Jul 02

[live report] L’Arc-en-Ciel – Fulfilling a Teenage Dream

Someone’s been reading my diary. More accurately, someone’s been reading my diary from high school.

As an awkward,emo 16-year-old, there were three things I looked at with great longing to participate: L’Arc-en-Ciel concerts, The Matrix, and marching band. The latter’s easy to explain: I was an orchestra geek, and the violin wasn’t exactly the best instrument to traipse around football fields with. The Matrix was, well, the best movie ever made, but unfortunately not real. (Or is it?)

L’Arc-en-Ciel is a different story. I’ve rehashed this confession of my utter fangirlish glee over a few articles before. But had you asked my high school self if I would ever be able to see one of their shows live, I probably would have broken down in tears and bemoaned my fate of being stuck thousands of miles from Japan. At that time, I know I wasn’t the only naïve resident of L’Arcdom who thought the band would never in a million years perform in their home country.

Oh how wrong we were.

L’Arc-en-Ciel spent the bulk of the last 12 months touring Japan and the world, playing stadiums that only exist in most rockstars’ wet dreams. And if there’s any band that can get away with booking New York’s Madison Square Garden or Hong Kong’s Asia World Expo Arena, it’s this one.

But let’s get back to me (it’s always about me). I was lucky enough to go to their May 26 show, one of the last two dates on their 20thL’Anniversary World Tour 2012. Tokyo National Olympic Stadium – probably the most enormous venue in terms of actual square footage I’ve ever been to -was filled with eager, screaming, rainbow-colored fans. As the sun set over the Tokyo skyline, it was almost easy to forget we were about to see a rock concert.

It also didn’t help that the show opened with a fake news announcement warning the world of a UFO brandishing cartoon faces of L’Arc-en-Ciel’s four band members. This was followed by a helicopter swooping overhead, but believe it or not, that didn’t get the biggest reaction from the crowd. Within moments, a color guard bearing flags of various rainbow colors marched in. The beats of a drum line came instrong behind them right before the brass section started playing “Niji”. The actual members of L’Arc-en-Cieltrucked in on a parade float, stopped dead center in front of the stadium seats, and practically said, “Tada!”

This whole spectacle was ripped right from the depths of my teenage mind. Brass band, helicopters, and L’Arc-en-Ciel: every teenage girl’s dream! And without a rain cloud in sight! (See my article on the downpour we experienced during May 2011’s L’Anniversary shows.)

Now what about the actual music? There’s a problem with performing in a sports stadium of that size. Olympic Stadium is probably the largest oval in existence (citation needed), and when something is designed to be long and wide with the actual stadium seats rather low to the ground, the sound essentially has nowhere to go but out. As a result, the music felt distant. This was no fault of the band, but it did rob some precious nuances out of the songs, especially in terms of hyde’s voice. It also caused a slight sound delay as the majority of the audience had an extreme sharpshooter’s view of the band.

I have no doubt in my mind the team that designed this show had that in mind because the grandiosity of the concert was entertainment in and of itself. Along with the marching band making occasional reappearances for songs, there was a cheerleading team and commercials for fake, L’Arc-en-Ciel inspired products between a few sets. The best one might have been of an elderly woman squeezing two marshmallows as she reminisced about her deceased husband. (Yeah, don’t ask.)

Sound problems aside, it all comes down to the level of fun. L’Arc-en-Ciel isn’t the deepest, most serious band in existence, and that was probably why I loved them as a teenager. I thought they were all poetic and existential and totally got me then (much like my feelings toward The Matrix), but in actuality, they’re entertainment with gleams of intensity that are there to make L’Arc-en-Ciel more than just teen-pandering pop culture fluff. And that’s why, along with the hundreds of thousands of fans around the world, I still enjoy them today.

L’arc~en~Ciel Official Website – http://www.larc-en-ciel.com/en/index2.html

Jun 19

[live report] LiSA – Not Just a Fictitious Anime Band Voice

J-pop gets a bad rap. Overpopulated with cutesy girls and herbivorous young men, the pop world in this country has the reputation of being sickeningly innocent and entirely inoffensive (unless you want to get into the whole “sexy children” discussion, which I’ll save that for another day). LiSA might fall into the Jpop category, but at her core, she’s more than just a nasal voice and a frilly skirt.

