New Year’s Countdown Special

New Year’s Countdown Special

Consign the ’00s to history—in the manner of your choosing


Originally published on on December 2009




One of Japan’s unique traditions is the performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve. Stagings of nenmatsu no daiku apparently began when German World War I POWs taught it to their captors at camps in Japan. Most of the big Kanto orchestras will be holding their own performances, but the one to catch will be the Leningrad State Orchestra at Tokyo Opera City. For true enthusiasts, the Iwaki Memorial Orchestra will perform all the Beethoven symphonies from 1 through 9 on December 31 at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan…

Another feature of the Japanese classical New Year is the performance of late-night “Sylvester” concerts. Usually these take the form of paeans to Viennese waltz composer Johann Strauss (December 31 is Saint Sylvester day, and Austrians call it “Sylvester”), such as the Suntory Hall Sylvester Concert 2009 featuring the Vienna Folk Opera. Bunkamura Orchard Hall, on the other hand, is celebrating the International Year of Astronomy—400 years since Galileo first used a telescope to peer at the heavens. The Tokyu Sylvester Concert 2009-2010 features a space-themed program including, among others, Gustav Holt’s famous “Jupiter” from The Planets.

Leningrad State Orchestra
Perhaps the best of many performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony this season. Dec 28, 2pm, ¥5,500-¥10,000. Minato Mirai Hall, Yokohama. Dec 29-30, 2pm, ¥5,500-¥10,000. Tokyo Opera City, Hatsudai. Tel: Koransha 03-3943-9999.

Iwaki Memorial Orchestra
Performance of Beethoven’s Symphonies 1-9. Dec 31, ¥2,000-¥20,000. Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, Ueno. Tel: 03-3584-1951.

“Tokyu Sylvester Concert 2009-2010”
The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra performs works by Handel, Chopin and others. Dec 31, 10pm, ¥7,000-¥9,000. Bunkamura Orchard Hall, Shibuya. Tel: 03-3477-9912.

“Suntory Hall Sylvester Concert 2009”
Soprano Natalia Ushakova and tenor Mehrzad Montazeri bring in the New Year with the music of Strauss. Dec 31, 10pm, ¥8,000-¥12,000. Suntory Hall, Roppongi-Itchome. Tel: 03-3584-9999.


J. Holiday

J. Holiday

Partiers who like a bit of funk with their New Year’s Eve should point their GPS to Billboard Live, where venerable guitarist Al McKay presents Al McKay All Stars plays music of Earth, Wind & Fire. The axeman was a mainstay of the seminal cosmic funk group from 1973-81, and with singer Maurice White co-penned irrepressible hits including “September” and “Sing a Song.” Interestingly, the so-called Earth, Wind & Fire (they lease the name from owner White) were themselves just in town, but it turns out that both bands include only two or three original members…

R&B fans also have a New Year’s event to look forward to in the form of J. Holiday w/band Special Live in Japan ’09, another in a long line of events hosted by black music promoter Positive Productions at Yokohama Bay Hall. The 28-year-old singer from Washington DC first emerged in the public eye when his single “Bed” (off his debut Back of my Lac’) caught fire in 2007. Holiday followed up this year with Round 2, showing with socially aware outings like “Homeless” that torch songs aren’t the only vehicle for his astounding falsetto…

Back on the supper club circuit, veteran soul journeyman Leon Ware will be entertaining the well heeled at Marunouchi institution the Cotton Club. The Detroit native’s solo albums have never sold well, but as a songwriter he can claim hits for the likes of Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and, more recently, Maxwell. Box seats are recommended for the club’s Riding into 2010 with Leon Ware countdown program.

Al McKay
Former Earth, Wind and Fire guitarist parties in the New Year. Dec 29-30, 7 & 9:30pm; Dec 31, 7 & 10:30pm, ¥6,500-¥8,500. Billboard Live, Roppongi. Tel: 03-3405-1133.

J. Holiday
R&B crooner bids adieu to 2009. Dec 31, 9pm, ¥6,500. Yokohama Bay Hall. Tel: Positive Productions. Tel: 045-505-0010.

Leon Ware
Soul singer and songwriter. Dec 31, 10:45pm, ¥10,500-¥13,500. Cotton Club, Marunouchi. Tel: 03-3215-1555.


Rip Slyme

Rip Slyme

With its four-day festival at Makuhari Messe, Rockin’ On’s Countdown Japan 0910 certainly doesn’t lack for ambition. The publisher’s summer Rock In Japan and winter Countdown festivals have been the big J-pop success story of the last decade, replicating the achievements of Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic in the domestic sphere. Following lead-up sets by the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Kishidan, Rip Slyme and Tokyo Jihen, December 31 will see performances that vary wildly from the retro garage-rock of Detroit7 to the manic post-punk of Polysics to the vintage folk-rock of Shigeru Izumiya…

The Teflon idoru, Ayumi Hamasaki, reboots her annual countdown concert at the National Stadium in Yoyogi. Look for the telltale Ayu-chan tribute cars emblazoned with her preternaturally large eyes parked outside Yoyogi Park. Those unable to obtain tickets can watch Hamasaki’s Countdown Live 2009-2010 in real time on TBS.

