I’m not sure what forces work in my favor, but over the years I’ve had the fortune to attend many a concert while on otherwise seemingly average trips. In high school some friends and I, while on a band trip to Chicago, had the opportunity to see Widespread Panic play. Some years later in college I visited Little Rock, and on that trip I saw Meg & Dia, The Pink Spiders, and Sugarcult. Now some years after that I headed up to Geek Media Expo on the weekend of Oct. 22-24, my birthday weekend, where I not only got to enjoy the convention, but I also had the rare opportunity to see The 5,6,7,8’s in an amazingly intimate, enjoyable venue known as Third Man Records.
Chris Sexxx, singer for Nashville’s The Man Power, tipped me off to the concert. While I was initially unsure if I wanted to attend Chris then sold the experience for me by hyping up Third Man Records, ‘the house that Jack White built’, by informing me every performance is recorded live and then released on a limited vinyl release for concert attendees. I don’t even have a vinyl record player, but the opportunity was too much to pass up. Certainly I like most only knew of The 5,6,7,8’s for their Kill Bill appearance, and the Vonage commercial featuring their track “Woo Hoo”, which honestly is not a song I cared for at the time. However, the venue, the vinyl, the rare visit, and the friends who’d be accompanying me made me realize I couldn’t miss this show.
Only a couple hundred people, including myself, waited outside ready to fill the 300 capacity venue. Waiting IDs in hand, camera’s in the car (strict rules), we conversed about seemingly everything under the sun. After some delay we were then finally led in, and Chris and his friends, along with myself, gathered near the front. We waited for several minutes more as the house DJ played an eclectic mix of records. During that time I headed to the back fearing the sound upfront would be too much for me, and there in the back I waited for several more minutes.
Jack White then appeared. He took to the stage and told the audience “The 5,6,7,8’s first album was one of his favorite albums as a teen”. For a man who, even at his young age, has played in many successful bands, in many genres, this was extremely high praise. After uttering a few more words of welcome and praise for The 5,6,7,8s, Jack left the stage. The crowd then excitedly, after having waited for some time, welcomed The 5,6,7,8s to the stage.
For those who don’t recall from Kill Bill, The 5,6,7,8’s is a three-piece female Japanese rock band. While they’re best known in the U.S. for “Woo Hoo”, I very quickly realized their sound is more closely aligned with 50’s, 60s, and 70s rock. In fact, numerous songs performed by The 5,6,7,8’s during the show were either direct Japanese language covers of classic American tracks, or at least original songs musically based on the same chords and progressions popular in the era. Of the covers they played the most recognizable songs were “Hanky Panky” and “Great Balls of Fire”, both of which were real crowd pleasers despite their age. For “Great Balls of Fire”, and a couple other tracks, they brought on a pianist named Mabo, who in the middle of “Great Balls of Fire” started playing with one leg on the keyboard. Mabo went all out and played “Great Balls of Fire” with intensity near the level of Jerry Lee Lewis, which is saying quite a bit. Of the original songs clearly inspired from the early decades of rock, The 5,6,7,8’s performed “The Barracuda”, “Hey! Mashed Potato, Hey!”, and “Bomb the Twist”. Perhaps because of the familiar beats the audience seemed to get into these songs quite easily. Many of the other tracks weren’t as easily defined, and spanned many genres, including rockabilly, surf music, and garage rock.
Throughout the concert the band had to deal with some technical issues, and a couple of times a staffer had to check the amps and wiring. Perhaps due to these interruptions, the language barrier, or even just my position in the back, I noticed many around me started to get restless as the concert continued. I decided then I shouldn’t have left my original post up front, but I did my best to disregard the conversations that seemed to spark up more and more. I think this disconnect is perhaps why when The 5,6,7,8’s performed “Woo Hoo”, which was not an encore track, that the audience in my opinion pitifully joined in. I hope that the audience up front joined in more, but especially at a live show recording I’d hope more and more that audience participation would have been at its peak.
As I mentioned previously going into the concert I knew very little of The 5,6,7,8’s except for “Woo Hoo”, which just annoyed me back when I first heard it. However, I pledged to myself to be open minded before going in. I am certainly glad I was able to do so, because song after song I became more engrossed in the band. I was especially impressed by their skills with their respective instruments. All of the musicians, including Mabo, had several great solos. Additionally while Yoshiko seemed to front the band, leading with her vocals and mad electric guitar skills, all three members contributed to the songs vocally. The 5,6,7,8s were a tight ensemble, and their years of performing and touring clearly payed off.
The main hour of the performance seemed to go by so quickly. Thankfully though with their average song hovering around 2.5 minutes in length The 5,6,7,8s were able to play deep into their repertoire. Excitedly we were also treated not with one but two encores! The first encore felt as many do serving to fully satisfy the audience, while also providing a cap on the evening. The second encore was a whole different effect all together though! Following an announcement from one of the staff members that due to this rare visit a special encore could occur (if we cheered enough), I very quickly hoped, and realized, that Jack White would likely take the stage with the band. Indeed he did, and while his participation in a couple of the songs was awesome The 5,6,7,8’s were not upstaged by his presence in the least. In fact, Yoshiko came back to the stage more emboldened. She had a cigarette in one hand, a drink in the other, her guitar hanging from her neck, and she was revealing more of her upper body highlighted by a tattoo on her shoulder. She looked devilishly sexy despite being more mature than the average J-artist. In that moment few younger J-Pop/J-Rock female stars could’ve competed with her, and I feel she knew it and she loved it. Hypnotized by the music, the spectacle, and the sheer rocking force on stage I felt more pumped during that encore than during the whole show! Just as the energy seemed to near the peak of its crescendo, The 5,6,7,8s ended their show leaving me, and many in the audience, hoping for more. However, the night was at its end, and truly The 5,6,7,8s had impressed me many times over already.
Following the show I waited in line outside Third Man Records with Chris and his friends to pre-order the record they were going to press of the live show. While in there I saw Third Man Record’s limited re-release of The 5,6,7,8’s self-titled album, a gold and black vinyl, and I decided to pick that up too. While I don’t have a record player as of this writing, I now have two reasons, or two records specifically, for why I really want one.
Together The 5,6,7,8s helped establish a connection musically that, despite their broken English, was still overwhelmingly understood and appreciated by the audience. Reaching into the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s (per their namesake), The 5,6,7,8s pulled out originals and covers that delighted the crowd for way longer than the assumed concert run. I came in knowing next to nothing about The 5,6,7,8s, but I left a full fledged fan. Certainly their music isn’t for everyone, and not just due to the language barrier. Some may find their voices quirky, or the retro-styling too old fashioned. However, if you like that sort of style, or have an open mind for music, then you should definitely check out their songs. If you’re fortunate enough you should also try to check out their live show as well.