Monday, October 27, 2014

Japan 2014!

Did I mention I was in Japan? The trip's basically over and I'm no longer in Tokyo, but I'm just now getting a little time to write even this introductory post. My wife and I have done a lot of stuff this time even though this trip was pretty disorganized from the start and most of our original plans fell through (again). It just seems impossible to exhaust all that even just Tokyo has to offer. And there's always fun stuff we can do again even if we've done it before.

Some of the highlights of this trip that you may be reading about here soon:
  • SCANDAL at Fujita University (already posted!)
  • Kimura Kaela at Yokohama Arena (her 10th anniversary show!)
  • Sega Joypolis - they've updated a lot since we were there last, and I won a Sonic!
  • Nagoya
  • Kit Kat Chocolatory
  • Tsukiji Fish Market (after 14 years of visits, we finally made it to the last tourist spot we wanted to try)
  • Hakkejima Sea Paradise
And tons of little things I might either put in some quick read posts or just my traditional random picture dump.

I'll be posting more shortly!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

SCANDAL at Fujita Hall 2000, 10/25/2014 live report!

Another trip to Japan, another Scandal concert! This is my third time seeing them, and this time they just happened to be playing at a university festival while my wife and I are here. Before you read my report, be sure to check out Rina's blog post about it.

All three shows I've seen have been very different. Budokan was a huge, special arena show. NHK Hall was a regular hall tour show, more intimate but still a pretty big production. Tonight's show was very casual. The tickets were cheap, the light show very basic, the outfits coordinating but neither matching nor intentionally "sexy". Imagine a big American band playing a county fair and you wouldn't be far off.

But... we were in the 3rd row! ("4" at Fujita Hall 2000 is actually row 3 - more on this in a sec.)

The show was in Aichi prefecture, which made it kind of a trek from our hotel in Tokyo. A ride on the Tokaido Shinkansen to Nagoya, then the Nagoya subway (to the last stop!), then a bus (to the last stop!).  Fujita Hall 2000 is in kind of a strange location, sandwiched between the university hospital and what looks like a dorm. Charmingly hand-made signs showed us the way:

Doors opened at 5 and the show started at 6. We hit the merchandise table at around 4:30 - there wasn't much (and just a single table!) and towels were sold out. I bought a quite interesting hardcover photo book and the shopping bag to put it in - that was it.

The book has a lot of pictures of them over the past year - it's similar to the 2012-2013 book I bought last year, but it has stuff all the way up to the Yokohama Arena 360 concert, including photos from the hall tour I saw them on last year. I've never seen these photos before, anywhere.

Scandal crowds are always pretty interesting - here's the one shot I took outside Fujita Hall:

We looked for our seats and ended up just as confused as everyone else in the hall - there's no row 1, and the seat numbers for your seat are printed on the back, facing the person behind you. Half the hall ended up in the wrong row - I actually think the hall was designed so that the row you're in is printed on the back of the seat in front of you, but at some point they changed it. Many announcements were made to try to clear things up, and we were directed to the third row (with a "4" printed on the back of our seats).

You're not supposed to take photos during Japanese shows (they will confiscate your camera/phone if they catch you) but I managed to snag this one of our view just after we sat down:

We were a little further to the side than I'd hoped, but you see how close we were to the very edge of the stage. The awesome thing was that at various times, Mami and even the other girls came right up to that edge, directly in front of me - I was maybe six feet away from them. Of course I had the best view of Mami most of the time - she is awesome on stage. She just loves what she does.

SET LIST (from memory):
Yoake no Ryuuseigun
Taiyou Scandalous
Awanai Tsumori no Genki de ne
Kagen no Tsuki
Osaka Lover
Your Song

Everybody Say YEAH!

It was a short set - the two other shows I've been to were both about 2 1/2 hours long, and this one was about 75 minutes total, including the break before the encore. It would have been disappointing given the amount of work (and money) it was to get there, but if you've never been so close to a band in concert before, you have no idea what you're missing. It's a completely different experience. It was worth it for that alone.