“Countdown Japan 0910”
Four-day festival of J-pop and rock bands including Ryuichi Sakamoto, Kishidan, Kaela Kimura and many more. Dec 28-31, noon, ¥10,000 (one day). Makuhari Messe, Chiba.

Ayumi Hamasaki
Reigning queen of J-pop. Dec 30, 5:30pm; Dec 31, 10:30pm, ¥7,800. Kokuritsu Kyogijo, Yoyogi. Tel: Kyodo 03-3498-9999.


Incognito's Jean Paul “Bluey” Maunick

Incognito's Jean Paul “Bluey” Maunick

The godfather of Tokyo supper clubs, the Blue Note returns to tradition with perennial New Year’s favorite, UK jazz-funk pioneers Incognito. The impressively named Special Party for the Grand Year-End of 2009 & Welcoming in a Happy New Year 2010 with Incognito will see bandleader Jean Paul “Bluey” Maunick lead his incomparable juggernaut—fronted by vocal diva Vanessa Haynes—through favorites like “Still a Friend of Mine” as well as numbers from last year’s Tales From The Beach. Incognito, incidentally, enter their fourth decade in 2010…

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Bluey’s polished jazz-funk lies the screech ‘n’ skronk that will be on offer at Pit Inn’s infamous All Night Concert 2009-2010. The fun kicks off with trombonist Yoichi Murata, while actual countdown duties are handled by songstress Shun Sakai. Things then get wild and wooly into the wee hours with the likes of Emergency!, led by inveterate guitar feedback experimentalist Yoshihide Otomo.

UK jazz-funk band welcomes in the New Year. Dec 28-30 & Jan 4-5, 7 & 9:30pm; Dec 31, 7:30pm; Jan 2-3, 6 & 8:45pm, ¥9,450. Dec 31, 11pm, ¥11,760. Blue Note, Minami-Aoyama. Tel: 03-5485-0088.

“All Night Concert 2009-2010”
Nine-hour jazz marathon with the Hiroshi Minami Trio + 1, Takeshi Shibuya Orchestra and others. Dec 31, 7:30pm, ¥4,000. Pit Inn, Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3354-2024.

house & techno

Laurent Garnier

Laurent Garnier

Enough decibels will bang forth from Tokyo clubs this New Year’s Eve to shake Mt. Fuji out of its slumber—and for many DJs, this will be the grand prix of their earnings season.

The long-running New Year’s party at Garden Hall in Ebisu has shifted over from its jazz-funk format to full-on electronica. Electronic Tribe is pulling out all the stops, with a star-studded lineup of dance music heavyweights. Topping the bill is French techno stalwart Laurent Garnier, who cut his teeth at Manchester’s hallowed Hacienda and has managed to continuously reinvent himself over more than two decades. Garnier’s latest, Tales of a Kleptomaniac, betrays a new affection for dubstep, but there are also traces of vintage Detroit techno, deep house and his recent forays into jazz-techno.

With the likes of chill-out warrior Mixmaster Morris and Japanese intelligent hip-hop masters DJ Krush and Baku also on the bill, one wonders how Garnier will find the time for the minimum six-hour sets that he likes to play…

Meanwhile, the Ebisu jazz-funk crew have shifted over and upwards to the sleek spaces of Mado Lounge atop Roppongi Hills for Blue Windy Night. That’s where Shuya Okino of Kyoto Jazz Massive and Toshio Matsuura, formerly of seminal ’90s unit UFO, will spin a slick mix of house and acid jazz, liberally juiced with Latin, Brazilian and Afrobeat…

Bayside superclub Ageha has a powerful, crowd-pleasing domestic lineup for its Countdown 2010 shebang. Live breakbeats unit Boom Boom Satellites still command a rabid following, while techno warrior Ken Ishii and house veteran Emma boast a collective four decades behind the decks between them…

Heavyweight domestic techno DJs will also be spinning in Ebisu, where Liquidroom hosts 2010LIQUID. Takkyu Ishino is the force behind ele-pop pranksters Denki Groove, and also oversees the annual WIRE raves. Fumiya Tanaka, on the other hand, crafts a headier approach to techno through his experimental op.disc label. This event may also prove to be the most eye-popping New Year’s party, with madcap “visual creator” Naohiro Ukawa and his Mixrooffice Video Syndicate offering up mind-twisting CG displays…

On the gay/mix side, long-running event The Ring will bring out the toy boys, drag queens and attendant fag hags to Warehouse702 in Azabu-Juban. Launched at the top of the ’90s, the event was pivotal in bringing gay Tokyo nightlife out of the Shinjuku Ni-chome closet, and continues to be a key meeting ground for foreigners and Japanese on the prowl.

