Dropping their fifth full-length album, “Live the Life I Love,” at the beginning of June made The Bawdies prime candidates for Japan’s continually expanding summer festival circuit. The Tokyo four-piece have spent the last two months showcasing their infectious brand of throwback 1950s- and ’60s-styled rock ‘n’ roll at eight different festivals, including Rock in Japan and Summer Sonic.
A stylish bunch, The Bawdies dress in matching suits for work. When those neckties come off, though, the gents like to cut loose. Despite spending much of the summer on the job, the group found time to get a little rowdy at August’s Sky Jamboree in Nagasaki.
“We arrived at the site the day before the festival and were able to spend the night drinking with the other artists on the bill,” says bassist and vocalist Ryo “Roy” Watanabe. “Before we knew it, morning had come and everyone in the band was practically naked backstage and really hung over.”
Feeling energized from all the large-scale, riled-up festival crowds, Watanabe, guitarists Taku “Taxman” Funayama and Yoshihiko “Jim” Kimura, and drummer Masahiko “Marcy” Yamaguchi are embarking on their own headlining tour in support of “Live the Life I Love.” Running from Sept. 17 to Nov. 27, the trek includes two dozen dates across the country and will culminate with a show at the prestigious Nippon Budokan.
Wanting to pack light, each member only brings one of his snazzy suits when they head out on the road. Unfortunately, their busy schedule usually prevents them from cleaning their work attire until they return to Tokyo, meaning the band’s music often isn’t the only funky thing on stage.
“After the first show, the suits are already dripping with sweat, so it’s hard to keep them looking nice,” says Watanabe. “We love wearing the suits and have learned to grin and bear the sweat and the smell. They make us look sharp. In my case, my suit makes my ass look pretty great, too.”
Watanabe, Kimura and Yamaguchi have been chums since childhood, and they befriended Funayama in high school. As a teenager, Watanabe heard music from seminal 1960s American garage-rock act The Sonics at a record store and was hooked. Soon his pals were as well. This mutual love of vintage rock ‘n’ roll led to the quartet forming The Bawdies on New Year’s Day in 2004.
“The Sonics were so raw and intense,” says Watanabe. “We were all deeply moved by them. We had no one to teach us about this kind of music, so we would spend hours in record stores learning on our own.
“Old rock ‘n’ roll and soul music has this amazing warmth and energy. It has a special kind of fire and emotion that young people today need to feel. That’s what keeps us so in love with these sounds.”
Japan has many talented revivalist rock outfits, but it is Watanabe’s remarkable, soulful crooning that have made The Bawdies stand out from the pack. He could pass for Little Richard on “A New Day is Comin’, ” the rousing opener from “Live the Life I Love.” At other points on the disc, his singing mirrors musical greats such as Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.
“I think everyone tries to copy the artists they love,” says Watanabe. “In my case, I always sing thinking that I want to be just like my favorite R&B and soul singers.”
Watanabe’s pipes and his bandmates, playful party rhythms have helped propel the act up the local rock ranks. And while “Fab Four”-like status is still a long way off, the band’s late November performance at the Budokan — Japan’s most iconic concert arena — is a significant step forward for The Bawdies.
“This will be the biggest headlining show we’ve ever played,” says an excited Watanabe. “It means so much to us to be playing at such a historical place. The Budokan is the venue where The Beatles played when they came to Japan 45 years ago. It’s the place where rock ‘n’ roll history started in Japan.”
This tour will also see the band plugging “Keep On Movie,” a DVD with all 11 of their music videos. Issued on Sept. 14, the collection includes “making of” features for several of the clips. A play on the phrase “keep on moving,” the title is meant to get fans psyched to watch The Bawdies’ future growth.
“It’s fun to look back at all the music videos we’ve done,” says Watanabe. “In the video for ‘It’s Too Late’ we poured cans of paint over our heads. For a month afterward, pink paint kept coming out of my ears.
” ‘Keep On Movie’ documents what we’ve been through so far. The Budokan show will be another new chapter in our history. Before we perform there, we thought this would be a good way to show everyone how far we’ve come.”
The Bawdies play Light House in Mito, Ibaraki Pref., on Sept. 17; Hip-Shot in Koriyama, Fukushima Pref., on Sept. 19; Club Change Wave in Morioka, Iwate Pref., on Sept. 21; Mag-net in Hirosaki, Aomori Pref., on Sept. 22; Music Factory in Sakata, Yamagata Pref., on Sept. 24; Club Junk Box in Nagano on Sept. 29; Eight Hall in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Pref., on Oct. 1; Lots in Niigata on Oct. 2; Club Fleez in Takasaki, Gunma Pref., on Oct. 5; Sound Shower Ark in Shizuoka on Oct. 8; at Madowaku in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Pref., on Oct. 9; Club-G in Gifu on Oct. 11; U-Stone in Shiga on Oct. 13; Bay5 Square in Kochi on Oct. 15; Salon Kitty in Matsuyama, Ehime Pref., on Oct. 16; Club Quattro in Hiroshima on Oct. 22 and 23; Drum Be-7 in Nagasaki on Oct. 25; Caparvo Hall in Kagoshima on Oct. 27; Drum Be-9 in Kumamoto on Oct. 29; Crazymama Kingdom in Okayama on Oct. 31; Wynterland in Kobe, Hyogo Pref., on Nov. 2; Taku Taku in Kyoto on Nov. 3; Dojima River Forum in Osaka on Nov. 5; Sakurazaka Central in Naha, Okinawa Pref., on Nov. 10; and Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on Nov. 27. Tickets for the Nippon Budokan show are ¥4,300 in advance; all other shows are ¥2,900 in advance. For details, visit www.thebawdies.com.