Saturday, January 26, 2008

Kimura Kaela - Live Scratch

LIVE Scratch - Agatte Masutteba Tour @ Budokan Sta Men  / Kaela KimuraBuy LIVE Scratch
at CDJapan

I've talked a little bit about Kimura Kaela on my PUFFY blog, but I've finally just picked up her recent DVD Live Scratch and it's definitely worth spending a post on here.

I'm sure most non-Japanese readers here are saying "who?" In Japan, she's big enough to be known by one name: Kaela. (Pronounced "keye-la.") This is one Japanese artist that I think rock fans around the world could get into. The Japanese pop music industry is much the same as ours in a lot of ways, but there's room for artists there that just could never make it here. You just don't see a hell of a lot of girl rock stars in the US these days - not honest ones, anyway.

Kaela's on her third album (soon to be fourth), so she's been around a while now. There's a good reason for that: she rocks!

She first hit public consciousness as a fashion model for Seventeen magazine - and she was a teenager at the time. She's of mixed ethnicity - half Japanese, half British. She speaks English, though not fluently, and a lot of her songs are in English too. Musically, she comes from a pure punk background - she had a high school band called "Animo" that took a lot of inspiration from modern western punk bands like Rancid. This is a sample of her early music (and a really early performance):

She's come a long way since then. I kinda like how raw she is above, but she also doesn't look very confident and she doesn't have a lot of stage presence. Here's a clip from Live Scratch, which was shot last year:

Big difference, if you ask me. She's more comfortable, her movement feels a lot more fluid, and she owns that stage. She's 23 now (don't tell me she doesn't look it), and she's all grown up.

Live Scratch was shot at Nippon Budokan - yes, the Budokan of Bob Dylan at Budokan and Cheap Trick - At Budokan fame. It is just as famous a venue for Japanese artists, who only know they've really arrived when they play their first concert at this arena. It is hallowed ground among rock musicians and has been ever since the Beatles made their Japanese debut there in the 1960's. This was Kaela's first show at Budokan (it took her three albums to make it there), hence the faux-tuxedos being worn by the band. No, she normally doesn't dress like that - it was a special occasion.

Here's the full track list:

1. Scratch
2. Circle
3. Magic Music
4. L.drunk
5. トゥリル トゥリル リカー
7. リルラ リルハ
8. ワニと小鳥
9. Snowdome
10. sweetie
11. never land
12. dolphin
13. You
15. きりんタン
16. BEAT
18. Ground Control
19. You know you love me?

20. Samantha
21. happiness!!!

It's long! Japanese artists really give you your money's worth.

Notice the final track before the encores - she does sing the same song from the early clip above. It sounds more or less the same, although she is much different. The band is also different, so the instruments sound a little less "punk" and a little more "rock".

It's obvious from the first couple of songs on the disc that she's really just taking it all in. It's a real experience for her. The thing I really like about some Japanese stars is how humble they are even after getting big. It's surely not universal, but it seems true of all the Japanese artists I happen to like.

I gotta say that this is one of the most slickly-produced and well-edited concert DVD's I've ever seen, as was the concert itself. I really wish I could have been there, because there is just a huge amount of stuff going on. The light show is amazing, the sound is amazing, Kaela's voice and presence are amazing. About the only thing I can criticize is the set list order, which starts the show with a great mood-setter in "Scratch," then ups the energy with a slightly modified and heavier "Circle" and several more quick-tempo songs before really bringing things down way too much in the middle. There's a great recovery by the end, though, which is one of the best, most genuinely emotional finishes I've ever seen at a live show.

If you don't own Scratch, Kaela's last CD, you should buy it. The album is just full of great songs in a bunch of different styles from beginning to end. The problem is some of the best songs on the CD don't really translate live (most are slow, lush songs that are slowed even further on stage), and these are the songs jammed together in the middle of the DVD. "Snowdome", "Wani to Kotori", "Dolphin" and "Sweetie" are the biggest offenders. The DVD ain't called Live Scratch for nothing, though - she plays through pretty much the entire album, with only highlights from her previous two included. That's okay, though - Scratch really is her best, and she's included most of the top stuff from her other two (including her best known songs in the west, "Rirura Riruha" - aka "Real Life Real Heart" - and "Happiness").

You really could just buy this DVD as an initial introduction to her music. Most of her songs - with exceptions noted above - sound better live than they do on the albums. "Beat", "Circle", "Tree Climbers", the list goes on - all stronger as live performances than they are recorded. A big part of it is just her voice, which is held back a bit on the albums, but let loose on stage. She may be tiny, but she can belt. (And yeah, she really plays guitar.)

Before the last song of the encore, as she's thanking the band, her mom and all the people that helped her out, she cries uncontrollably. Not crocodile tears, either; I'm talking waterworks, can't even get a word out kind of stuff. I've never seen anything like this at a concert before, and it runs completely counter to the image I've always had of her. She's never pictured with anything but that big smile on her face, and she's always completely cool and usually somewhat distant in interviews. She manages to get through the final song, but she skips a few lines - it's obvious that she's still completely choked up. It's really pretty endearing. (The screenshot below is the best I could get - I didn't want to show a shot of her face all curled up in a sob!)

The DVD itself is anamorphic widescreen, though the picture quality is strangely grainy. You get used to it, especially with as much going on visually as there is. It is a region-protected disc, which still makes no sense to me - are they really planning to sell this in region 1 someday? I doubt it, so why the region coding? In addition to the live show, there's a making-of section showing some of her rehearsals leading up to the moment of the show's start - interesting because of how self-admittedly nervous she is. As usual for behind the scenes stuff, this footage is 4:3.

By the way, for any new fans that want to keep up with what Kaela's up to, she maintains a pretty regular blog, complete with photos. Check it here.


  1. Anonymous5:44 AM

    I too have been swept up by Kaela and am enjoying Live Scratch. I was very impressed by the backing band and did a little inquiring about them. Apparently they all come from other reputable bands/acts in Japan and each are considered tops in their instrument. Several of them have co-written songs with Kaela.

    I asked a guy who runs a fan site and here are the musicians:

    G(R/HAIR-LONG):會田 茂一 あいだ・しげかず Shigekazu Aida
    G (L/HAIR-SHORT):渡邊 忍 わたなべ・しのぶ Shinobu Watanabe
    B:4106 よーいち・おむ Yoichi Omu
    D:柏倉 隆史 かしくら・たかし Takashi kashikura
    K:伊藤 寛 いとう・ひろし Hiroshi Itou

  2. Hey. Just searching the net for Kaela and came across your blog. Nice post. I, too, am a big fan since the "Circle" album. Did ya get the PV collection DVD?

    There's a rip of her latest concert on Youtube. I have it playlisted on my blog:

    Have a look. It's a great concert.


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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