LiSA began her career in the music universe on the indie circuit, writing her own songs and doing her own promotion. She has since been picked up as the singing voice of Yui in the popular anime Angel Beats! I know what you’re thinking, and yes, her audience at Hibiya Yagai Ongakudou on April 30 did consist mostly of high school to college age, slightly geeky and gawky boys. After all, any artist whose claim to fame is based in otakudom has to expect a certain boys’ dorm atmosphere (and odor) to their shows.

But the music thankfully contained much more than the overly synthesized, squeaky-voices we’ve come to expect from anime songs. LiSA emerged draped in a black Merlin cloak with a fur hood over her head. Her voice initially came out sweet and bashful, like she was surprised so many people showed up for little ol’ her. But once the guitars revved up for“Rock Mode,” something magical happened. Perhaps it was the star wands her fans wielded or maybe that demure thing at the beginning was just an act, but within moments, she became an energetic rocker in a tutu, prancing and bouncing with all the quirk of a young Cindi Lauper.

That’s also when I started to notice the stage set up and props. On either side, there were red platforms with bizarre, typically adorable animals in cartoon form. A bunny with a melted face and a blue cyclops cat gawked out at the audience like a trip to Kiddy Land mixed with a trip on acid. There was also something a little voyeuristic about the way she brought out an oversized, pink camera. She pointed the camera at the crowd, smiling mischievously as if she planned on using those shots to blackmail some of her fans on Facebook.
It’s these visual touches that helped separate LiSA from the conventional female pop-rock chick. Songs like “Escape Game” and “Oath Sign” were more or less the standard in her genre, but the way she bopped about, instructing the audience when to applaud, was cute and flirtatiously coy. She may have the youthfully high register of a Hilary Duff via Disney, but in songs like “Namida Ryuuseigun,” LiSA knows how to belt like an old soul. For “Mushoku Toumei,” her backup band got quiet as she dropped the mic and screamed out the last chorus. Considering Hibiya Yagai Ongakudou is outside, that was a bold move that indeed paid off as her voice reverberated off the trees.

LiSA breaks not only j-pop molds, but also anime music stereotypes with a wink and an acapella note or two. It’ll be interesting to hear how this 24-year-old will mature and morph in the next few years, hopefully dropping the hesitation at the beginning and sticking with the naughty little rocker we all know she really is.

LiSA Official website – http://www.lxixsxa.com/
Buy LiSA albums @ Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/lisa/e/B004O3SBZU/ref=ntt_mp3_rdr_glnc?_encoding=UTF8&sn=d
Buy LiSA albums @ iTunes – http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/lover-s-mile/id519947937****

Jun 18

[live report + interview] Speaking Music with -OZ- at A-kon 23

The way -OZ- walked onto the A-kon stage, one would never have guessed they were playing their first show in America.  Each member acknowledged the large chanting crowd and struck a cool pose with their trademark glowsticks (which were sold in the dealers’ room for fans to wield).  Natsuki beckoned the audience to scream louder as the lights dimmed.  His black lace blindfold conjured up images of S&M, and everyone knew that this was going to be one hot show.

At the first chords of “Reverse,” bright lights flashed over the stage.  It was like lighting and thunder striking at the same time.  Heavy riffs blended with a synthesized accompaniment while Natsuki growled ferociously.  -OZ-’s latest single, “Stigma,” had a similar electronic touch with screeching guitars.  Band and audience members alike went into a frenzy of headbanging.

The pace slowed down with “Rain Delay.”  The ballad began with slow triplets from Aki, paired with Zukki’s light tapping.  Nao strummed his bass during the first verse and Tama took over the accompaniment on the second.  Natsuki’s vocals were a bit strained in the chorus, but he was passionate and the crowd latched onto that when they were commanded to sing along.  His voice was a lot more solid in the catchy chorus of “Filmy,” a fast and ferocious piece.  He teased the fans by sliding his fur-trimmed coat off one shoulder as Nao delivered a short bass solo, and then he proclaimed, “I can’t speak English very well… but I can speak music!”

Aki and Tama traded off impressive solos throughout the night.  The entire band never seemed to tire even though it got hot enough to make Natsuki shed his coat, belt, and tank top before “Enmity.”  He then dove into the already-ecstatic crowd.  “Detox,” the last song, had everyone clapping along in the beginning.  The guitars alternated between a catchy melody that was reminiscent of 80s arena rock and heavier riffs that fit more with the death vocals of the verse.

