Sometime last week, there was an ad with the newspaper offering free tickets for a taiko drumming group called TAO, and we both love taiko, so we applied and got them. We weren’t expecting much. Free stuff tends to be full of schmaltz, and you get what you pay for, right? It turned out to be an astonishing performance. Taiko is always powerful, but the level of professionalism, energy, creativity and sheer physical strength of these people was awesome. They used only traditional instruments, but whereas traditional flute and shamisen playing tends to be atonal and reminds me of the sound Plato makes when I step on his tail, the flutes played lilting, mournful tunes with complex harmonies, and the shamisen guy just rocked. They did a variety of different songs, complete with dancing, and not just traditional hand waving and foot stomping, but leaping and turning and tossing the drums in the air. (I know how heavy those drums are; we had a few lessons once upon a time but gave it up because we didn’t like the sensei.) There were elements of modern music but always within a framework of tradition, and nuances of Buddhism and mysticism and just a touch of Samurai machismo, but only for humor. That was part of the charm of the show. Despite obviously spending thousands of hours in rehearsal and being extremely talented, they never took themselves too seriously. They did play and sing Kimigayo toward the end, which borders on schmaltz, but it’s a short song and I got the feeling it was sort of an apology for having so much fun at a time when Japan is such a mess.
We were terribly disappointed with Rent because they had the volume of the music turned up so loud that we couldn’t hear the lyrics. It’s a Broadway play, not a heavy metal concert, for pete’s sake. And the Jackson Browne/Cheryl Crowe concert, which we paid a fortune for, was the same way. There were spotlights aimed directly at our faces and they gradually turned the volume up louder and louder until it was nothing but painful noise, my ears fell off, and my eyes imploded.
I still don’t exactly understand why the TAO performance was free. It seemed to be some sort of promotion by TBS and the Yomiuri Shimbun, who forgot to deliver our newspapers the other day, but I have now forgiven them. TAO has some excerpts on YouTube if you’re curious.