Puffy the Diva Slayers
A pop duo idolized by millions performed here on Saturday night, but you've probably never heard of them. In their home country of Japan, Puffy (known as Puffy AmiYumi in America, for obvious reasons) sell massive amounts of records and play to packed arenas. In the States, however, singers Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura are signed to the Hoboken indie Bar/None and made their New York City debut at the mid-sized Irving Plaza. The girls' music, an irresistible sampler from just about every era and style of pop, is way cooler than anything on Top 40 radio right now (with the possible exception of Pink), so unless Puffy AmiYumi become as big as Iron Chef in this country, Americans will have once again proved what crappy musical taste we have.
The sunny tunes and childish artwork of An Illustrated History, the greatest-hits package that is Puffy AmiYumi's second American release, would lead you to believe that Ami and Yumi embody the over-the-top Japanese kawaii ("cute") culture, but their live show defied that stereotype. Wearing baggy pants and loose-fitting T-shirts, the pair played down their natural adorability by looking more like Pearl Jam fans circa 1994 than fashion icons with their own television show, action figures, and clothing line. Their five-piece backing band emphasized the rock beneath the fluff on songs like the English-language single "Love So Pure" and the Who-esque "Jet Police," while Ami and Yumi sang almost every line in complete unison, their voices indistinguishable. They exhibited not a hint of diva behavior, as no costume changes, choreography, or stage decoration cluttered the hour-and-45-minute set. They just smiled, bounced around, and threw up devil-horn hand signs. Moving to Japan seems like a really good idea right about now. Amy Phillips
Notes on Camper
Proof that irony hasn't exactly croaked might have been seen at Camper Van Beethoven's packed three-night stand at the Knitting Factory last weekend. After baffling and infuriating So-Cal punkers who wanted their music and humor scurrilous and not desert-dry, the Campers enchanted scribes and college radio with '80s antics in which David Lowery's droll drawl combined with the band's odd cross-culturalisms. Sadly, while the former hit home with every postmodern smarty from Pavement to Quasi, the latter became the terrain of dinosaur-rock sourpusses (and the occasional wondrous goofball like Tom Ze or Manu Chao). After Lowery dented MTV indieland with his relatively straightforward Cracker, he indulged Camper songs and personnel for live shows. Not much of a stretch, then, to have a recent Camper rarities comp and now, the long-planned cover of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album (which different Campers claim they either love, hate, or don't know).
Rejoined with violinist Jonathan Segel, bassist Victor Krummenacher, and guitarist Greg Lisher, plus a few Crackers, the Camper clan revisited their back catalog without much stage flair or instrumental finesse. But Camper was always more about attitudean arty bar band cum knee-slapping alt-country band cum Gypsy bar mitzvah band. Friday's show leaned more heavily on the metallic crunch of their major-label years ("Pictures of Matchstick Men") than the still hilarious tunes of their lovably sloppy indie years ("Take the Skinheads Bowling"). If their "Oh Death" wasn't as stirring as Ralph Stanley's, their "Tusk" (featuring feedback, computers, chanting, poetry reading) would make an obsessive studio rat like Lindsay Buckingham proud. With the bonus that their lyrics are even funnier than their stage banter, the retooled Camper is as legit as Wire's and Mission of Burma's worthy reunions. Could "the Who" claim such a thing? Jason Gross
Steel Drivin' Men
Offstage, Mick Collins doesn't seem like a big man. On it, he's a rock-and-roll John Henry, bursting with Springsteen '78 energy in a theater that couldn't even hope to contain him. Silver lamé shirt shimmering in the lights, a glam'd-up Gibson flashing like a Sicilian switchblade, new-wave sunglasses, and posture worthy of a rumbler. If there'd been a red velvet curtain hanging on the side of the stage he'd a climbed it and slid down the tear. The crash course during the Dirtbombs' July 13 appearance at the Bowery Ballroom was Rock Deism 101, and Collins played the role as though he teaches the class. Which, as a 20-year veteran and "Garagefather" of Detroit grime (see: the Gories), he kind of does. Too bad anyone, much less the truants in the Detroit Cobras, had to follow the professor's eruption; on this night, their set of bar-punk '60s covers sounded like they hadn't even done their homework.
The rest of the Dirtbombs, however, are past graduate school, each an all-star celebrant of Motor City's currently sympathetic sound. With its twin rhythm sections and one guitar, the quintet plays garage r&b the size of the Boredoms. Glamorous and huge! The drummers locked in the night-train swing like non-jamming Allmans, Bantam Rooster Tom Potter's fuzz-bass weighed the dirty locomotion down, Ghetto Recorder Jim Diamond's grooves were the life of the party, and the two Dirtbomb-lettes cooing stage left injected sex appeal. At times, they were the Spiders From Motown, or Funkadelic on a punk-rock trip (especially during a cover of Sly's pre-Family Stone anthem "Underdog" that made pockets of the Ballroom gyrate something fierce). But mostly, they just unleashed Mick Collins, with his soft Hendrixian spoken croon and antagonistic crud-blues guitar tone, and went on beating the modern rock steam drill on the A&R line, where even in these days of the garage revival, no one seems the wiser. Piotr Orlov
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