Note: This review covers both volumes of Omoide In My Head 2 ~Kiroku Series~.
Number Girl live albums don’t not offer any new insights to the band’s music. There are few extended jam sessions to capture, fewer wild departures from what’s heard in the studio.
Number Girl live albums don’t serve the same purpose as, say, Grateful Dead or Phish live albums do. They don’t capture singular moments never to be replicated at other performances. They don’t commemorate audience reaction.
Number Girl’s performance of “Toomei Shoojo” from one show is bound to sound the same as another performance months or years later.
So why is a Number Girl live album such a commodity? Pretty much for one reason — the chemistry of the band’s four members reaches far beyond the stage, the amplifiers, the magnetic tape, or the digital bits.
It’s impossible to listen to Number Girl without being overwhelmed by the precision of their playing and the energy of their music. It doesn’t matter if the band plays one song the same way four different times — the ferocity of the performance makes you want to hear it again and again.
To paraphrase the overused description, Number Girl could bash out a phone book, and people would want to listen to it.
The two-volume, eight-disc live boxed set, Omoide In My Head 2 ~Kiroku Series~, reissues a number of live albums available only at Number Girl shows and adds previously unreleased material from the band’s indie label days.
Although guitarist-singer Mukai Shuutoku was a prolific writer, Number Girl wasn’t around long enough to produce a catalog deep enough to span eight discs. A number of songs appear multiple times, often on the same disc. “Omoide In My Head” appears eight times throughout the set.
Shuutoku’s angular writing isn’t open to wide interpretation. His songs are so structurally taut, there isn’t much need to mess around with them. When the band does shake things up, it stands out.
“Zazenbeats Kemonostyle”, originally available on the Kiroku Series live cassette from 2001, was a throwaway track on a compilation, perhaps one of the band’s most unremarkable songs. The song undergoes a transformation live and becomes a 10-minute jackhammer performance.
“Destruction Baby” started out as an oddly rhythmic heavy metal song, but as years went by, Number Girl made it over to become fully dub. Even trumpet player Kazufumi Kodama shows up to add his musings.
At one point, “Brutal Man” changes from a charging rocker to something more rhythmic, and “Urban Guitar Sayonara” gets a slight adaption without the presence of an electric piano.
Aside from that, most of the live performances mirror its recordings. Number Girl, however, is one of those rare bands whose live recordings sound more impressive than its studio work.
That’s no knock on the home-brewed production of Four Track Professional (Mukai and Matsumoto Kenichi) or Dave Fridmann and his considerable boost to Number Girl’s sound. But when a band can make the added flourishes of studio overdubs sound unnecessary, well …
Omoide In My Head 2 ~Kiroku Series~ tangentially tracks the improvement in live recording technology. The later shows predictably have better fidelity than the earlier shows, but even the performances off the first few discs sound remarkably well.
Disc two of the first four-disc set (Kiroku Series 1), however, is the only exception — it doesn’t sound like anything could be done to improve the fidelity of those source recordings.
Interstingly enough, only three covers make up the 100-plus tracks of the entire set — the Who’s “So Sad About Us”, the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and bloodthirsty butchers’ “poolside”. The butchers cover, in particular, demonstrates the aesthetic affinity shared by both bands, Tabuchi Hisako eeriely mimicing Yoshimura Hideki’s guitar style.
In all covers, Number Girl stamps each song with its own identity. Did the Who ever sound that unhinged? Too bad the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation” wasn’t included in any of these sets.
The special edition of Kiroku Series 2 includes a DVD featuring a half-hour set at the Rising Sun Rock Festival in 2002. The special edition of Kiroku Series 1, however, includes the SXSW ’99 promo video, which was already available in its entirety on the Number Girl DVD.
Omoide In My Head 2 ~Kiroku Series~ gives an exhaustive survey of Number Girl’s touring history. Fans who never tire hearing the band will have plenty to take in.
While Kiroku Series doesn’t reveal anything new about the band, it does capture perfectly what makes them legendary.