Friday, September 07, 2018

SCANDAL at PlayStation Theater, New York City 09/05/2018 REPORT!

Image from SCANDAL's official Facebook
10 years after their first concert in the city, Japan's all-female rock powerhouse SCANDAL finally returns to New York! This is part of their "Special Thanks" tour of North America, for fans who don't often get to see them in a live setting. What follows is my show report, as I've done after all five shows of theirs that I've attended (the previous four in Japan). I had a VIP ticket to this one.

What did that VIP ticket buy? Well, early access to the venue and merchandise, and most importantly, a meet & greet with the band! SCANDAL never do this in Japan, so I couldn't pass up the chance.

You can get an idea of the makeup of the crowd from the above pic of the line. This was the two sections of the VIP line - I was told initially that the other section was General Admission and was a little confused when they were let in first, but no, they were the VIP's too. They're people just like us!

Unlike the past four SCANDAL shows that I've been to, this time I was by myself. I'm fine with going to concerts alone and this is not my first time doing it, but I had nothing but my phone to take my mind off the oppressive heat while standing in line. (The photo above may look like it's indoors, but it's more like an open air garage - actually worse than being on the sidewalk because there's no wind!) I was already drenched in sweat before entering the venue, which didn't help my nervousness about meeting the band. "Luckily" there was still about a 30 minute wait inside before getting to them, in air conditioning.

I'm going to do something I normally don't do here and post a photo with myself in it, because it's probably a once-in-a-lifetime occasion:

Yes, I'm a huge doofus, literally. They look great while I look like the Jolly Green Giant. And what do you do with your hands in this situation?! That's a dilemma I hadn't considered! I had to laugh when I first looked at this picture afterwards (at myself, certainly not them!). I'm 6'4", but I look about 7 feet tall in this photo. It's like a bad Photoshop job. But no, it's real. And it's proof that I met SCANDAL and I am really happy to have it.

There - all fixed!
Everyone had about five seconds at the meet & greet, which I expected. I had come up with some short things to say that I thought they'd understand in English like "welcome back to New York!" and "you guys rock!" and "have an awesome show!" I'd given up the idea of trying to say anything in Japanese because I knew I'd never pull anything out of my head quickly enough. But in the end, all I even managed in English was "Hello!" while walking in and "Thank you!" while walking out. They repeated both back to me with big smiles and waves and were very friendly - they seem like nice people! They'd probably have been ok with me saying a few more things, but I was a little star struck.

After the meet & greet, I kind of expected I'd be handed an "exclusive gift" that I'd seen advertised for some of the US shows, but no - no one got anything, and the staff knew nothing about it. (Other people online seem as confused about this as I am, so it's not just me.) Well, since I was at least satisfied that I didn't miss something, I shrugged it off for the moment, still happy to bask in the afterglow of having just met the band, and took my place on the floor.

This is not much different from where I was when I saw them in Nagoya, about 4 people deep and right between Haruna and Mami. Very close! I didn't think I cared about being so close this time because I've been that close before, but when I saw the space available, I couldn't resist. And once the show started, I was glad I ended up there.

Image from SCANDAL's official Facebook
The venue itself seemed pretty full from where I was by the time the show started, although I couldn't really tell if the crowd filled all the way to the back wall.

Unlike at their Japanese shows, photos were allowed at this venue - though with only "non-professional" cameras, which means no interchangeable lenses. (And no video.) My phone is the best non-professional camera I have right now, so it's the only one I brought with me.

The show started on time and began with a thunderous rendition of "Shunkan Sentimental". A real crowd-pleaser and tone-setter right from the start, and a good sign for the set list to come! In fact, no need for suspense - here's the full set (from Scandal Heaven - I didn't write it down myself):

01. Shunkan Sentimental
02. Awanai Tsumori no, Genki de ne
03. Stamp!
04. Your song (English ver.)
06. Platform Syndrome
07. OVER
09. Morning sun
10. Departure
11. Koe
12. Sisters
13. Koisuru Universe
14. Electric Girl
16. Take Me Out

17. Shoujo S
18. DOLL

Great choices, I thought, and a decent length to the show - although it felt very short! It was a rock-heavy set, which suits my tastes. And SCANDAL, unlike many bands, fully embraces their history and never seems to tire of playing their past hits, even while mixing in new ones.

