explosive horn-powered intro. The crowd rode the number’s retro Latin rhythm, which came to an abrupt halt as aCKy dramatically crooned the “HA…… GE…… SHIIII……” lyric, dragging out the breaks between each syllable, all of which were punctuated by half-assed blows on a whistle, conjuring giggles from the crowd. Another hot performance of the night came in the form of Como Esta NTR. While time had passed since Gesu no Kiwami Otome vocalist and guitarist Enon Kawatani cheated on his wife with half-Japanese TV personality Becky, this was the first O.L.H. show since the news broke, so aCKy was sure to mention the band’s name during NTR‘s chorus.

The set ended with the customary closing number of Tokyo (ja) Night Club (wa), concluding another entertaining night in Shibuya.

O.L.H.: WWWX Opening Series—Is O.L.H. Alright?! (September 11th, 2016)

To commemorate the opening of a new WWW venue—WWWX—the owners arranged a series of shows by their regular bands. O.L.H. was called to perform, and they were ready to go in guns blazing. In addition to calling in Japanese hip-hop heavyweights OTOKO a.k.a. GAMI and D.O (from NERIMOTHERFUCKER), they enlisted coked-out doo-wopper and brainchild behind bewildering Japanese pop acts like RATS & STAR (later THE GOSPERATS) Tashiro Masashi to headline the show.

However, prior to the performance, “Masshi” mysteriously cancelled. Turns out the deliberately dangerous lineup was too good to be true.

However, shortly after Masshi’s sudden cancellation, the band announced that kayokyoku star Hatanaka Yoko would take over for the drugged-out (and likely in-rehabilitation) Masshi. While maybe not as viscerally exciting as seeing cokehead Masshi doo-wopping on stage, Hatanaka’s name on the billboard built expectations.

“What a flake! Can you believe Masshi pulling out on us like that?” groaned GAMI and D.O during their aggressive and pumped-up hip-hop set. Hanataka’s performance followed, and instead of complaining about Masshi’s sudden disappearance, she delivered an elegant lineup of her Showa pop classics. The polished and genuine Showa quality of her voice vibrated throughout the venue, enchanting the crowd. Among the numbers performed, the crowd got a kick out of the dramatic “love song” Ushiro Kara Mae Kara (From the Front and Back).

After a few minutes, O.L.H. took to the stage. Then, the venue—bathed in darkness—rang with long smokey drags on the sax. The crowd was ripe with tension and excitement, with one audience member exclaiming, “daaaaamnnnn.” As the sensual solo came to a close, the band broke into Tama Plaza Kaikyou. Being a song about a love affair, aCKy enthusiastically chanted “MISSUS, OH, MISSUS” during the mid-song sax solo, and hilariously hiccuped between each syllable of “HA GE SHI” lyric. The crowd cheered at the number’s “Ushiro Kara Mae Kara” lyric, in light of Hanataka’s spirited performance prior.

Following the first song, the band immediately shifted into their call-and-response routine. “I can’t hear you!” aCKy exclaimed, according to procedure, “I can’t GET DOWN at all,” he added, referencing the then-popular Netflix series. He went on to repeat calls of words that ended in “shi”—”HaburaSHI (toothbrush),” “kokeraotoSHI (opening of the new venue).” The last call? “MASSHI! MASSHI, MASSHI!! TASHIRO MASASHI!!!

Given his sudden disappearance, Tashiro Masashi became the main topic of several MC interludes. “I was told that he’s being held in DARC for rehabilitation… but hey, he tweeted on his birthday, so he’s likely still in ‘this world’,” aCKy pondered. “You know Masshi… the guy behind Rats & Star. You know, they put on the black face and sung doo-wop… that was all Masshi’s idea… oh my GOD, what am I saying?” he continued, reflecting Masshi’s questionable career with appropriate snark.

Later on, aCKy “revealed” that the band had “received” a video message from Masshi, straight from his cell in DARC. Masshi was wearing a nice suit in the video, and congratulated WWWX on its opening… only for the camera to pull out, revealing that he wasn’t wearing any pants. To close off the heartfelt message, Masshi gave a sleazy thumbs up. “‘Tasiro Masasi,’ the fact that he’s struggling to pronounce his own name is… rather distressing,” commented aCKy, looking weary of Masshi’s drug-addled lisp.