The Garden Hall
Electronic Tribe Yebisu New Year’s Party 2010. DJs Laurent Garnier, Krush, Baku, etc. Dec 31, from 9pm, ¥6,800 adv. Ebisu.

Mado Lounge x Tokyo City View
Blue Windy Night. DJs Nori, Matsuura, etc. Dec 31, from 9pm, ¥5,000. Roppongi. Tel: 03-3470-0052.

Countdown 2010. DJs Ken Ishii, Emma, etc. Live: Boom Boom Satellites. Dec 31. Shin-Kiba. Tel: 03-5534-1515.

Liquidroom presents 2010 Liquid. DJs Takkyu Ishino, Fumiya Tanaka, etc. Dec 31, from 8pm, ¥5,000. Ebisu. Tel: 03-5464-0800.

702 Countdown 09 to 10 feat The Ring. House: DJs Ko Kimura, Asahina, etc. Dec 31, from 9pm, ¥5,000 w/1d. Azabu-Juban. Tel: 03-6230-0343.

rock & indie

Soul Flower Union

Soul Flower Union

For revelers who want to get their wa on rock ‘n’ roll style, Tokyo’s live houses have something for aficionados of just about every genre.
Start your countdown early—as in 1:30am on the 31st—with the notorious pre-New Year’s Eve all-nighter from avant-garde noise antihero Keiji Haino. Akaku Ochite Kuru Yuki no You na Mono Tachi will see the underground psych icon wielding his battery of guitars, effects and synthesizers deep into the night at Showboat in Koenji. Rumor has it he’s even a damn good vocalist…
Also in the counterculture capital of Koenji, folk rebel Kan Mikami will be offering up a night of raw emotion in Countdown Live with Kan Mikami and Friends at Muryoku Muzenji. One of a few key figures from Japan’s ’70s acid folk boom to draw an overseas following, Mikami still refuses to compromise his brutally immediate enka-blues fusion…
If these aren’t extreme enough, head across town to Sangenjaya where trash punkers Ed Woods will be heading up 2009/2010 Count Down Live Atomic Nite The Final—an evening of mayhem featuring eight bands at rock dive Heaven’s Door. Previously described by Metropolis as like “being in a ghastly accident,” an Ed Woods concert will surely make for a New Year’s Eve to remember—if indecency and self-mutilation are your idea of fun…
Over at the big barns, Shibuya O-East has a lineup of bands that explore the intersection of Japanese culture with rock ‘n’ roll. Among others, Countdown 2009→2010 features Kansai warhorse Soul Flower Union, whose politicized roots rock includes hearty helpings of traditional minyo folk. Also on the bill are free-jazz orchestra Shibusashirazu, whose manic spirit has made them a favorite at Fuji Rock. Rare guests from out of town come in the form of Turtle Island, a “tribal punk rock” group from Toyota who top up their sound with elements of matsuri street-festival music…
Unlike DJs, overseas rock stars are in short supply this New Year’s, but despite his low profile, bassist Mike Watt (Minutemen, The Stooges) is a legitimate punk rock hero. A frequent visitor in recent years, Watt and some of his favorite local collaborators present We Jam Econo ’09 at Era in Shimokitazawa. On the bill are improv unit Brother’s Sister’s Daughter, with Kramer (Bongwater, Butthole Surfers) and drummer Yuko Araki (Cornelius), who will also be behind the kit with her own band Mi-gu. Other underground characters on the bill include instrumental rock band Lite and the duo of Nels Cline (Wilco) and Yuka Honda (ex-Cibo Matto).

Keiji Haino
Legenedary undeground musician plays the night away. Dec 31, 1:30am, ¥2,700 (adv)/¥3,200 (door). Showboat, Koenji. Tel: 03-3337-5745.

Countdown Live with Kan Mikami and friends
Bluesy folk singer. Dec 31, 7pm, ¥1,000. Muryoku Muzenji, Koenji. Tel: 03-3337-7735.

“2009/2010 Count Down Live Atomic Nite The Final”
Trash rockers Ed Woods, Brazil UFO and others. Dec 31, 6pm, ¥2,000 (adv)/¥2,300 (door). Heaven’s Door, Sangenjaya. Tel: 03-3413-9331.

“Countdown 2009>2010”
Freewheeling New Year’s party with Shibusashirazu Orchestra, Soul Flower Union and others. Dec 31, 4pm, ¥4,000 (adv)/¥4,500 (door). Shibuya O-East. Tel: 03-5458-4681.

“We Jam Econo ‘09”
Ex-Minuteman Mike Watt jams in the New Year with Nels Cline and Yuka Honda. Dec 31, 5:30pm, ¥3,000 (adv)/¥3,500 (door). Era, Shimokitazawa. Tel: 03-5465-6568.