Photos by Maia Stern
His unassuming demeanor and soft-spoken confidence belie the ability and songwriting grace that Shugo Tokumaru wields while on stage. Whether he was tapping out a solo on his guitar, or fronting the all-star band that backed him for this NY appearance, it's obvious that whatever he lacks in command of our language, he more than makes up for with his command of our stages.
In a brief discussion we had before the show, he name dropped Ten Kens and seemed to perk up when I mentioned Japanese indie bands like DMBQ. And without boxing him into any geographical or cultural constraints, I would say his sound reminds me a bit of fellow Japanese musicians Cornelius and the guitar-playing bravado and quirk of a PWRFL Power. But he is much more accessible than any of these comparisons and his unique ability to own the stage without losing any of his charm may be the defining factor for Shugo's American success-potential.
On this night, he was backed by Jon Natchez and Perrin Cloutier of Beirut, Bryan Devendorf of The National, and So Percussion's Lawson White, and while there were a few "new band" moments, I was surprised at how cohesively this one-time group/performance was executed. With only a few nods and smiles, Shugo was able to instruct everyone from his perch at the front of the stage, and following in tow were a group of musicians who seamlessly played more instruments than should be asked for a one-time gig.
To his own admission, he is a Beach Boys fan, and there is a laid-back summer air to his songs. Bells and whistles abound, he strums his acoustic while the crowd sways with smiles on their faces. Ironically only sitting down for the songs that require quick picking and tapping - for an obviously impressed audience. It's as though Eddie Van Halen stepped in for a reprise, and before we know it, we're right back to Japanese folk-pop.
Whether it's his range, his calm and modest character or the command he demands while at the front of the stage, it's hard not to appreciate someone like Shugo. Girls will want to date him, guys will want to be him, musicians will want to jam with him, his songs will get stuck in your head, he's confident, secure, yet approachable. In other words, he's the consummate rock star.