QUEER - The Pipeline, London
Japan Underground returned to London for its first gig of the new year with an eighties-themed evening. Festivities kicked off with a DJ setlist of cover songs from Japanese artists - everything from ‘Against the Odds’ to ‘A Whole New World’ saw my long-time enthusiasm for Japanese music rapidly shrivel, so thank the Emperor then for the live acts performing tonight for the much-publicised Queen tribute event.
Jake Emlyn and Kenji Suzuki were originally scheduled to appear as support, but following a cancellation they were replaced in the form of Haruna Komatsu, one third of local pop/rock band No Cars. Haruna appeared on stage seemingly a tad overwhelmed by the TV crew, various other photographers and trending audience members in attendance. Any nerves, though, didn’t stick around for long.
Informing us that her band mates couldn’t make it, she launched into an acoustic set that would inevitability cause some to draw comparisons with Shonen Knife; melodies about ordinary things that she happens to admire, from loving tuna to trying to find David Bowie, and even one about bananas. “Some people say our songs are like Shonen Knife, but I hate them,” she joked with hushed gestures, setting the tone for what would be a wildly funny and unpredictable performance.
The regular chit chat revealed an instantly carefree personality. She simply went with the flow, providing a tongue-in-cheek set, throughout which a host of winks, cheeky smiles and other body gestures played up to the kind of typified cutesy manner that might have otherwise been expected … except with a smattering of bad language. All self-knowing, every bit of it felt honest and despite any mistakes she might have made - and there were one or two heavy screeches to acknowledge her “fuck ups” - she was clearly having a ball, and won over a few new fans in the process.
I was probably a little too young to fully appreciate Queen - let alone rock music in general - when they were at the height of their fame. Interests lay elsewhere, and it wasn’t until around the time of Freddie’s passing that I learned more about his music, in turn borrowing my father’s CD collection and falling in love with the early albums. As a front man he was regarded as one of the best, and if ever there was a show that I wish I could have seen, then it would have been with Queen headlining.
I’ve held little interest in seeing post-Freddie Queen in the past and tribute bands often leave me feeling hesitant. I suppose it’s a little strange then to consider this evening as being among the closest I’d ever get to appreciating them live. Hailing from Japan, QUEER’s line-up (Bulsara on vocals, along with BULA!!!ian M Sato, Roger M. T and George Deacon) gets no points for originality, but hey it works. QUEER exudes confidence; a meticulously crafted act that genuinely goes out of its way to capture some lovely authentic moments, little details such as the way in which Bulsara holds the mic, to BULA’s facial expressions (and the hair, which we’re told is real!). For all intents they may well believe that they’re spiritual successors, and with such passionate commitment I wouldn’t care to argue.
The energy on stage was engulfing enough to forgive any of Bulsara’s occasional wayward delivery. Little pronunciation errors here and there were hard to miss, and yet when he got it right his voice was so uncanny it was almost scary. The flamboyancy was wild, with several wardrobe changes - or undressing, actually - as the band went through two sets containing chart hits and some numbers perhaps considered a little more obscure.
A break in the middle saw the introduction of performance artist Kanta Sakamoto, who took us through a version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which was certainly unique and oddly touching, capping things off off with some heartfelt bonding and insane applause.
QUEER would perform again the following Tuesday, and it would be a gig I couldn’t attend. I don’t doubt they smashed it, nor do I doubt another return to England being on the cards.
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More photos of the event can be seen on my Pipeline Flickr page