Southern Rock Opera

SXSW 02 Music Fest Wrap-up

The Jerry Lee Phantom

Mercury, Friday 15 It's a rare band that confounds initial expectations to the degree of Tokyo's Jerry Lee Phantom. When the quartet began its Friday night headline slot at Japan Nite No. 1, their intensity level was somewhere in the range of Stereolab without all the space-age accouterments. The JLP boasted an ace rhythm section over which keyboardist Ayuko shuffled between soul, electronic, and barrelhouse styles effortlessly. The music was good, but much more mellow and restrained than the band's wild, 13-year-old-cousin-marrying moniker suggested. This was sipping music, not gulping noise. A few songs in, though, the tempo picked up to a disco pace and the room started to feel a bit like Studio 54 magically reconstituted in Shinjuku. The ubiquitous head-bobbing while standing in place gave way to the kind of dancing your crazy uncle might do at a wedding reception after too much champagne. Guitarist/vocalist Hisashi emerged as a consummate rock star frontman, while bassist Nakayan ably covered the gap between Bernard Edwards and Paul Simonon. With the crowd now fervently on their side, the JLP launched into their tour de force, "Freedom." Though the title itself was the only lyric most could understand, the song packed the same momentous burst of joy as U2's "Beautiful Day." Layers of jaded cynicism melted at the foot of the stage like Eskimo Pies on a hot summer day. A beaming Hisashi grabbed the mike to say "I am very happy right now!" and the crowd cheered. He wasn't the only one.

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