RIP DMBQ

In the wake of a tragic bus crash, fans and friends of DMBQ come together to lend support

The last time I saw Tokyo's DMBQ was at 12 Galaxies a little over a month ago, and it was easily one of the best concerts I've seen this year. For a crowded Wednesday-night house, the Dynamite Masters of Blues Quartet nearly blew the paint off the walls, wielding this gnarly, atomic sound that thundered like Sabbath while grooving like Zeppelin. Having wrestled with this monster for about an hour, singer/guitarist Shinji Masuko -- after pulling such tricks as walking on the crowd while playing and wearing a gas mask -- began tossing pieces of drummer Mana "China" Nishiura's kit to-and-fro, including her bass drum, which he flung off the stage. Did this stop the proceedings? Did China lose the beat? Hell, no. She continued to club whatever was in front of her as the band wrung every last bit of juice from its final song, leaving the crowd thoroughly pummeled.

Such rocking is SOP for DMBQ, which has functioned as 12 Galaxies' unofficial house band in the last year or so, playing the venue every couple of months -- on what appears to be a never-ending tour -- to a growing contingent of local fans. This week the group was scheduled to light the fuse once again.

But on Friday, Nov. 4, at 12:51 p.m., DMBQ's tour van was involved in a three-car accident on the New Jersey Turnpike that resulted in the van flipping and rolling off the road. China was hurled from the vehicle and did not survive. The remaining members of the band were treated at hospitals in Delaware and New Jersey for minor injuries. Their tour manager and friend, San Francisco's Michelle Cabal, 23, who edits and publishes the local music magazine Panache, was rushed to the hospital with severe head and neck wounds. Last week, Cabal underwent surgery to insert two metal pins into her broken vertebrae, according to 12 Galaxies' Adam Bergeron, who had spoken to her. After the operation, Bergeron wrote in an e-mail, "She was able to walk around a little bit, which is obviously a really good sign."

"She's been publishing her magazine since she was 15," he added. "That's amazing. I could barely tie my shoes when I was 15. I've often told her that by the time she's 30, she'll own this town -- and I bet she will."

As touring musicians who play small rock clubs, the members of DMBQ are relatively penniless. Cabal has no health insurance. And so this Friday, Nov. 18, Bergeron is hosting a benefit in place of the band's planned gig. All proceeds will go toward medical and travel expenses. Not surprisingly, a handful of top-shelf local acts are lending a hand: Neung Phak plays highly fortified Southeast Asian pop jams; Drunk Horse has revved-up stoner-metal on lock; and Ezee Tiger is a one-man spaz-rock operation. DJ Sasquatch Borracho (aka SF Weeklycontributor Dave Pehling) says that he'll be laying down "a mix of hard rock, psych, punk, and Japanese avant-wha? in honor of DMBQ." It'll be one helluva brouhaha, trust me. (If you can't make the show but want to help out, e-mail dmbqpanache@lovepumpunited.com.)

DMBQ was, and hopefully will continue to be, the absolute real deal. The band was always touring. Its sound could fill arenas, yet the quartet seemed determined to play dingy rock clubs for the rest of its existence, and I like to think that's because these guys and that girl just had to be eye to eye with their crowd. When guitarist Toru Matsui would rip into a solo, he'd glare out at the audience with this "Holy shit, look what I'm doing" smile on his face. Can you believe how perfectly awesome my guitarwork is at the moment? Yeah, neither can I. Meanwhile, bassist Ryuichi Watanabe would be discharging these heavy, bulbous lines, and China would be savagely punishing her skins (while using the traditional underhanded grip, which would seem almost impossible considering the volume).

Among the legends I've heard about this act -- like, say, Shinji setting China's kit on fire during a show -- one of my favorites is the tale of Shinji launching himself off the balcony at 12 Galaxies and emerging unscathed. I wasn't there to see it, unfortunately, but Bergeron filled me in the next day, happy to rub it in my face. That's why it strikes me as weird that this van accident could have such grave results. This was such a tough fucking band. And China, from what I could tell, was a tough fucking drummer. Wherever she is now, I'm sure she's causing a mighty racket.

 
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