Thursday, March 29, 2012

SCANDAL vs. BUDOKAN show report: Japan 3/2012 Day 5

I'm jumping around a bit here with my trip report, but one thing I've learned with show reviews is you've gotta do them while you still feel it. Otherwise it's like a dream; it's fleeting, and you forget too much. Also, a warning: you are about to read a report from a fanboy. It is incredibly detailed and quite long. Feel free to skip it if this does not sound appealing.

Tonight was the SCANDAL show at Nippon Budokan! This was the centerpiece of this trip for me, and I'd been looking forward to it for a long time. How often does a person from overseas get to see one of their favorite Japanese bands at Budokan? It's rare for most bands to even get the chance to play there, and then for me to just happen to be here at the same time and be able to actually get tickets from the United States, well, it's almost impossible. Everything had to line up perfectly, and it did.

I've actually been following Scandal since probably 2009, just after their major label debut. They were a different band back then; really young and raw and I thought of them as more of a curiosity - these Japanese girls dressed up in school uniforms playing hard rock music. What's not to like about that?? But I didn't really take them seriously, and their music - while good - was basically stuff high school kids make with Garage Band.

Today they're a real professional rock band, with all that that entails - actual competence at playing their instruments, glossy production, hair and makeup stylists, custom clothing designers and all that jazz. They're also pretty confident on stage. They've lost some of their edge but it's not embarrassing anymore to admit that I like them - they look, sound and play like a band that should be filling arenas. And now they are.

This was my first concert in Japan, and as I expected, it was a different kind of experience vs. an American show!

We arrived at about 4:45PM for a 5:30PM door opening. I didn't really know why we even needed to get there early at all since we had assigned seats, but I knew the Japanese like to line up, so I figured we may as well get in it. I was glad we got there at least a bit early, because they had the merchandise tables set up outside the arena and had started selling some time before - they were already sold out of various things, including several items I wanted. I did manage to get a t-shirt in large (which I doubt will fit me), a photo book and obviously the bag to put everything in - which you had to buy for 500 yen. Picked up a few gifts too.

This is a stitched together panorama photo of Budokan when we got there - the main merchandise tables were on the left. On the right was a smaller booth selling their CD's and DVD's, plus a table where you could sign up to join their official fan club. (I almost did it! But it's 5,000 yen, and the main benefit you get is early access to show tickets. It's doubtful I'll ever have the chance to use that again.)

Incidentally, if you're wondering what kind of fans Scandal has in Japan, it was a pretty even mix between guys and girls, and even young and old (definitely more young than old, but I saw more than a few middle aged people there - and not all of them were with their kids!). It wasn't just a bunch of nerdy anime fans or perverted guys or alternately a bunch of girly girls. It was just regular people, most a bit cooler and more fashionable than average. It was like walking through Harajuku at any given moment. A lot of the girls there were obviously trying to look like the band.

We finally lined up for the opening - as always in Japan, the lines were completely organized and snaked around without any sort of line management system. People just know how to line up here. We ended up near the front anyway - here's the view of the front of the line (I actually think this is kind of a crazy pic - imagine somebody falling backwards!):

As my ticket was taken, a guy came up to me and asked if I had a camera. I said yes and was forced to check it. They weren't asking everyone - someone must have seen me snap the pic of the line. Japan is still really strict with pictures at concerts, so I didn't get any during the show itself. I really didn't see anyone trying to buck this rule either, so I wasn't going to chance it even though I still had my cell phone (which I can't be without!). There will be a DVD of this show soon enough (update: yup)... my original clip that I posted here died, but that's ok, because here's a better one from the show itself - imagine being in the crowd during this:

Haruna's wearing circle lenses! They all look very, very cute, don't you think? It's almost too much! Haruna's a badass no matter how she's styled, though.

I'll try to describe the stage setup. It was actually a pretty standard Japanese arena stage. The north side seats (including NE and NW) were completely blocked/draped over because the stage was either in front of or directly to the side of them. The stage itself had a standard full-width front stage and (if I remember right) a slightly smaller raised back section with staircases leading up. In front of the main stage was a smaller platform connected by an elevated "runway". The girls' positions were marked with large orange stars that glowed under certain types of light. Two large monitors allowed those on the upper floors to see what was going on at ground-level, and four large connected monitors backed the rear stage as well.

We were seated on the East side, row K, seats 22 and 23. Middle quality seats - not great, but there were a lot of people further away than we were. I can't complain given that we paid regular price and managed to buy our tickets from the US. We did have to watch the monitors a lot; I couldn't really make out anyone's face from where we were. The arena was full - it was a sellout (in 15 minutes!) - though oddly enough, the people next to us never showed up. They were the only empty seats I could see in the entire arena.

The show started nearly on time, at 6:35PM. No opening band. I appreciate this - there's just way too much waiting at American shows. At Japanese shows (this one plus others I've read about), you get there, you sit down, the show starts.

