This was the tour which was never meant to happen, I suppose. Japan, formed in 1974 by brothers David and Stephen Batt (who became David Sylvian and Steve Jansen), began life to general derision as a sub-New York Dolls glam-rock outfit before, in 1980, jumping into bed with Giorgio Moroder for a brief Eurodisco romp.
A switch to Virgin Records saw an upturn in fortunes and the band, now featuring Sylvian’s recently discovered baritone, recorded what I feel is their most accomplished album: Gentlemen Take Polaroids. Not all the songs quite hit the mark admittedly, but the title track, Methods of Dance, Nightporter, and the memorably eccentric
Taking Islands in Africa all still sound impressive today, some 30 odd years later.
But it was the hit singles from their next offering Tin Drum, which brought the band commercial success at last, and resulted in a rethink regarding their recently announced split. Thus was born the Sons of Pioneers Tour – a farewell jaunt really, although I don’t think it was ever promoted as such.
A Japanese (inevitably) band were lined up for the support slot: Sandii and The Sunsetz, who were actually rather good, somehow succeeding in blending both western and eastern musical influences to pleasing effect. And I seem to recall being impressed enough to splash out on one of their singles: Alive.
The few highlights were the simpler songs: Nightporter featuring Mick Karn’s plaintive oboe, and the skeletal Ghosts. Guest guitarist Masami Tsuchiya, an elfin waif of a creature, was given an extended blast on Quiet Life, but other than that really seemed to have been invited along for his visual impact, which alternated between almost motionless strumming and occasional on-the-knees guitar-hero histrionics.
I can recall Mick Karn restlessly performing little gliding balletic dances across the stage whilst playing his bass, eyes staring fixedly into the audience. What we could see, but he could not however, were the amp cables trailing across the floor, and on two occasions his shuffling movements were brought to an undignified halt against these barriers; the bassist almost tumbling head over tit. The anger and embarrassment on his face was vivid, even from our seats in the balcony, and I could tell some roadie or other was in for a fair old ear-bashing afterwards.
Setlist – representative one from the tour – I don’t recall hearing Methods of Dance, though
Burning Bridges (Recorded intro)
Sons of Pioneers
Gentlemen Take Polaroids
Still Life in Mobile Homes
Methods of Dance
The Art of Parties
Fall in Love with Me