Saturday, November 16, 2013

SCANDAL at Tokyo NHK Hall 11/07/2013 live report!



It's been more than a week but I'm finally able to get to writing this!

SCANDAL is a natural live band; one of those bands whose albums originally existed to try to capture the experience of being at one of their daily live shows. That's how they cut their teeth, and that's who they still are. YouTube and TV clips don't really capture it - you've gotta feel the beat and be part of the energy. I first saw them at Budokan last year at a big special event show - NHK Hall this month was my first "regular" tour experience, promoting the STANDARD album. Both shows blew me away, but this show was a lot different. I was practically right up front instead of in the nosebleeds, for one thing!

PRE-SHOW
Showtime was at 7PM with a door opening time of 6, so my wife and I arrived at about 5:15 to hit the merchandise tables. Many things sold out early at Budokan, so I was a little worried. In fact, we'd gone to the Kitty Records shop the day before to see if we could get a jump on things - they've turned this store into a temporary SCANDAL shop:


Between the Kitty Shop and NHK Hall, I ended up getting everything I wanted. Incidentally, I discovered the next day that this shop is only about 1/8 of a mile from NHK Hall - you can almost see one from the other.

If you want to see the actual merchandise I got, read to the end and I'll go through it.

The merchandise tables were set up inside a corner of the hall but were aligned such that you couldn't move out of that area. We'd read that if you bought the STANDARD CD at the show, you'd get an autographed card along with it, so we asked about this and were told we needed to wait until the main doors opened. (The regular merchandise tables were open to anyone, not just people with tickets.) We got in line at about 5:30 and waited in what suddenly felt like freezing cold.


This was just as we got in line. It may look long at this point, but trust me when I say it got a lot longer than this. By 6PM, this was the front of the line. The entire plaza became crowded, and the barricades came out to hold the crowd back behind us and get the line to snake around.

The doors opened a bit late at around 6:10, and the people in front of us ran towards the CD table, which was located in the back of the quite large hall lobby. They announced that there were only a limited number of autographed cards. The line moved excruciatingly slowly as the staff stopped it periodically to randomly shuffle CD stacks around for no apparent reason. As we finally approached the CD tables at about 6:30, they announced they had only 10 cards left. I counted exactly 10 people in front of me. Argh!

And yet...


When I went up, they told me they had one card left, although I actually saw three. I like that it has the date and venue on it; it's not generic. And yes, those are real signatures. Interesting that Rina apparently romanizes her name "Lina"!

I knew from reading elsewhere that the band has "present boxes" set up at their shows, so we brought them a couple little gifts - four "I Love New York" keychains and a ramen set from the Ramen Museum in Yokohama. I really didn't know what type of stuff people normally leave for them and I couldn't tell when I looked in the boxes either, because they'd been emptied once already and the few things remaining were all wrapped. Of course we stuck a note and some business cards in with our stuff :)

Hey, we sent Aldious $200 flowers - I figure spending $30 on keychains and ramen is a little less over the top.


Here were the flowers others sent to SCANDAL. It's hard to read the signs with my blurrycam-phone but it was pretty much the usual suspects - MTV, Music Japan, etc. I did notice FLiP, another popular girl band, sent them flowers too. That was nice. If I remember right, the merch tables were originally right where those barricades are; they moved them once the main doors opened. The present boxes were right behind me.

We took our seats at about 6:45 and the hall filled up fast. I'd been checking and the show wasn't sold out up to that day, but it sure seemed like people were filling in all the way to the top. NHK Hall is big - at 3,800 seats, it's almost twice as big as Carnegie Hall in New York City. Looking backwards, it was shocking how far away some seats are - our original tickets would have put us further away than we were at Budokan. Our seats that we'd upgraded through Yahoo Auctions turned out to be amazing - probably as good as I could hope for without either paying a thousand dollars or just getting really, really lucky in the public lottery.


It's forbidden to take photos at concerts in Japan (and people follow that rule) but my wife chanced just this one before the show started. I believe we were in the 8th row overall. The four girls were spread evenly across the stage, with Rina out front, so we were sort of in between Tomomi and Haruna, while Mami would be off the right edge of this photo. The stage itself comes out a little further than it appears here - there's some extra space in front that all the girls used when they wanted to come out to rile up the crowd. At their closest to me, it looked like they were about 15 feet away.

This traditional Japanese stage set changed about halfway through the show, which I'll explain in a bit.

One thing I like about Japanese shows is that there is no messing around with opening bands or vague start times. At exactly 7PM, the lights went dark and the crowd roared. Everybody stood up and stayed that way for the rest of the show. Suddenly and without warning, Rina's snare drum popped in the darkness like gunshots going off and I jumped in surprise as SCANDAL launched into "STANDARD".