Another MC segment touched upon aCKy’s health: “I’m sure many of you wonder, ‘maybe I’ll take a pass this time,’ when we announce a new show,” aCKy said as he looked down at the audience, disciplining them. “Listen guys, my blood pressure is REALLY HIGH. Like, dangerously so just a few months ago. It’s calmed down now—after a few trips to the hospital—but what I want you all to know is that I may not be around for long. This might be our last show. So please, think twice before taking a pass. Think of me like a legend… kind of like Amy Winehouse,” he elucidated, closing with a muffled laugh. He then revealed that keyboardist Sone-chan’s blood pressure actually surpasses his own, further threatening the death of band members onto the audience.

The set this time around was quite interesting. After the banging opening of Tama Plaza Kaikyou, the band slowed down, performing songs like Kanarazu Onaji Tokoro De, Beer wo Tsugarete, and Omisoshiru wo Atamete. This show was also the first I saw the super sleazy kayokyoku-meets-Santana lounge number Yoru no Mizudamari. aCKy delivered every line with dramatic flare while Tecchan made his guitar scream. All the while, disco lights spun, bathing the venue with sexy illumination.

After slowing down in the middle, the set sped up for the final 6 songs, closing with 3 absolute firecrackers in the form of Sugamo, Pachinko and Koushien. The band always plays Sugamo, but typically at the beginning or mid-point of the set. Leaving it to near the end kept the crowd on their toes. aCKy enjoys making comments during the song’s long opening, this time watching a fake blood pressure monitor while freaking out over the ever-increasing readings.

The encore was quite special, as it opened with a duet performed by aCKy and Hanataka of her famous song, Canada kara no Tegami. The piece opened with Tecchan conjuring more sexy wails out of his guitar, followed by aCKy and Hanataka playing off each other in perfect Enka fashion.

O.L.H. @ Guru Guru TOIRO Music Festival (December 10th, 2016)

O.L.H. made an appearance at the annual Guru Guru TOIRO music festival held at the TOIRO event space in the Saitama Super Arena, making this the second concert I’ve seen at the Saitama Super Area after that Yoko Kanno one in 2009. Of course, the TOIRO venue is likely 500 times smaller than the main Super Arena. It is Super, after all.

Given the festival setting, this performance ran for a brief 45 minutes. The band concentrated on more up-tempo numbers like Tama Plaza Kaikyou, Pachinko, and Vegetable Blues, making for a short but energetic set.

There was one brief MC segment mid-way through the set, and aCKy was sure to pack it full with heavy punches. “Hey, you fucking sub-cultural dorks. Your friends, there’s no way they know the bands you listen to,” he opened, then proceeding to poke fun at the other minor bands playing at the festival. “Look at all of you–even in the face of a fat, wrinkly old man talking shit, all you guys can do is laugh… How typically Japanese—we can’t be honest with our anger. MAKE JAPAN GR—Ah, fuck it,” he continued, taking a jab at then recently-elected Donald Trump. Forming a circle with his fingers like the then-president-elect, aCKy observed, “Whenever Mr. Trump talks, it looks like he’s squeezing one nipple with his fingers.” Lastly, apropos of absolutely nothing, he closed off the routine by reciting the chorus from Chage and Aska’s YAH YAH YAH in light of Aska’s second arrest for drug possession.

After the show, I found myself loitering about the food and drink stands looking for an alcoholic buzz before popping my head into a random performance. During this heated search for booze, I ran into the man himself: aCKy. He was standing at one of make-shift counters, all by his lonesome. Or so I thought: as I tried to approach him, two crazy fans—a couple—got there first. However, given my drunken state, I had no qualms busting in.

aCKy immediately recognized me. “Ah, wah-kun,” he said, referring to my online handle. Given my drunkenness, I do not remember what conversation transpired. What I do remember is that aCKy gave me a drink ticket, and that one of my favorite photographers liked the selfie I took with aCKy on Instagram. Apparently Aizawa Yoshikazu is a fan of O.L.H.

O.L.H.: Thank You for 25 Years—A Quarter-Century Journey through a Blizzard of Hardships (May 28th, 2017)

Being busy with personal matters in the early part of this year, I wasn’t even aware that O.L.H. would be doing their 25th anniversary show on May 28th, 2017. I was in the States when I happened to catch a glance of their site for the first time in a while and learned of the anniversary show.

