Audience participation encouraged

When Number Girl released its first live album, Shibuya Rocktransformed Jootai, back in 1999, it was obvious they were playing to a small but devoted crowd.

The audience noise was supportive, but it wouldn’t have reached the decibel level of, say, an ‘NSync concert from the same time frame.

The ensuing years would find the band drawing larger crowds and sold-out shows, but just as the momentum was building, Number Girl called it quits in October 2002, when bassist Nakao Kentaro announced he was leaving the band.

Sapporo Omoide In My Head Jootai, a recording of the band’s final performance in November 2002, shows how far Number Girl had gone — and how much further it could have.

This time, the audience was very much into the music. They chant as Mukai Shuutoku hammers at the opening chords of “I don’t know”. They sing along with Mukai on “Teppu Surudoku Natte”, complete with a loud “Hey!” when drummer Ahito Inazawa kicks in with a beat.

They know the lyrics to “Zegen vs. Underground”. They count down with Inazawa on “Toomei Shoojo”.

Guitarist Tabuchi Hisako is definitely a role model among the women in the audience, who call out “Hisako-chan!” after a particularly shredding performance of “Haikara Gurui”.

Few bands sound as good — if not better — than its recordings, but coupled with an enthusiastic audience, a live performance such as the one documented on Sapporo Omoide In My Head Jootai becomes an experience.

The band’s set list skews heavily toward recent works. “Omoide In My Head” and “Iggy Pop Fan Club” are the only representatives from the band’s 1997 indie debut, School Girl Bye Bye. Number Girl does include a number of single-only tracks and b-sides (“Sentimental Girl’s Violent Joke”, “Destruction Baby”). “Samurai” would have been a nice addition to that list.

There aren’t, however, any wild re-arrangements in the set — no transformations on the level of the 10-minute mindfuck “Zazenbeats Kemonostyle” from the cassette-only Kiroku Series. The band even plays “Destruction Baby” straight, no dub beats.

“Urban Guitar Sayonara” gets a bit of tweak on the count that the band didn’t bring an electric piano for Mukai to pound. (See the live DVD Sawayaka na Ensoo.)

Still, it’s sad to think Sapporo Omoide In My Head is the last album this quartet may ever release. Number Girl is — was one of the loudest, tightest bands on the planet. The fireworks Mukai, Tabuchi, Nakao and Inazawa produced was palpatable as it was special.

Cross your fingers for a reunion sometime down the line.