They blasted through the first four or five songs without a break before finally pausing for a short MC. Their energy level right from the start was very high, jumping around as much as I've ever seen them, and they seemed to be in a good mood. The MC segments, if you're wondering, were very short, because they don't speak a lot of English. But they (mostly Haruna) did their best, sometimes mixing English and Japanese, sometimes speaking only Japanese but using hand gestures and sound effects (which was funny!) to make a point. But none of the few MC segments were longer than a couple of minutes.

They did mention their previous New York show several times - the first overseas show they'd done - and said because of that, playing here felt like "coming home". At one point, Haruna asked if anyone had been at that first show - when one fan raised his hand, she asked, "are you a liar?" I personally discovered them just about a month after that show - maybe it was even reading about it that turned me on to them - so I've been a fan for nearly as long as they've been around, but just missed their NYC debut.

Since a New York show by SCANDAL is not exactly an everyday thing and I'd basically paid extra to be close to the stage, I decided to do my part to give them a good show and make it worth the trip for them. I've been in bands and it really is true that the band can feel (and see) the energy from the crowd, and it affects the effort that the band puts in and the way they feel about that show afterwards. So, especially being that I was alone and not worrying about what anybody around me thought, I went pretty much all out with as much energy as my own now middle-aged, lanky body could muster up. (I wasn't middle aged yet when I first started listening to them!)

Image from SCANDAL's official Facebook
I was drenched in sweat again by the middle of the set. Luckily I had brought my old SCANDAL towel with me, and bought a second one at the show to swing around. (I don't want to fling my sweat at the rest of the crowd.)

The first five songs in the set all seemed pretty well known by the crowd, and many people even knew what they were supposed to do - if you've never seen a Japanese band live, there are specific actions for different songs that everybody does in unison. Jump at certain times, wave your hands at certain times, yell "Hey!" at certain times, clap at certain times. In New York, obviously not everybody knew those things, but a lot of people did, and those of us who did led the rest of the crowd.

I felt a little bad for the band during "Platform Syndrome", "OVER" and "FREEDOM FIGHTERS", though, because clearly most of the audience just didn't know them. I do know them but I didn't know what to do during them... so I just did my best. A lot of people just stood around listening, but I think those are some of SCANDAL's best songs ever, so I was still in full bounce mode. I guess most of their US fans just haven't bought those albums. If you haven't, do it!

"Morning Sun" and "Departure" felt like a break for both the band and the crowd, and I definitely needed it. I've noticed that they often put a couple of slow songs in the middle of their longer sets, probably for just this purpose. It's also when I was able to take the few pics that I did - it was one of the few times peaceful enough to do it! Again, I felt like "Morning Sun" was probably over some of the crowds' heads - did some people just stop buying SCANDAL albums after "STANDARD"? But I love that song. I'm not as into "Departure" but I know some people are, and more people seemed to know it.

The back half of the set kicked back into overdrive (no pun intended) beginning with "Koe", which I failed to recognize at first and the crowd took a strangely long time to react to. (In Japan, this song always causes an immediate eruption. According to the band's own fan club poll, it's their second-most popular song there, next to "SCANDAL BABY".) I think the band might have slightly altered the intro, but it's hard to remember. When we all did finally recognize it and began rhythmically clapping during the first verse, Mami smiled, looked around at the crowd and nodded as she sang.

Image from SCANDAL's Line blog
"Sisters" came following a short MC in which Haruna dedicated the song to New York City (I'm not quite sure why), and without an acoustic guitar she created a new quiet electric intro that led to a funny moment when an audience member blurted something out just as the intro began. Haruna abruptly stopped, looked at the audience member and said "Really??"

Throughout the set, being so close to the stage and one of the tallest blades of grass, I got plenty of eye contact from both Mami and Haruna. And whenever Haruna looked at me, she smiled - no doubt because I'm a big, goofy guy who was going nuts. I've been this close to them before but never seemed to catch Haruna's eye; I think this time I was just able to give her something fun to watch. Especially in the songs where not many other people were doing much.

And I like to think I was partially responsible for the little burst of extra energy she seemed to muster towards the end of the show - she was really going crazy herself by the time "Love Survive" and "Take Me Out" came around. I don't think I've ever seen her jumping so much, and the only time I've seen her scream and come to the front of the stage so often was in Nagoya. She was uncommonly aggressive, especially during "Take Me Out" - a song that I have no real feeling for on the album. But it just goes to show how songs can take on new life when played live, as all of the band were bouncing around the stage like Super Balls. It was an awesome close to the main set.