I could see every scratch on Mami's black Strat pickguard. I could see the suede texture and yellow stitching on her Doc Martens. I could almost read the tiny "Seymour Duncan" on the Hot Rails pickup on her Stratomaster. She made eye contact with me a bunch of times - the best was during the opening riff of SCANDAL BABY, when she came out to the front of the stage and smiled directly at me as she played. That's obviously their most iconic song, so that was pretty special. That memory's going to stick with me for a long time.

At the end, both Rina and Tomomi also came over to the edge of my side of the stage to wave goodbye, and there was plenty of eye contact there too (I'm tall, American and hard to miss at a show like this). Haruna never did make it to our side, which was a little disappointing, but 3 out of 4 ain't bad.

The set itself was pretty densely packed with good live stuff, although the choice of opening song was interesting, and I still don't think "Kagen no Tsuki" is much of a crowd-pleaser (it was better tonight than at NHK Hall, though). The Dreams Come True cover "Osaka Lover" was also kind of unexpected, though they have played it before - but they had to explain what it was to the crowd during the MC afterwards. Nobody really knew what to do with their hands during that song, which was sort of funny - most of their songs have what amounts to defined crowd choreography.

I was a little disappointed that there was no "Taiyou to Kimi ga Egaku Story", which always puts the crowd in a frenzy, but I guess they had to cut something for such a short show. "Doll" served as the towel-waving song on this night.

Their new song "Image" has the makings of a great up-tempo live song but it's not quite there yet - it's new and they're still learning it. I look forward to it on the Hello World tour, though - I'm sure it'll be fantastic. It is a hard rocking song.

"Your Song" was the designated audience participation song, and Haruna got really into it, which was fun to see. The "whooooooa" parts of that song are designed for a live crowd to sing, and on this night Haruna led us into literally about 20 refrains in a row before finishing the song. (I truly believe it was more than originally planned, because she just couldn't stop!) She seemed genuinely surprised by the strength of the audience in the early verses and did something I've never seen her do - she came out to the front of the stage and did some Dio-esque double devil horns as she led us into the chorus in the song's latter half. I thought she could not get any more badass than she already is, but she proved me wrong. She's totally metal!

The MC's were pretty short but they talked about their upcoming new album and single, the aforementioned DCT cover and tribute album, and Haruna's good mood tonight. If you read my NHK Hall report you know that I thought she seemed borderline angry, but there was nothing like that tonight. She was smiling throughout the show (and not just during the MC's), to the point that Rina actually commented on seeing so much of Haruna's teeth. (Tomomi said Haruna's smile was the "best thing in the world.") It sounded during the MC's like Haruna may have actually had a cold, or just a tired voice, but she sounded fine when singing and she was definitely really into this show.

They weren't quite as loud as the other two shows I've seen, which may have been a blessing in disguise for us tonight because we were pretty much right in front of a giant speaker stack. I was hoping we'd still have eardrums at the end of the show, and we did... and then I was kind of disappointed by that! Scandal is normally one of the loudest bands I've ever heard in concert, but tonight their volume was pretty average - so I guess your mileage may vary if you go to one of their smaller shows.

Oh, and I can't close out without mentioning how they looked (it is Scandal, after all):

First of all, yes, Haruna's blonde. Again. But her hair's still long, and she looks better than last time - picture Olivia Newton-John:

It actually fits Haruna well, and looks "right". You'll see it eventually, if you haven't already. She had it parted on the side, and the front is shorter than the sides and back, as above - she must be wearing extensions in their recent 6th anniversary photo.

Mami's hair is long again, with front bangs, and it was tied in back. She's also back to blonde, with some streaks. (Also different from the anniversary photo.) So as in the "Harukaze" era, we now have two blondes in the band.

Tomomi and Rina looked pretty much like always. Rina still has long hair and bangs (same hair style as the Budokan show), which I think suits her.

All four of them were wearing black and white coordinating outfits, though not matched. Tomomi had a leopard print one-piece jumpsuit. Haruna had an oversized (striped?) sweatshirt with skin-tight pants. Haruna really does not look so skinny in person - she's one of those rare people that the camera subtracts 10 pounds from. Mami was wearing a spotted top with matching spotted sarouel pants, which I usually hate, but she pulled the look off. Rina was wearing a dress, as she usually does.

