Pizzicato Five looking good

September 18, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Style is everything to Japan's Pizzicato Five.

It isn't just that the group's members -- singer Maki Nomiya and composer Yasuharu Konishi -- are inevitably dressed to the nines when they hit the stage or head out in public. There's also an enormous amount of care put into the P5's album packaging.

Konishi and Nomiya appear on the cover of the group's new album, "Happy End of the World," looking like the stars of some forgotten Truffaut film from the '60s. Inside, there's a trading card of each of them, along with a lavish booklet decorated with portraits that could have been at home in a mid-'60s children's book. The Japanese version of the album is even more elaborate, with the CD packed in a thick, clear-plastic blister pack. In both cases, the album's title appears in Korean.

"It's very cool," says Konishi of the typography. "It doesn't have any other meaning, but it is graphically cool in design."

Visual impact has always been important to Pizzicato Five. "The visual aspect and the music aspect go hand in hand," Konishi explains, through a translator. "The only thing that doesn't go with the music visually is probably my face," he adds, laughing.

Getting the group's visual concept across is fairly easy on video, especially since Konishi directs all the band's promotional clips. But translating that sensibility to a stage show is a tad trickier. Although Konishi and Nomiya make sure that their backing band is appropriately attired, Konishi sighs that it's difficult to find musicians with the proper attitude toward their appearance.

"Sometimes, I think it might be faster to give instruments to circus performers and models," he says.

Fortunately, that won't be as much of an issue on P5's current tour. Unlike the group's earlier output, which used everything from sitar and tabla to symphony orchestra to flesh out Konishi's musical ideas, "Happy End of the World" relies heavily on DJ tools -- turntables, drum machines and samplers.

Konishi began spinning discs a few years ago on the Tokyo club circuit, but only recently decided to incorporate the DJ approach into Pizzicato Five's music. "This way, I can take a lot of genres, a lot of different styles, and combine them," he says. "It allows us to give people a good time."

Oddly enough, many of the vintage sounds the albums draws from are similar to the arrangements he wrote for older P5 albums. Asked whether he prefers to spin discs over scoring arrangements, he shrugs. "I like both," he says. "But I have been collecting albums for over 30 years now, so I have a special affinity for that medium. Of course, I could bring a horn section, but I feel that there's a certain warmth to using the same sound from an album."

Even though most of Pizzicato Five's lyrics are in Japanese, the group's previous albums have enjoyed six-figure sales in the United States. (It helps that each album includes a bilingual lyric sheet.) Konishi allows that P5 could probably do even better if Nomiya sang in English, but he doesn't plan to switch languages any time soon.

"I don't need that much success," he says. "I'm happy where I am now. This is plenty."

Pizzicato Five

WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m.

WHERE: 9: 30 Club


CALL: 800-955-5566 for tickets

SUNDIAL: To hear excerpts from Pizzicato Five's new release, "Happy End of the World," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the code 6113. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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