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Friday, May 14, 2010

On tour: Molice thunder through Vietnam

Special to The Japan Times

It was a typically hot and humid day as we walked down a busy street on our way to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Convoys of bicycles, scooters and motorcycles passed by, blasting us with dust, exhaust smoke and air horns. Some bore so many baskets of goods that they seemed like shops on wheels. One scooter rider startled us as he zoomed past with a freshly slaughtered pig draped across his footrest.

News photo
Hot and heartfelt: Molice drummer Takashi Koyama and guitarist Yuzuru Takeda spend time with people in the audience at the CAMA festival in Hanoi. TOM MELESKY PHOTO

Earlier, in a small open air restaurant, we chose from piles of boiled vegetables, chicken, pork, tofu, fish and . . . fried silkworms. As we walked upstairs to eat, we had to take care not to slip on bones, shells and other refuse people were throwing on the floor while eating. The detritus was then swept aside after customers left.

People had warned us to be careful of what we ate, especially when it came to seafood and ice (in drinking water), but the food was delicious and very cheap. There were only two minor issues: I put too many hot peppers into my first bowl of Pho and sweated profusely from the first bite. And then there were those silkworms (which didn't taste bad, really).

This all may have been a typical day for most people in Hanoi, but it was part of an amazing adventure for us. Just 12 hours earlier we had been on stage playing in front of thousands of people for a worthy cause at the 2010 CAMA international music festival.

We were surprised and pleased to find that our band had been heavily promoted prior to our arrival in magazines, newspapers, Web sites, and even on TV. It was difficult to tell if the festival got any press in Japan, but we were treated as celebrities for our stay, a first for us! We were booked in a brand new, beautiful hotel, the Silk Path, which had opened less than a month earlier.

This was not the first time we had played a big event. In 2007, we played Summer Sonic, but the experiences were night and day for several reasons.

First, we noticed that there was something very different about the people of Hanoi (and perhaps all of Vietnam). The heat was about the same as a typical Tokyo summer day, but the humidity was worse. Initially, it made us feel very heavy and slowed us down, but no one else seemed to be affected.

In fact, the city never seemed to sleep. The streets were as crowded at midnight as they were at noon. Certain places weren't always well lit and looked a bit ominous at times, but everyone from children to the elderly were either walking around or relaxing outside. You could tell there was a real dynamic energy to the society.

And it was an energy that could spread quickly. Someone had told us earlier that the people of Hanoi really appreciated the fact that foreign bands would perform for a charitable cause (CAMA focuses on HIV awareness and prevention). You could really feel the audience's energy. Right from the MC's announcement, people surged to the front. The energy hit us as we started into our first song. Really, we leapt into it, and the shockwave of that hit the people, resonated within and flew back at us in sync with the harmonies of the music. This cycle continued to build throughout our set — "Headphone," "White Vertigo," "Active Imagination," "Superstar" — to a peak. And then it was time to exit the stage.

Or so we thought. We had been cautioned repeatedly by the event's promoters that shows in Vietnam had a very strict schedule and we would be cut off if we didn't finish on time. But then the host came on stage and asked the crowd, "How about another song from Molice?"

It came as a surprise to Rinko, Takashi, Ikuhiro and I, but we were thrilled. After some quick sound adjustments, we played our final song, "The Haze" to a huge response.

Afterward, we met and spoke again and again with people who were in the audience. Apparently, it wasn't common to see a woman (Rinko) play guitar in a rock band. Also, people don't usually jump around on stage and interact as much we did. Most surprising was the fact that no band had come out for an encore in the previous six years. (A few bands did encores that night.)

Our trip was very short, and the next day we had to return to Japan on an overnight flight. About 10 minutes into our ride to Noi Bai Airport, a severe thunderstorm broke out. As we were driven over a high bridge overlooking farms and buildings, huge bolts of lightning flashed across the sky. But no one was scared. It was perfect timing. Hanoi was giving us a true rock 'n' roll sendoff.

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