SET LIST (aped from Scandal Heaven)
01. STANDARD
02. Brand new wave
03. EVERYBODY SAY YEAH
04. Orange Juice
05. Houkago 1H
06. Uchiagehanabi
07. Hachigatsu
08. Koe
09. Metronome
10. Koi no Gestalt Houkai
11. Kagen no Tsuki
12. Weather report
13. Awanai Tsumori no, Genki de ne
14. Kimi to Mirai to Kanzen Douki
15. OVER DRIVE
16. Taiyou to Kimi ga Egaku STORY
17. Namida yo Hikare~STANDARD

Encore:
18. Space Ranger
19. SCANDAL BABY
20. DOLL

I'm actually not quite sure of the placement of a couple of these songs - I think "Koe" and "Metronome" might be flipped, at least.

"STANDARD" was incredible; even momentous. It felt like an entire new direction for the band, and one completely at odds with where I was worried they were headed only a few months ago. It's all their own song (no outside writers or arrangers), and they played it so loud, so noisy and so recklessly that, combined with the fact that it both opened and closed the show(!), I have to believe this is who they really want to be now. It was like an explosion, or a pack of wild animals that had been caged up and finally let loose. The crowd went crazy; if this was America, I swear there would have been a mosh pit.

The band kept the energy up for the next few songs before things started to mellow out a bit for "Orange Juice" and then of course "Houkago 1H", which was almost kind of a break for them and the crowd. Both Mami and Tomomi got exactly one song that featured them as singers; "Houkago 1H" isn't the one I'd have picked for Timo, but it's nice to hear songs they don't play live a lot. "Uchiagehanabi" and "Hachigatsu", the next songs, were a little disappointing, feeling slower than they do on the album and with less emotion.

Things really picked up again with "Koe" and "Metronome", though. "Koe" literally had the audience jumping again during the chorus, to the point that I had kind of a hard time even watching Mami sing it. The song felt much harder than it does on its album. Haruna said later that "Koe" is surprisingly the #2 ranked song of all time by their fan club members (#1 is "Scandal Baby"), but I could believe it based on the crowd reaction. During "Metronome", Haruna held the high notes an extra second or two and you could hear the crowd roar for her over the music whenever she did. She is fully back from her earlier vocal problems, and now has one of the best voices in all of rock music.

Somewhere around this time is when they had their first and main MC break, which lasted around 20 minutes. After doing their standard intro, Haruna told us we could sit down. They talked about various things including a radish Tomomi had left in her refrigerator during the tour, how they can remember playing early shows attended by exactly zero people, and whether cats or dogs were better. Haruna brought out her "Harupedia" (an actual binder she has) that she read various facts from about cats and dogs. The girls all voted on whether they liked cats or dogs (Haru and Timo: dogs; Rina and Mami: cats) before asking the crowd to break the tie. On this night, cats won.

They also announced during the MC that yes... the show finally sold out!

During "Koi no Gestalt Houkai", Haruna put her guitar down and picked up a megaphone so she could strut around the front of the stage. She did a little sexy dance as she walked around, which was pretty fun to watch from where I was standing, though I've read from others at other shows that it didn't translate as well further away and higher up. But standing below her and only a few feet away.. I mean, I actually said "Jesus Christ!" out loud as I was watching her. She may be a little thin for my tastes these days, but that woman still knows how to move.

As the song ended, she strapped her blue Mustang back on so she could do the craziest extended intro to a song that I've ever heard them do. It started out as about two minutes of straight up random guitar noise. Slowly she used some kind of effect (it looked like a Maxon AD999) mounted to her mic stand to manually blend the sound into a pulsating single tone. It was like I was suddenly at a My Bloody Valentine show. That tone then formed the basis for Mami to launch into the opening notes of "Kagen no Tsuki".

"Weather Report" was again a little disappointing in the same way as "Hachigatsu" and "Uchiagehanabi", but as "Awanai Tsumori no Genki de ne" began, the set peeled apart to reveal a massive open and modern (and freakin' bright) light setup behind them, the crowd went wild again and the energy feedback loop between band and crowd was restored. They maintained that energy through the rest of the set - it didn't hurt that their remaining songs were all great live songs. I even thought "OVER DRIVE" was fantastic, and I'm a little iffy on the album version. "OVER DRIVE" is also one of the only songs they did featuring any synchronized band choreography (they did the little jig from the video any time they weren't singing), and it was cute.

