Charming, sun-soaked and obsessed with death. Tokyo's all-girl power trio Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re is irony personified.
It's a hard-rock band with punk sensibilities, danceable beats and a sharp-toothed metal roar. (How that roar comes from the vocal cords of three petite women is beyond me.) Singer Mari's warm delivery masks the often racier themes of tragedy and sex. To non-Japanese speakers oblivious to the meaning of the lyrics, some of the contrast is lost. But then there are the violent fits thrown by the feisty guitar and thumping drums, which help drive home the band's contradictory aesthetics.
"And the speed of the cars is fast. Everything is fast!"
The songs aren't always so heady or obscene. Sometimes they're just about food. In "Fish Cakes," each member plays a different ingredient in a hot pot, and in "No-Miso Shortcake" Mari invites us to eat her brain (all in Japanese, of course).
Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re introduced itself to America in 2004, when it toured alongside several other Japanese acts. A year later, the band reached the ears of thousands of Yanks as the opening act for the Suicide Girls Live Burlesque Tour. In a collectively answered e-mail interview, Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re's love for America is explicit. The fact that its current tour is the band's seventh in the States is also a testament to its adoration for the red, white and blue. "You can be unrestrictive about your feelings in the United States," the group says. "And the speed of the cars is fast. Everything is fast!"
The band's travels have been mostly glee-filled, but on one occasion, Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re found itself in a haunted hotel room. "We stayed at one place where a ghost seemed to be in the bathroom," the three band members say. "Everyone was afraid to go into the shower alone."
Then there was the dive bar. "There was no door in the restroom stall."
Just as Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re has come to lust for American life, so too have Americans come to adore the band. "The fans in the United States dance in a frenzy, even if they don't know us," Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re says. "In Japan the crowd is shy. Even if they love us, they won't dance alone."
So who's coming out to Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re shows? It's a colorful, brainy bunch. "A young person and an elderly person can both love Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re," the band says. "A lot of clever persons are in the fan base, too. For instance, scientists and college professors."
You don't need an advanced degree to see Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re in Albuquerque; you just have to be 21 or older. The band plays Burt's Tiki Lounge on Tuesday, Sept. 9. Static Static (L.A.) and Calico (here) are also on the bill. Entry is free as a bird.