TL;DR – The Seatbelts are doing live versions of classic Cowboy bebop songs and they slap
I don’t think it will be a surprise to anyone to say that I have been finding the last few months to be quite difficult. Indeed, I think it has been hard for most people and it is only increasing as the days, weeks, and months go on. I have been trying to find something to spark my joy, and while binge-watching old shows like The Nanny and Scrubs has helped, and having a watch list that might be 90% Bon Appétit videos is just the nature of the times. Nothing has really brought that smile to my world, well nothing until now.
At the end of last year, I talked a lot about how much I loved Cowboy Bebop, an anime out of Japan that might be many of my generation’s first introduction into that art style but it is still something resonates in my heart today. One of the core components of that series that may even outlast the show is its music. It was a show that deeply wove its music into the tapestry of the show, nothing was just dumped in as filler. At the core of this musical work was composer and instrumentalist Yoko Kanno and her band the Seatbelts which has gone by シートベルツ, Shītoberutsu, Seat Belts or SEATBELTS depending on which version of the soundtrack you got. It was the smashing together of so many genres of music from jazz to pop to rock to even country and all in-between that stuck in my mind for decades.
Well in the age of COVID and Zoom meetings, shudders Zoom meetings, there has been one ray of joy, as the SEATBELTS came back together perform songs from the soundtrack and it is just a sheer delight and everyone can listen to it here.
We begin well at the beginning with the opening titles song Tank!, a song that I think might have had the biggest impact on me and my musical focus. When I first heard this I was in high school (which might be dating myself a bit), I played trombone in the school band, and I have never heard such a joyous sound come from a jazz ensemble. It is loud and brash and in your face and will smack a saxophone solo down like it does not even care. Everyone from the strings, to the brass, to the percussion is going at 100 miles an hour, I mean seriously, watch the hands of the double bass player Hitoshi Wantanabe or the drummer Yasuo Sano who opens the piece. It is one of those pieces of music that rattles your bones and brings you to life. I think the one regret that we all had at the time is that we could never find the sheet music for this but I am not sure that matters anymore and at least I know have this performance.
The Real Folk Blues
Blues is a type of music that is often associated with a low point in your life, and there is a deep sadness here. There is also a moment of hope and then a lot of power. The song sung in Japanese looks back to a relationship of the past a lament for what is lost. But it is also looking to the future to a time past this pain, and well if there is a better song for today I’d like to hear it. In the recording we get those low bass notes ring out as A-sha Mai Yamane’s haunting vocals sound out over the top. This is the song that finished every, well nearly every episode of the show, and I think it characters maybe the reality of what was behind the bravado of each of the main characters. Also, as a bonus here is another version of The Real Folk Blues that is an extended collaboration from Animelab.
Don’t Bother None
Here is where we take a turn into country and I am not even sorry. I think it shows the power of the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack that one of its more popular songs never actually appeared in the show, at least in its full version. The instrumental version of the song can be found a couple of times throughout the series but never the full vocals and they are so good. It tells a story of a person of fleet of hands, but poor in luck, as they go about their day. The original version is a little bit more harmonica-y which is just as good, but I will take it however I can get it.
We end our time (for now as there may more songs coming) but getting a little weird and turning the saxophone and bongos up to max. Space Lion is one of only two songs used in the end credits other than The Real Folk Blues. Unlike a lot of the music in the show, this is more of pared-back contemplative work, which is sort of fitting as lands at the halfway point in the season. Its focus on drums of many types and persuasions is what keeps the drive going as you fall into that contemplative state.
I truly hope that there are more songs on their way with classics like Mushroom Hunting or Blue waiting in the wings. It has been such a fun time reminiscing back in time and a joy to see these songs brought back and reinterpreted for a new age. I hope I was able to pass on some of that joy in the current times and whatever you are doing at the moment stay safe if you can.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Cowboy Bebop