Image from SCANDAL's Line blog
The encores were expected, but the song selection was a surprise. I didn't expect them to do anything with choreography on this tour (not sure why... playing in America plus getting older plus generally de-emphasizing choreography over the past few years, I guess). So when they launched into "Shoujo S", probably their most famously choreographed song ever, I just about lost my proverbial shit. It was the extended version with the solos for everyone - the only time Rina was really able to do anything directly for the crowd, but one of several moments when Tomomi was able to show off her frankly amazing skills on bass. And yeah, they did all the choreography they've ever done for that song live (which is a bit less complicated than the video, but not much), and they still look like they love doing it.

Image from SCANDAL's Line blog
Closing with "DOLL" seemed appropriate but was still unexpected - normally they have only one towel-waving song on a tour, and I'd heard that "Electric Girl" served that purpose on the recently concluded Asia tour. But "DOLL" is the original towel-waving song, and it was their major label debut, so closing with it on this tour is kind of a love letter to the fans, and seemed an intentional book-end to their two NYC shows 10 years apart. By the end of the song, I could barely even keep my arms in the air. I will say that I was the only one in my area of the crowd waving a towel, but goddammit I didn't care. That's what you're supposed to do during that song! I know the band appreciated it.

Image from SCANDAL's Line blog
The band did an extended goodbye like they do at one of their big special shows, and when they walked off stage, I could see them high-five each other backstage. They may always do that, but like everything else at this show, it looked particularly forceful and with real emotion behind it.

Overall, this was the most raw and most into it I've seen SCANDAL in some time. I wrote in my last show report from Tokyo in 2015 that they'd almost become too polished for a live house setting, but at the NYC show they seemed to embrace the casual venue and let it all hang out. And no one can connect with a crowd like they can. Seriously, no one. Even across the language barrier. Rock music is a universal language anyway.

Let me close by saying (admitting?) that after all these years - and it has been a lot of years now - SCANDAL can do no wrong in my eyes. Trust takes time to build up, and I admit that they almost lost me a few times, what with their occasional forays into rap and pop. But I've grown to trust them completely as a rock band - after 10 years, it's obvious that there's no one more genuine. They've come a long way and done a lot of different things since that first NYC show in 2008. And I know that whatever they do in the future, I'll always be a fan.

As usual, a couple of random notes that didn't really fit in elsewhere:
  • The actual sound at the show wasn't great. This was almost certainly a venue problem, not anything the band had control over. If you were there and it was your first SCANDAL show, just know that they usually sound better from a technical perspective. In fact, their great live sound is something I've talked about in my other show reports.
  • The merchandise available at the show can be seen on the SCANDAL official Facebook. They also had "HONEY" CD's, but nothing else extra. (If you're going to a later show and don't have it, buy "HONEY"! It's great!) I personally bought the XL black t-shirt and a towel. I recommend buying a towel, unless you have a SCANDAL towel already. As mentioned, there's always at least one song, and in this case two, where you're meant to wave your towel around.
  • Haruna's short hair actually looks pretty badass live. It bounces around and gets in her face and makes her look even more like a rock star, if that's even goddamn possible.
  • I was pleasantly surprised by their tour outfits! Last time in the US, they wore what looked like street clothes. Their current outfits suit their image better, and look more "designed" and coordinated. I don't ever expect them to go back to stuff they wore in the distant past, but their current outfits are an improvement over jeans, overalls and football jerseys.
  • The old Squier signature guitars were mostly absent - though I was happy to see Haruna break out "Skullsilver" for the encores. I think she still likes it! Mami only played her black Strat, from what I remember, while Tomomi played her navy blue P-bass and her white Yamaha BB2024X.
  • The band has to bill themselves as "SCANDAL from Japan" here, because of a certain other Scandal that's been around a lot longer in the US. Unlike some people, I don't mind this and I honestly doubt the band does either, because the American band is still active and has been since the 1980's (and there is no better example of the 80's than that link). I probably would have preferred the simpler "SCANDAL Japan", though (similar to "X Japan", who took that name for the exact same reason). The "from" just makes it sound like it's part of a sentence. It's kinda weird, but ultimately doesn't really matter.

This is my fifth SCANDAL live report - 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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