(I realized a few weeks after writing that that they also did the choreography from "Taiyou to Kimi ga Egaku STORY", which was a towel-waving frenzy near the end of the show that was also physically difficult to actually watch them play from my spot on the floor. I was just caught in a mob.)

And yes, after finishing up "Namida yo Hikare", they immediately launched into the ending chorus of "STANDARD" again, which was an amazing way to finish. Many of their songs are obviously intended for audience participation, and "STANDARD" is one of those - I was looking forward to being able to sing "yeeeeeeeeah whooooooooooa!" along with them, and I wasn't disappointed.

For the encore, the girls changed into their tour shirts as they always do, then performed three of their most crowd-pleasing early songs. I was personally hoping they'd do "24 Jikan Plus no Yoake Mae" as they did at some of the earlier shows on this tour, but no dice. I am happy they did "Scandal Baby", which I think should never be out of the set list, and it was absent at some of the shows on their last tour. During that song, Tomomi went behind Haruna and teased her a bit, and Mami tried to do something similar with Rina (it's a little harder with a drummer). It wasn't quite as fun as when I saw them do this song at Budokan, though.

After "Doll", they did another little MC/personal introductions/thank you to the crowd, and that was that. I left drenched in sweat and wishing I'd bought one of the towels they were selling! (They're not just for waving around.) My wife said this was the first time she learned that I could jump.

RANDOM THOUGHTS AND NOTES

  • Their outfits were fairly simple white dresses, pants and skirts; not very flashy or elaborate like they sometimes wear, almost under-designed if you ask me, but better in person than in pictures. Still, not my favorite outfits that they've worn (but also not the worst).
  • They've really gotten a lot more serious as a band. You can especially see it in Haruna, who is just all business when she's playing and has started doing some creative guitar stuff on stage. The way she is in their recent videos is pretty much the way she really is on stage now. She's no longer the bubbly, slightly awkward teenager of Koi Moyou, that's for sure! She's even a little less goofy than when I saw them at Budokan a year ago. If not for the MC parts, where she was smiling and laughing more than anyone else, I'd have almost thought she was angry at this show. But she has just gotten really intense. She's become the dark and brooding one, at least while she's singing and playing.
  • I still think something might have been going on between Haruna and Tomomi - Haruna barely ever even looked at Tomomi during either the MC's or while playing, and Tomomi seemed almost scared of Haruna, rarely moving from her spot and mostly staying out of the MC conversations. There was one awkward moment that really made me feel bad for Tomomi when she walked over to Haruna, literally stood there looking at her for about 10 seconds, and then walked back without even being acknowledged. It was weird.
  • I don't think I like Rina being in front - it messes up the band dynamic. Drums are a large and disruptive presence on a stage, and their being in front means none of the band members can really play off each other and they all need to mostly stay in one spot. It also means Haruna faces to her left during the MC's, since that's where half the rest of the band is - that could be partially responsible for why Tomomi looked so left out a lot of the time. I understand that Rina's an equal part of the band, but the drums need to be in back.
  • If you didn't get it, SCANDAL is loud. I've seen Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth - none of them are as loud in concert as SCANDAL. Whenever I see them live, I have Marty DiBergi going through my head saying they've earned a place in history as "one of Japan's loudest bands." They're also heavier than on their albums, and at this show they were a bit messier and less precise... but in a punky kind of way that mostly sounded good. They are a noisy and powerful band live.

If you're wondering about the merchandise, here's everything I walked away with:


That's the bag (which you have to buy), the regular Standard t-shirt, the packet of stuff they give you just for showing up, the signed card, the keychain set (we exchanged keychains!), the CD that I had to buy to get the card, and the photo book. The book is actually pretty fantastic - it's hardcover, and it shows them in a very different and more mature light than past books have.

The keychain set is also pretty rad - the designs of each of their signature instruments are reproduced in the metal down to really fine detail:


Tomomi's bass also has the competition stripes. Rina's bass drum has the stylized Scandal "S".

I thought after Budokan that that was my one chance, but I'm determined to see them again now. I actually scheduled this trip partly around this show and I will be doing that again. It's worth it.

(Feel free to leave a comment here if you'd like to say or ask anything that's restricted on the Scandal Heaven thread - I don't have the same rules.)

I have several SCANDAL live reports - read them all!




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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.

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I'm married. I like to travel. I have no kids. I have a house... that I'm bad at maintaining. I used to collect classic video games. I own a lot of musical equipment that far outstrips my ability to use it. When I was younger, I was in a band. I like gadgets, and I'm an Android guy. Someday, I would like to live on a different planet.

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