Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Spike Daisakusen DVD Review

So in the downtime between new releases, I thought it'd be fun to take a look back at some of PUFFY's earlier music and concert videos from the perspective of where they are today. I'm going to try to concentrate on stuff that's less commonly available in the west, so you can make a judgment yourself on whether or not you think it's worth tracking down.

Spike Daisakusen was released in 2001 - hard to believe it's been 6 years already! - and was, as the name implies, a video chronicle of their Japanese Spike tour.

I consider Spike itself something of a transition album, coming as it did shortly after their regular producer Tamio Okuda announced to the girls that he'd no longer be so regular anymore and that they should begin to take hold of the reins of their own careers. There's a lot more of their own personalities on the album, making for an eclectic mix of college rock, lounge, trippy post-modern disco and punk. It's probably their least accessible album from a pop music standpoint, and paradoxically one of their most popular among PUFFY's cult of fans in the west - most of whom seemed to find them to begin with by looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

Japanese pop music fans felt differently, though, and with the diminished influence of Tamio Okuda came the beginning of the end of PUFFY as pop culture fad, but a new beginning for PUFFY as a legitimate, long-term, standalone band. The transition would be neither quick nor easy.

All of this comes out in Spike Daisakusen, which feels no less transitional and different from their previous tour videos than the album itself. There's an endearing sloppiness to the entire production that feels really raw, and that same feeling carries through in the performances both by PUFFY themselves and their guests.

Don't get me wrong, they sound great - just more in the way the Ramones sounded great when they played live rather than, say, the slickness of Green Day. Guest musicians abound, from the main man Tamio Okuda (putting in a short appearance on saxophone just to show he's still around) to Mr. Big lead guitarist Paul Gilbert to the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.

Probably the highlight of the musical guests is Lolita #18 guitarist Enazo, who helps out on a high-energy punk rendition of Kyoko Koizumi's 1991 pop anthem "Nantettatte Idol" - a song you will no doubt never hear PUFFY play again. (Yes, she's in mid-air in the shot below.)

And that's a theme of this DVD. The song selection I would describe as "quirky" - there are at least three songs on this DVD that I'd never heard before even with a complete PUFFY album discography. The other two are "Owaranai Uta" - originally sung by the Blue Hearts - and "Yuki ga Furumachi", a b-side to the "Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi" single. If you want to hear something really strange, while that b-side is included on this DVD, "Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi" itself - still their best-selling single and most-played song ever - is not.

Here's the full English/romanized track listing, aped shamelessly from the Spike Daisakusen page on the Peace. Pop. Puffy. site:

1. Boogie-Woogie No. 5
2. Asia no Junshin
3. Su-i Su-i
4. Sui Sui
5. Destruction Pancake
6. Owaranai Uta
7. Aoi Ringo
8. Nantettatte Idol
9. Puffy no Rule
10. Jet Ketsatsu
11. Umi eto
12. Shibuya Kokaido Digest
13. Sumire
14. Circuit no Musume
15. Yuki ga Furumachi
16. SPECIAL SPIKE Back Stage Shooting
17. Boogie-Woogie No. 5 (Special Version)

You'll notice both versions of Su-i Su-i/Sui Sui are included, and the latter includes one of the most amazing sequences you'll ever see on a professionally-produced concert DVD. Back in 2001, Ami and Yumi both played guitar occasionally in concert, and Ami actually played the solo in this song. On this night, she broke at least one string - probably two - throwing her entire guitar out of tune and ruining the solo. (It's common for guitars sporting tremolo systems to go out of tune when strings break - the tension on the tremolo changes, just as if you were pushing the tremolo bar down.) She continued to try to play, obviously confused and flustered, before missing the next line of the song after the solo.

The looks she gives both Yumi and her roadies are priceless.

I think it's great that they left this on the DVD - they're not afraid of people seeing their mistakes.

There are a lot of things on this DVD that you'll probably never see again, from the string-breaking sequence to the amazing "Destruction Pancake" played and sung by Ami solo, to Yumi strumming acoustic guitar alone with no backup band, to Ami playing drums(!)

In fact, you can speculate that a lot of what you see on this DVD was nixed in later tours by their management or record label, because neither of the girls plays guitar (or drums, for that matter) live anymore, and they mostly stick to their true pop hits in their set lists. This tour seemed intended to prove that Ami and Yumi could be all-around musicians and not just vocalists. I'd call it a success, and wish they'd kept it up in later tours. Obviously someone in their inner circle saw things differently. I guess we'll just need to content ourselves with harmonica solos on future tours.

The DVD itself, as I mentioned, is as raw as the performance. The editing is almost amateurish, with many jarring cuts between songs, some weird jump cuts between different performances in mid-song, and a very strange "digest" sequence from an entirely different show towards the end of the disc. Now, they actually played a true medley on their TOUR! PUFFY! TOUR! 10 DVD, but the digest on this disc is all in the editing - with cuts that seem to occur more-or-less at random points in each song. The travesty of it is that many of these songs, again, are songs you'll never hear PUFFY play live today (Yumi singing solo on "This is a Song of Sweet Sweet Season When Cherry Garcia Blossoms Bloom"??? Hello??), and they obviously played them all the way through on this tour - why chop them up like this in the edit?

That's Yumi singing about Cherry Garcia Blossoms - one of my favorite songs. And... that hair!

There's a backstage section at the end that's a nice bonus, where the girls show you around their dressing area, the stage itself and the lighting and mixing board out in the auditorium. (During this sequence, a graphic overlay amusingly refers to the song "Distraction Pancake".) Probably not much that non-Japanese speakers will get out of this, but their personalities still come through. Still, I'd probably have rather had some extra full songs instead.

Here's Ami showing off her guitar - a Fender Jag-Stang made exclusively for the Japanese market. She makes a point to show that this guitar was "designed by Kurt Cobain" (well, it's mostly true):

And Yumi playing the three chords she's required to play during the show backstage on her acoustic:

The DVD is mastered as a 4:3 non-anamorphic disc, and the picture quality is only fair. Not nearly to the same standards as the excellent TOUR! PUFFY! TOUR! 10, which is anamorphic and appears to have been an HD transfer. No such luck here, but then it was six years ago. Still, you'll want to manage your expectations of the disc's technical aspects. It is also a region 2 DVD, so you need either a region 2 or region-free player to play it.

Since Spike, PUFFY have reinvented themselves several times over, and at this point have settled into a lengthy career as pop/rock veterans, especially by Japanese standards. Watching Spike Daisakusen is a reminder of a time when they seemed a bit less sure of where they were going, but also seemed not to care. The feeling of reckless abandon and experimentation in their performance, combined with the unusual track list, makes this disc maybe not the best choice for new fans, but a must for more hardcore fans looking for something with a little less pop polish than their current incarnation will allow.

I bought my copy from YesAsia - though I may have gotten the last one. You can also purchase it at Amazon, though you may need to buy it used. Good luck!

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