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Despite quake, local band plays on in Japan

Date: 3/21/2011

March 21, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

GREATER SPRINGFIELD — And the band played on.

Not even a devastating earthquake and tsunami could prevent Phil Labonte and Springfield-based heavy metal band All That Remains from taking the stage.

Labonte and company were scheduled to play Club Quattro in Tokyo the day after performing in a club by the same name in Osaka as part of a swing through Japan after headlining the Soundwave Tour in Australia to promote their latest album, "For We Are Many."

The 8.9 magnitude earthquake crippled the country and triggered a deadly tsunami that wiped away entire villages. The death toll continues to rise.

Despite the disaster, the concert organizers asked if the band still wanted to play. It was an easy decision for them.

At 7:20 p.m., Tokyo time, less than five hours after the seismic event rocked the country, Labonte tweeted, "OK Tokyo, ATR (All That Remains) in 10 min. Thanks to all who made it on this terrible day. Hope you enjoy the show!"

Because the train system was shut down and most transportation snarled, the band played in front of a modest crowd of about 150 people.

The East Coast rockers, who Labonte — a Chicopee native who now makes his home in New Hampshire — admitted didn't have much experience with earthquakes, were getting ready for a show when the earthquake hit.

"We were sound checking at the venue. I was in the back with our [tour manager]," Labonte told Reminder Publications via e-mail while flying back to the U.S. from Tokyo. "It kind of started slowly and continued for at least a minute, maybe even longer. There were a few aftershocks once we got out of the building."

The band exited the building in such a hurry, drummer Jason Costa, who plays barefoot, spent roughly an hour outside without shoes, according to Labonte.

Phone services were severely affected by the catastrophe, making it difficult to get word out to family and friends, so Labonte turned to the social networks to let loved ones and fans know the band and crew were alright.

"Right after the quake, cell phones and text messages were nearly impossible. However, the Internet worked quite well, so I used Facebook and Twitter to contact loved ones and let them know we were all safe," Labonte said.

Throughout that day and the days that followed, Labonte provided fans with consistent updates though those mediums.

After the initial earthquake, whose epicenter was off the eastern coast of Honshu, about 230 miles from Tokyo, the island nation was battered by hundreds of aftershocks.

That day, Labonte tweeted, "Good grief, I don't get sea sick but the constant 'almost' movement round here is driving me nuts."

Later that night, he again commented on the movement, tweeting, "Hilarious! I JUST got back to the hotel after dinner, took of my pants, then I felt a small aftershock. How the [expletive] am I gonna sleep tonight?!"

"Aftershocks were nearly continuous until we left nearly 48 hours after the quake struck," Labonte said. "I had heard that there were almost 300 aftershocks after the initial major 8.9 hit."

It wasn't until much later that the band was able to see just how devastating the earthquake was to other parts of the country.

"It took about 12 hours for me to see the full impact," Labonte said. "U.S. news didn't start getting much info, aside from what they could get from Twitter and YouTube, until the day after."

Labonte said that while the destruction was severe in certain areas, Tokyo was not badly affected by the earthquake and there was little disorder in the city, which aided in the decision to play their regularly scheduled show.

"Tokyo wasn't [affected] in a very significant way. The quake actually struck off the coast near Sendai. The vast majority of damage and loss of life was from the ensuing tsunami," Labonte said. "There was no panic in Tokyo, just an overall sense of sadness for the people in the northern regions of Japan."

The earthquake did, however, shut down the airport temporarily. Fortunately for them, the band had scheduled a flight in advance that was slated for March 13 and they were able to get out of the country without incident. Others weren't so lucky.

"There were, however, lots of people who had been sleeping at the airport because all flights had been cancelled the day of the quake and the day following," Labonte said.

While it's one thing to see a disaster unfold on television, it's an experience not easily imagined, according to Labonte. Until you have lived it, it's impossible to know what it is really like, he said.

"It's frightening, to be honest," Labonte admitted. "But, at the same time, I feel lucky to be safe and have been a part of history."

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