While initially overcome with hype, I was quickly smacked back into reality upon finding out that the show was being held only a few hours after my arrival in Narita that day. As any Japan vet knows, the trip from Narita International Airport to the center of Tokyo takes 40 days and 40 nights, and the trek to the show’s Shibuya venue would take even longer. The official website promised limited edition t-shirts designed with cover illustrations from the band’s first 3 albums, tempting the wallets of both myself and a friend. That said, with the situation as it was, it was looking like I had to sit out of what could potentially be the only O.L.H. show of the year. But deep down, I remained hopeful.

Turns out Lady Luck was on my side: My flight miraculously arrived an hour early, and speedy processing at Narita got me on the train that would put me in Shibuya just in time for the show. After pushing and shoving through passengers at the station, I stuffed my junk in a coin locker and sprinted to the venue. Haggard and huffing, I frantically asked the woman at the ticket counter if they were still letting people in.

“Of course we are.”

Makes sense—I’ve only ever been to one sold-out O.L.H. show. I purchased my ticket, picked up shirts for me (Melo) and my friend (Ongaku Girai), and planted myself into the middle of the crowd. I snuck in during the midst of the evening’s opening act by Showa songbirds the Komadori Sisters.

The Komadori Sisters performed a number of their famous Showa ballads, cushioning each song with an MC segment, presumably to take a break. With 2017 marking the sisters’ 56th year in show biz, the pair cracked jokes about their weakening knees and the increasing difficulty of standing on stage for extended periods of time. The duo announced and performed their latest number to close out the act, but making sure to moan about the pain of remembering new lyrics prior. After a break, the show transitioned to the main event.

As aCKy’s MC was a bit more “personal” this time around, it was easier for me comprehend, as opposed to his usual jabs at popular entertainers. On the occasion of the landmark 25th anniversary show, aCKy mused on the meaning of the band’s quarter-century of work. “I mentioned this at the 20th anniversary show, but once upon a time one of my showbiz mentors said this to me, ‘when someone asks you how long you’ve been around, you say the years since your records started selling.’ If that’s the case, we’re still on our 0th anniversary!”

Similar to the show in September, he threatened the audience with his death, providing updates on his and keyboardist Sone-chan’s dangerously high blood pressure. On the same “health problems” vein, aCKy meekly admitted that he caught an STD. “I know you are all probably thinking, ‘I can’t believe he’s not using protection,’ but LISTEN, that bacteria also exists in the throat,” explained an aging aCKy, now going on 50 years old. “And it’s not like you’re gonna slip the rubber on right as you enter the bedroom—there’s a time and place for these things,” he elaborated, “also, more often than not, the little guy is not nearly excited enough ahead of the throat action for a condom to even stay on.”

This story would develop in further between-song spiels.

“You know what I’ve been getting into lately? VR,” aCKy announced, followed by preemptive chuckles from the crowd, “You know, that porno VR. Man, with that and TENGA, people will give up on sex.” The sordid MC segments continued as aCKy spoke at length about renting porno videos during his youth. “At the place my buds and I went to, the cashier would read out the title of what you were renting,” reminisced aCKy, “it got to the point where we’d just buy stuff with the craziest titles just to hear him read it out.”

The evening’s set was very similar to the band’s previous performance in September of 2016, but contained two surprises in the forms of Onna no Michishirube and Pillow Talk, Tagalog Goboth songs that band hand’t included in their lineups for over a year. Tecchan’s aggressive and twisty guitar propelled the raw energy of Michishirube‘s chorus, while the same instrument lulled the audience into quiet melancholy during an extended instrumental break in Tagalog Go. Both are numbers off the band’s first pro release, and hearing them re-arranged and pumped up for the live performance did well to get my drunk legs moving on the crowded dance floor.

And that’s one full year of O.L.H. The band has yet to announce any new shows for the rest of the year, so perhaps this last performance in May will be the last for a while. Considering how un-characteristically active the band was in 2016, it’s hard to expect anything for the rest of 2017…. but one can hope!

But pending any announcements, until next year, O.L.H.!

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