On the drive over to Sail Inn tonight, my roommate asked if he was going to understand Peelander Z. It was a fair question. Though the band formed in New York, it's made up of four Japanese transplants.
"Yes," I said, they mostly sing in English. "Albeit, English with a heavy Japanese accent." He remained unconvinced. Would he be able to catch words? Would he be able to sing along?
"One of the songs is called 'Tacos,'" I said. "It goes like this: tacos tacos tacos tacos tacos tacos yeah!"
Ten minutes later, we entered the Sail Inn and didn't find the usual, day-drinking, Dead Heads that occupy this Tempe venue on Sundays. Instead we found a balding Japanese man with streams of fluorescent yellow hair sticking straight out from his head and his cohorts dressed in single colors thrashing guitars and murdering drum sets. A crowd of skanking punk dudes and chicks screamed Peelander lyrics like a mob possessed; lyrics like those found in the song "Mad Tiger."
"Tiger-Chop, Tiger-Kick. Whatever punch'n you. Tiger-Hug, Tiger-Kiss. Whenever love'n you. Cause we are mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad tiger!"
If you can imagine the Power Rangers slamming six-shot lattes only moments before making a musical guest appearance on Yo Gabba Gabba during which they are allowed only to speak in the most broken of Engrish patois, you're almost there.
Peelander Z is one of those acts that you can only understand by seeing them live. If you've never seen them before, you've missed out; numerous times in fact. Unlike most Japanese bands who make only the rarest of stops here in the Valley, Peelander Z manages to bring their self-described punk rock "circus" to town just about every year -- and what a circus!
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Peelander Z wore tiger masks while pulling a rope at about neck height across the audience for some improvised limbo. Peelander Pink tossed pans and drum sticks to audience members so that they might pound along with the music. By the end of the show, the band handed all of their instruments over to audience members. Peelander Red donned a squid guitar costume and slammed head first into a triangle of bowling pins. And when I thought I was steeped so deeply in Peelander madness that any further saturation would be impossible, they played the single, best cover of "Old Macdonald" I've ever heard. Yes, that "Old Macdonald." Oink oink here. Oink oink there.
If last paragraph has you thinking that the primary Peelander demographic is grade school kids, you're half right. The show was billed as all-ages, and this time, that really meant all ages. Parents who came out to see the Aggrolites play after Peelander cleared the stage brought their kids with them; some probably no older than four years old.
Those kids are screwed. They are destined for a lifetime of live music disappointments. Before tonight, they thought The Wiggles were a big deal. One dose of Peelander magic later and their developing minds are now hard-wired to equate great rock shows with squid monster costumes, screaming out your preferred steak preparation method (medium rare), limbo, human bowling, and grammatically questionable but hilarious lyrics. How could any band measure up?
That's what I was asking myself when the Aggrolites hit the Sail Inn stage. My mind still reeling from a Peelander rocket punch, I barely even noticed when they started up.
Don't get me wrong, The Aggrolites are a credit to their reggae/ska roots and talented musicians to boot, but I felt like I was listening to the same reggae song for an hour. I craved audience participation beyond a call and response with the singer. How monotonously boring, I thought as I half-heartedly shouted "whoa" back at The Aggrolites. Couldn't they at least put on a tiger mask or something?
Towards the end of their set, The Aggrolites' singer Jesse Wagner asked the crowd to give it up for Peelander Z one more time. Then, with a detectable hint of defensiveness, he said, "We could get a limbo rope too, and come out there and limbo."
If they had, I might have stuck around to see it. Instead, my roomie and I skipped out a little before the end to scream Peelander Z lyrics at each other during the drive home.
Last Night: Peelander Z and (I guess) The Aggrolites at Sail Inn in Tempe.
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The Crowd:Varied. At this show, all ages really meant all ages. I fear for the rock 'n' roll futures of those kids, though.
Overheard in the crowd: One dude looking over at his friend and saying "yeah." It was the kind of yeah that expressed shock but ultimately a complete understanding that what the two of them had just witnessed was, in fact, awesome. it goes without saying that this exchange took place during Peelander Z.
Random Notebook Dump: The mythology surrounding Peelander Z is as rich as it is oddly confusing. Peelander Yellow insists that he is very, very handsome on the Peelander planet. On Earth, he is admittedly considered less so. He's okay with that though, because on the Peelander planet, all of us are very, very ugly.
By the Way: Peelander Z have a YouTube channel. It might help explain things.