I don't know if I'll try to make it to a show like this again, but it was worth it just for that memory of Mami playing SCANDAL BABY directly at me.

This is my third SCANDAL live report - read them all!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

X Japan at Madison Square Garden NYC 10/11/2014 Show Report

A few days ago my wife and I saw X Japan at Madison Square Garden. They're one of my wife's favorite bands, and I like them too.

Japanese music is like an alternate universe so near and yet so very far from our own. Imagine if Nirvana and grunge had never happened, and glam metal just kept right on going. That's the state of Japanese rock right now.

X Japan is like Motley Crue, Yngwie Malmsteen and Dokken put together. Definitely a virtuoso band in terms of musicianship, but with a lot of drama mixed in with party beats. They're massively popular in their home country, where they still sell out stadiums on a regular basis.

We were in section 107. Our section was kind of lame and the people in it pissed me off. The show started right at 8PM with no opening band (cheers to X for bringing this custom over from Japan!), and the people in front of us all just sat there. They didn't even clap, they sat completely motionless through most of the concert. I wondered why any of them were there. I would have loved to have gotten some closer seats if those people didn't care!

I tried sitting for a few minutes of the first song because I'm 6'4" and the tiny Japanese girls behind me probably deserved a chance to see (or maybe not, I don't know them), but it's just kind of rude to a band to sit there like an idiot. So I got up. This was a special show for them; I didn't want any small part in spoiling that.

The show itself was the mix of bombast and drama that you'd expect from an X Japan show, with plenty of pyrotechnics, a massive light show that the crowd ended up being part of (through electronically controlled LED bracelets), and a stage that extended all the way to the back of the arena. One thing I will say about X Japan is that they're pretty dynamic, and there was a good mix of soft and loud, slow and fast - that's all part of the drama, after all.

They sounded pretty good too, although they started off pretty quiet at first (and not just in quiet songs). We had a bank of speakers pointed directly at us and initially I was still able to talk to my wife at pretty normal volume - it was sort of like talking at a bar. This may have been calculated to make the crowd sound bigger for the upcoming DVD, though, because they actually got louder as the show went on. By the second encore, it started to get kind of ear-splitting - which is what you want from a show like this.

Of course there were the requisite solos, including a Yoshiki drum solo that took up a big part of the encore, during which his drum kit floated out to the edge of the extended stage pier and then rose up into the air. It was Tommy Lee-esque.

The band played two encores that ended up being about as long as the main show. To be honest, when they left the stage the first time I actually said, "that's it?" I checked my watch and it was 9:15. With a "normal" encore it'd still have been a very short show, but, you know, drama! A short show followed by two long encores makes for more of it... and they even played one more song after their announced "last song".

They played all the material you'd expect, plus two new songs from their newly-announced new album (it's new!), which, if I remember right, were called "Beneath Your Skin" and "Hero".

At the start of the second encore, Yoshiki played the American national anthem on piano, which made me strangely emotional. I'm not very patriotic and I text and Facebook my way through the boredom of the national anthem at baseball games, but something about this Japanese band coming to America and playing the American national anthem, and the crowd all singing it, got me a little verklempt.

They closed things out with a Yoshiki monologue about the band's history and a dedication to Taiji and Hide, their former members who died. Some American fans probably didn't get this (the Billboard show report thought it was just "schmaltz"), but this band's really been through a lot more than most. No, they didn't use the Hide hologram that they've employed at Japanese shows in the recent past, but they showed many pictures of the band's earlier days with him during the final encore. As a new fan of the band I might find this exploitative. But think about being a fan of a band from their early days, and one of your favorite members of that band dying. Wouldn't you want the rest of the band to pay tribute to that person any chance they get? So I understand it. It's different if you've been with them from the start. And Hide has ended up being sort of the Randy Rhoads of Japan.

Oh, and be sure to watch for the Yoshiki stage dive in my video above! I think he meant to crowd-surf but the crowd didn't quite know what to do! It was a very surprising moment - you can see my camera shake a bit because all I could think was "what?!"

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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