Konichiwa, my friends!
When you hit the big time -- and you're going to hit the big time, man -- you're gonna go all around this beautiful world, guitar in hand, and you're gonna make it everywhere, even Japan. As I write this, I'm sitting in the plane, on the runway at Narita getting ready to fly back to Boston from Tokyo.
This was my 35th trip to the land of the rising sun. We just wrapped a three-show mini-tour playing Nagoya, Osaka, and Tokyo, and I have to say these were some of my best shows in Japan.
When you play town to town, city to city, coast to coast and overseas, I think you may find, as I have, that the vibes change a lot regionally. For instance, I often find that in the US, the South and the Midwest have really partying crowds whereas sometimes towns like LA or NYC can seem a bit tougher to please. When you go overseas, these subtle differences in crowd vibrations can be much more intense. It's something to be cognizant of, that's for sure. Mental preparation, no doubt.
My music is heavily based on lyrical content. I write words -- lots of them -- and one problem I've had overseas is the language barrier. Sure, the music and the vibe of what we are doing gets across in a heavy way but some of the catch phrases get lost in translation. Tricks that work back in Philly may get lost in Tokyo. So it's time to make some adjustments. Realize that some Philly slang that makes people laugh in Spokane may just go right over people's heads in Osaka.
Japan can be a very inspirational and challenging place to tour. You've never seen such a receptive, eager and loving crowd as you will in Japan. The Japanese people who dig western music really dig it. I mean they love it. You really would be hard pressed to find a more loyal and supportive fan base. That being said, certain cultural differences exist that may take some getting used to.
If you're like us then you've played a ton of bars and clubs and you may be used to a loud, boisterous and rowdy crowd that's loving but not overly concerned with listening very carefully. I find that the Japanese listen very intently to the music. Because they are listening so closely, they're just not making a lot of extraneous noise. In between songs the crowd usually ruptures with applause after the final note is played and then there is complete silence before you start the next number. I mean you can hear a freaking pin drop and I'm just not used to that. No matter how many times I play over here the silence can be disconcerting, but you've got to embrace it!
I will never forget a night we had off in Tokyo years ago. We went to see our label mate Mariah Carey perform at the Tokyo Dome. It was a sold out show for 20,000 people and this was the night I really noticed the cultural difference in a concert going crowd. As show time neared, the house lights went down and 20,000 people went completely silent and took their seats. If you've been to see any big act in the states, it’s completely opposite! The minute the house lights go down people go crazy and the party starts. I was taken aback. Seriously!
Mariah hit the stage with huge fanfare. I mean there were fireworks, there were 20 dancers dancing, there were massive lights and there were even freaking lasers. It was the most completely over the top intro I've ever seen. The band played a huge swell and Mariah hit her patented high note eeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaawwoooo! and then... complete and utter silence from 20,000 strong. Talk about an awkward silence. I could see that Mariah was completely unnerved from the crowd. The band launched into the first number, but I could see her falter. If wasn't until the final decay of the last note of the first song that the crowd erupted into a huge applause. By then it was too late for Mariah, I felt like her vibe was shot. She was used to that intro launching herself, dancers, band and the huge crowd into a euphoria that would carry her through the whole performance. It was like that scene in the Blues Brothers movie where the crowd totally disses their intro and they've got to bust ass to win the crowd person by person but this was real life. I was in my seat and I was feeling for Mariah.
The thing that I now realize is that the crowd was loving her every second but she just didn't know it. Silence was the way the audience gave her respect. It was a learning experience for me to say the least!
On my most recent tour of Japan, I felt like I really was able to use the different crowd response to my advantage.
It only took me 20 years to figure this shit out, but better late than never right? I used the respect to dig deep. I used the silent moments to be dramatic. We dug back in our catalogue and pulled out some darker songs that inspired us. Because some of my lyrical content was lost in translation, I found myself singing with more emotion and conviction to get my point across. During the instrumental sections we really let the music speak.
I used body language and sweat to get my point across that cultural divide. We used the small amount of Japanese words we know to let the crowd know that we were embracing their culture just as they were embracing our music. There were times when we just had fun with the silence between songs. It's so disconcerting that we just went with it. Fuck it, if it's quiet enough for the audience to hear me talking to the drummer between songs then you might as well include the whole room in the conversation. We were able to transform a potentially uncomfortable situation into a very intimate night and that's what it's all about right? Connect with that audience. One way or another whether it's Tokyo, New Jersey or Timbuktu, you've got to make it happen. So lean on that music man.
Of course, there are many other obstacles you'll have to prepare for when touring overseas. Jet lag, different and often strange food, different currency, crappy rental gear, doing press with translators, house crews that don’t speak English, being really far away from your girl, getting no sleep, different schedules and a whole bunch of annoying shit that can really piss you off but just remember, the remedy is in your hands. It's got six strings and it's good to go so lean on that music man and put it all into the show. You'll be great and trust me, those people have waited a while to see you so feel that love and shine bright. Shoot, you're international now, kid!
Keep jamming, and keep it down and dirty.
G. Love, aka Garrett Dutton, has been the front man and founder of the alternative hip-hop blues group G. Love & Special Sauce since their inception in 1993. Widely known for his upbeat hits "Cold Beverage," "Baby's Got Sauce" and "Hot Cookin'," G. Love returned to his blues and country roots on his latest release, Fixin' To Die (Amazon, iTunes), produced by Scott and Seth Avett. A road dog if one ever existed, G. Love performs roughly 125 shows a year all over the world including Australia, Japan, Brazil, UK, Canada and the U.S. G. Love teamed up with Gretsch to create his own signature model, the Gretsch G. Love Signature Electromatic Corvette, which features a pair of TV Jones® Power'Tron™ pickups, deluxe mini-precision tuners and a cool Phili-green color scheme with competition stripe that would make ANYONE from Philadelphia proud! Check it out here.