Here's the set list for the show (aped from Scandal Heaven, who aped it from Scandal Mania):

1. SCANDAL no Theme
2. Shunkan Sentimental
4. BEAUTeen!!
5. Shoujo S
7. Hi-Hi-Hi
~RINA drum solo
8. SCANDAL Nanka Buttobase (dance)
~MC(Candid Timo)
9. Pride
10. Haruka
11. BURN
12. Switch
13. Aitai
15. SAKURA Goodbye
16. Hello! Hello!
17. Taiyou to kimi ga Egaku STORY

1. Space Ranger
2. Kagerou

The show actually opened with a "SCANDAL vs. BUDOKAN Title Match" video, that was intended to be funny and kind of was but I really just wanted them to get on with it. The first real song, Shunkan Sentimental, opened with a bang - literally. So much pyrotechnics that we could feel the heat on the second level! The band was wearing some very Harajuku-ish pop punk fashion - I've never seen them dressed like that before; they looked very cute, although some of their fans (including me, sometimes) probably wish they still just wore the uniforms. They were all wearing wireless headset mics so they could move around - also unusual for them (and Tomomi seemed uncomfortable with hers all night).

The entire first set (up to Rina's drum solo) just totally rocked, and I've never seen an arena crowd so into a show before. Japanese crowds are amazing in exactly the way I thought they might be. They go totally nuts in a completely organized way. They will come up with a collective action totally spontaneously. It's like being in an unrehearsed line dance, but somehow everybody knows what to do. I just tried to keep up, and I think I did a pretty good job of it. But it was amazing to look around the arena and see everyone doing the same thing, at the same time, whether it was pumping their fists in the air, waving their arms back and forth, chanting (that's the one thing I had trouble with), or whatever. Absolutely no one just stood there and watched, or did their own little individual dance. Everybody went with the crowd.

During Shoujo S, the band used the raised rear stage to show off their choreography - I was so happy they did this, because the choreography for that song is just such a perfect match for it and that video is one of the first things I ever saw from them. They didn't do a lot of choreography tonight but there seem to be a few songs with choreography that they must just like, and they did do it for those songs. They were dancers first before they were a band, so they must just enjoy it sometimes.

Rina's drum solo allowed for a wardrobe change for the other three members. It was a long drum solo that she used to rile up the crowd with some audience participation, while throwing in some of the cuteness that she's known for - several times she'd stop and just toss in a few randomly cute facial expressions to get the crowd on her side. She's a better drummer than I thought she was, but honestly her solo went on a little too long.

She followed this up with a pretty lengthy monologue by herself. When the other girls returned, they had changed into some faux-Yanqui outfits, which somehow sort of suits them and their tough Osaka street image, though it's not the sexy look they're known for and that most of the crowd was probably hoping to see. Now it was Rina's turn to take a break while the rest of the band did a full-on dance number; rather than playing "SCANDAL Nanka Buttobase", they instead just did all the choreography from the video as it played on the screens in the background. It was fun to just watch them dance for one song.

When Rina returned, there was a long MC section as the girls bantered back and forth about some pyrotechnics Rina had set off at the end of her drum solo, with the joke being that the rest of the band had tricked Tomomi into paying for it. Eh. Long setup, not a big payoff. By the end of this, it had literally been about 30 minutes since the band had played a single note of music together. And what followed was a series of songs that, while all good mid-tempo songs, were obviously intended to give the girls kind of a break and help them make it through a long set. And the audience calmed down a lot too.

Luckily, things did build again towards the end, as the crowd sensed the end was coming and the band started throwing in some more up-tempo songs to bring the energy back up. By the time they started up "SCANDAL BABY", everyone was back in frenzy mode. From what I remember - and it's now the next night as I finish writing this - they brought up the arena lights completely during this song so the audience and band could feel closer together. Definitely one of the highlights of the night.

Of course there were encores, with the girls having changed into their tour t-shirts (as Japanese bands generally do during encores). They played three of their oldest songs, and they all moved to the little sub-stage in front of the main stage. They said that while this was a special night and it was great playing a big arena, they wanted to bring back the feeling of playing some of their early club shows. So they set up a small stage in the middle of the crowd and simplified the light show. It was just them out there jumping around in a very small space. I'm sure this was great if you were on the floor but for us up on the second level, it didn't really translate well. The cool part about it was hearing them play these really early songs, though. Like going to see Pink Floyd and hearing them play "Bike" or something.

And, that was that. The show overall lasted about 2 1/2 hours, but I was sad when it was over - I wanted more! I don't know when I'll ever be able to see them again, though I did get some nice souvenirs and of course, the memories. There will be a DVD and I'm actually pretty confident I'll be pretty easy to pick out in some of the crowd shots (I am a big, goofy American guy in a sea of Japanese.) Here are some pics of the swag I picked up:

T-shirt front and back, bag and photo book.

Some random shots from after the show - flowers people had sent them, and then the nearly-empty merchandise tables:

This is my first of 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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