We weren’t quite sure we would actually find The Akabane Vulgars on Strong Bypass, playing live in some hidden corner of Pasadena and we are pros at finding bands in spots that are not the Troubadour or whatever. We’ve spent a lot of time searching for music. We’ve driven blindly in the pre-GPS days, waiting for the bass to shake our car. We’ve wandered through neighborhoods where they only sign of life was the sad shell of a gentlemen’s club. We’ve stumbled into backyards and even made our way through a maze of storage units. Anything to find the music. This time, though, our inner party compass, and all external means of mapping locations, were failing.
On this particular night, the quest to find the band led us to what my perennial partner-in-crime, Carlos, and I would consider uncharted territory. We were in Old Town Pasadena. This isn’t the sort of neighborhood we would ever associate with music we like. The streets are clean and lined with mall stores. There are crowds of people pouring in and out of restaurants with large shopping bags hanging from one arm and small children clinging tightly to the other. It’s family friendly, two words we will never associate with music and good times.
We have been driving in circles for nearly a half-hour trying to find Old Towne Pub. There are signs everywhere, but not a single one indicated that we are where we should be. Part of the problem is that we have two different addresses for the space, one from the venue’s website, the other from Yelp. I strain my eyes looking at street numbers, neither one exists, it seems, although both should be no more than a block away from each other. We park and start walking, turning a corner when we spot an alley. There’s a tough-looking guy dressed in all black, the universal sign of a bouncer. We are here, even though we’re never really sure exactly where here is. Now we have to find The Akabane Vulgars on Strong Bypass, or The Akabane Vulgars for short.
Old Towne Pub is like nothing else in the neighborhood. In other words, I liked it. The venue is small, so small that a spot on a barstool will place you directly in front of the band on stage. The woman who tends bar also runs sound. There are, maybe, five or six people inside, all female, all kind of punk looking and apparently friends with the singer-songwriter who is playing. There are a few more people outside, mostly guys, some girls. I’m looking for the band, The Akabane Vulgars, an all-female rock trio from Tokyo, and their tour manager, John. Instead, I meet several other guys named John.
Finally, I meet the right John and he takes me out to the front of the club, where the girls are hanging out in an old, blue van. The Akabane Vulgars are Yumi Uchizono (lead vocals, guitar), Miki Uchizono (bass) and Kei Sofue (drums). Yumi and Miki are sisters. After six years of playing around Japan, they made their first trip to the U.S. early in 2012 for South by Southwest. Right now, they’re in the middle of their first U.S. tour.
They’re already a few dates into the tour when we met. Yumi, who does most of the talking during our brief interview, tells me about the shows. There was the gig in Sacramento where a guy offered to be their roadie. “There’s no space in the van,” she says and all three laugh. I took a peek inside their van. There really is no room for a roadie. There was the J-Pop Summit in San Francisco, their biggest date on the tour so far. Yumi mentions that it was interesting to see people show up to the concert cosplaying characters from anime series like Neon Genesis Evangelion. “I’m not familiar with these things,” she says.
Back inside the club in Pasadena, there’s no cosplay, just a lot of rockers. By the time the band takes the stage, there’s a decent sized crowd in the room. Yumi says that she likes bands that “have career vision and a philosophy.” On stage, that’s what The Akabane Vulgars have. They are tight with big, bluesy vocals, big, thunderous music. They have a sound that’s far too large for such a small venue. At times, we have to stand right outside the open patio door to make up for the fact that we forgot earplugs. We can still see everything, hear everything, but there’s less chance of post-concert ear-ringing out here. The Akabane Vulgars are loud and awesome. They bust out a cover of “House of the Rising Sun.” I’m impressed.
The Akabane Vulgars will be on tour through the rest of September. Check their website for shows. New York friends, note that they are playing shows at both Lit Lounge and Trash Bar in Brooklyn, so you have two chances to see them. I suggest you do.
Also, you can vote for The Akabane Vulgars to be MTV Iggy’s Artist of the Week. Get to it.