An “orchestra” of Japanese guys playing what sounds like a mix of traditional ska and spaghetti Western soundtrack music? It doesn't get more incongruous, yet it comes out incredibly well. I've been enjoying Full-Tension Beaters for a while now, but that couldn't prepare me for the way Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra's unique brand of orchestral-cinematic ska translates to a live show.
Unfortunately, it was in the most inconveniently located (and ugly) venue in town; certain people were late to arrive from Amsterdam, and there was no opener, so we missed the first song (gasp!), but our timing turned out pretty well, as we entered just as the ten-piece (!), dressed in white tuxedos, launched into the opening strains of “5 Days of Tequila,” one of their best and most recognizable songs, and from that point on I didn't stop dancing. After that song, the baritone saxophonist (one of three, including a ridiculous bass sax that looked like a brass bassoon) launched into surprisingly good Dutch and then asked the crowd for an “energy exchange” -- “give us great power so we can give you great power.” And there was no lack of power from either end. The band put on an incredibly lively show, with musicians flying everywhere and wild tempos and soloing. Three band members in particular stood out: There was the saxophonist in the porkpie hat constantly making random announcements, and then the pianist with silly ecstatic facial expressions and absurd whistling solos. But the show-stealer was the long-haired, immaculately-bearded trombonist, who wielded his instrument like a weapon while wearing a white under-tux vest. He ended up playing with the trombone pointed straight up several times, and got into an amusing duel with the trumpeter when the latter accidentally hit the trombonist. The victim bided his time until his trumpeting foe had a solo, then knocked him aside and took the solo for himself. Good stuff. The crowd did its part too: Energy levels were intense, with lots of shout-alongs and arm-waving, and even an impromptu circular conga line which I got drawn into. As for myself, this was my first show completely sober for quite a while, and I really enjoyed it. I haven't gotten that into a show in a long time, and had huge amounts of fun, even if I ended up starving, melting, and exhausted.
Musically, there were a ton of highlights. Most of Full-Tension Beaters was played, but the real fun of Skapara is the “what'll they play next?” factor. There were odd interludes like the pianist's 8-bit Nintendo-esque solo, and then there were the covers. They ranged from the intro of “California Uber Alles” to a segue from “Frere Jacques” to a merry-go-round theme to a cavalry charge bugle call, all as a duet between trumpet and trombone. Other great covers included “Guns of Navarone” and the “let's go!” clap-anthem familiar to anyone who's ever been to a baseball game, but the single best moment was when the trumpeter pulled out a neon-lit melodica and played “Old MacDonald” with the whole audience shouting along. Plus, at the end, after the saxophonist closed the set by jumping from the drum set, the single-song encore was none other than the Tetris theme. A ridiculous end to a ridiculous show. It was great but not mindblowing, and so deserving of an 8/10.