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Shtick It

Pwrfl Power, Talking Head, Feb. 19

Jefferson Jackson Steele
NAIF SON: Pwrfl Power gets awkward at Talking Head.

By Michael Byrne | Posted 2/27/2008

Pwrfl Power has a shtick and uses it well. Basically, it's Kazutaka Nomura--PP's sole proprietor--doing a really good little boy trapped in a Japanese man's body. It comes off as charmingly awkward and honest in a preadolescent Adam Green way. You know, he says things that people usually would not but might have thought at some point, such as, "You are not that attractive/ but something makes me feel that you're going to be my girl." And it's in a self-consciously meek, overaffected accent, like he's doing everything possible to rub his displacement and awkwardness in your face.

The shtick has done him well. Last summer, he won the coveted Block Star contest in his adopted Seattle hometown, scoring a main stage slot at a rather big deal music festival. Now, some six months later, he's animated in an Esurance commercial, and the combination is all it takes to make the music press all atwitter.

Musicians aren't generally too excited to boast about hooking up with an advertiser--there's the whole "selling out" thing to worry about--but it was the first thing Nomura mentioned at last week's Talking Head appearance. After praising the "very orchestral" bands that played before him--Needle Gun, Chubby Bohemian, Teeth Mountain--he introduced "It's OK" with, "This song is in Esurance commercial, and they give some money. I'm going to buy a big brick of pot . . . and smoke it all." The crowd got a kick out of that--perhaps from imagining Nomura stoned.

Unsurprisingly, his awkwardness translates well live. Short and rail thin, Nomura looked like it was the first time he'd ever been onstage--kind of scared, like he was ready to bolt out the door at any moment. But he has been touring like mad over the past few months, and since this show was in front of an unintimidating some 15 people, it was hard not to think that he's playing coy a little bit.

In any case, it's necessary to his songs. Lyricism aside, they're perfectly passable folk numbers, just an acoustic guitar and his voice, which sounded a bit strained when he reached for or pushed a note. (He confessed that he'd just gotten over a cold.) Once or twice it even broke into a cracked shriek.

Lyrically, it's dark comedy. "Chopstick Song" goes "you're so pretty/ but holding them wrong" over and over, topping it with "my dad used to beat me up/ for holding them wrong/ I don't want to beat you up/ because you're so pretty." "Tomato Song" keeps it up with "if I like you too much/ you'll call me mental/ and I will throw a tomato at you." You get the idea.

"Peach Song" is Nomura's gem, a sweet and simple song about hunting down a fake ID that says he's 16 instead of--rough guess--30. "Beer is bad for you anyway/ let's drink energy drink/ and ride our bike/ to the park . . . and kiss." It's maybe the one moment where he's singing in his voice and, in a way, justifying the shtick.

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