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Wonderful Food, Beautiful Music
Nostalgia also on the menu at Midtown venue

By Simon Farrell
Photos: Masanori Naruse

FoodFood, for some, is a mere sideshow at Tokyo’s Billboard Live. But while Jimmy Cliff was attraction enough at his May gig in the slick Midtown venue, we also sang our praises for the eclectic and inspiring menu.

Since successfully bidding at the ACCJ Charity Ball in November 2013 for two dinner-show seats, I’ve become a member and regular guest at Billboard, generally for annual Tokyo visits by aging rockers that induce tears of nostalgia for many ecstatic fans.

Most recently, it was the Jamaican musician, singer, and actor Jimmy Cliff—the only living recipient of the highest honor granted to artists by his government.

I have also enjoyed an energetic performance by 1970s disco icons Kool and the Gang and a fragile and weepy Natalie Cole. The often-tragic daughter of Nat King, she entered and left the stage by staggering inches past my table.

Shortly after this review is published, I hope to also have seen the Temptations and The Three Degrees—both booked for August.

Greeted and seated by friendly bilingual staff an hour before the start of the live music, I had booked two of the best seats six weeks ahead. There are various tempting dinner plans included with some tickets, including the “gourmet” and “casual” choices or a simple drink and hot dog set, in addition to a la carte menu options.

We started with a smooth and refreshing 568ml pint of ice-cold and foamy-headed Bass Pale Ale, listed among Asahi and Hoegaarden beers, plus a sweet and tangy cassis orange juice from the non-alcoholic cocktail menu, featuring exotic syrups and juices.

The place was packed but service was brisk, presumably to feed people before the show began, right on time. Our antipasti were the “chef’s recommended appetizers of the day,” comprising assorted amuse bouches. Treats served included a superb selection of creamy salmon and red snow crab mille crepes, simple tuna carpaccio that melted in the mouth, and assorted crispy bruschetta.

A tasty side dish was a healthy plate of small oiled sardines with semi-dried tomato and olives.
For the main courses we chose the fish of the day in a creamy sauce and a tender aged roasted calf in a rich red wine sauce, served with a small side of vegetables.

A crispy and tasty seafood pizza came with mozzarella and fresh basil on a thin dough base with thick edges.

We skipped the tempting dessert menu dominated by yogurt, cheese, fruit, and sorbets to sit back as the band warmed up.

One of five performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, Cliff belted out to a very appreciative crowd his “Wonderful World, Beautiful People,” “The Harder They Come,” “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” and “Many Rivers to Cross,” along with covers of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” and Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now”—before ending with that disco sing-along “Reggae Nights.”

Between hits, Cliff recalled rock star anecdotes and dropped names I hadn’t heard for decades, such as Desmond Dekker and Ken Booth.

Shuffled off stage through a group of dancing diners by his unsmiling minders, the 65-year-old star declined loud calls for an encore, so the smiling crowd slowly ambled out for Billboard guests’ traditional patient wait to pay the bill at the exit. •

Billboard Live Tokyo

Reserved tickets for two ¥28,000
Bass Pale Ale draft ¥1,240
Gin & tonic ¥1,080
Rougie Viognier wine ¥1,080
Cassis & orange juice ¥1,240
Assorted appetizers ¥3,240
Half bagna càuda with bread ¥1,030
Oily sardines ¥1,580
Seafood pizza ¥2,680
*Does not include tax

The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards
August 6, 7

The Three Degrees
August 26, 27



Simon Farrell is publisher at Custom Media.