For the encore, -OZ- traded their leather jackets and layered tank tops for T-shirts, carrying Japanese flags.  They played “Reverse” again, with more intensity.  Natsuki drew wild screams by provocatively pulling his shirt up just a tiny bit and shaking hands with some lucky fans. “Today is the best day in my life,” the frontman had said earlier.  Based on the screams and applause that continued long after the band had exited, many probably felt the same.

The next day, I briefly chatted with -OZ- before their fan Q&A session.  The band exhibited the same level of confidence that they walked on-stage with, even as their weekend was filled with new experiences.  Thank you to Babel Entertainment for making the interview possible.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 18

[press release] L.A.'s UTB Music TV to Extend J-Pop Video Show

June 17, 2012 – Los Angeles television station UTB 18.2 will extend the on-air time of its J-Pop music program, “UTB Music TV”.

Beginning July 7, 2012, UTB 18.2 will air new episodes of the music video program for 30 minutes every Saturday from 10pm – 10:30pm, with repeats at various times every weekday.

“UTB Music TV” features music videos by Japanese artists from a variety of genres, including J-Pop, Visual Kei, R&B, Hard Rock, Idols, and more. Recent shows have showcased such artists as B’z, May’n, LM.C, AI, w-inds, Dreams Come True, Lolita23Q, and The Possible.

UTB 18.2 is the only 24-hour Japanese television station in the United States, featuring Japanese programming with English subtitles (drama, news, variety) for the Southern California area.

UTB Music TV information:

Jun 13

[live report] Ayabie – Awkwardly Adorable at A-kon 23

Ayabie is like the Zooey Deschanel of visual kei.  They have the same sunny disposition and vintage Bohemian fashion sense.  They also exhibit the kind of awkwardness that is endearing rather than uncomfortable to watch, because hiding underneath it is self-assuredness.  At the end of the day they are still pros, as they proved to be at A-kon 23.

Yumehito came across as the type of guy who isn’t very good at dancing but won’t let that keep him from having fun.  During the opening song “Merry Go Round,” he swung his free arm left and right like he was half-punching the air, half-getting ready to do the cabbage patch.  He also interrupted his singing to shout at the crowd, which they dug.  Intetsu was equally enthusiastic, twirling around with his bass and headbanging to even the pop numbers.  Takehito was the cool guitarist, focused on the the fast-paced melodies, but he cracked a shy smile every now and then.  Yumehito joined him on guitar for “Reflector,” which blended hard rock riffs with electronica.  While he was in his comfort zone playing guitar, he was more entertaining as a vocalist.

Kenzo was relatively sedate until “RICE,” during which he pounded away furiously to complement Intetsu’s thundering riffs.  He was still breathless when the band took turns addressing the crowd in Japanese and English.  “Follow me,” Yumehito instructed.  “I’m dancing.  You’re dancing.” He brought out a fan to direct the crowd’s arm waving.  The next song, “Kakusei Sprechor,” had even more complicated choreography that mimicked para-para dancing (with some finger motions that resembled the gesture for “tsk tsk”).  It suited the Eurobeat-style back track.  During Takehito’s solo, Intetsu directed his headbanging towards his guitarist while Yumehito appeared to be bowing from the waist.  The audience giggled and screamed over how cute he looked.

Even when technical difficulties interrupted their set, Yumehito kept the audience entertained.  He made everyone do vocal exercises, which displayed how high his falsetto was—something that isn’t evident in the songs.  Then he conducted an impromptu interview with Intetsu.  “Nan kilo desuka,” he asked. “What weight?”
“I am fifty-one [kilograms]…maybe,”
the bassist reluctantly replied before repeating the question back.
Yumehito’s answer was “one hundred.” The audience laughed, as he joked, “I am fat.”

The band resumed playing with “SICs,” a speed metal-inspired track with rapid-fire drums and bass.  Despite remaining a bit tentative to find their flow again, Ayabie was back to their full energetic selves for the last song.  The night ended on a cheerful note with a high flying leap from Intetsu.  Even with the unexpected moments of awkwardness, Ayabie remained fun to watch and it was their willingness to be silly and imperfect that won over the hearts of their American audience.

[svgallery name="ayabie2012"]

Official Ayabie website – http://ayabie.co.jp/
Babel Entertainment – http://www.babelentertainment.com/

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