(2013.03.26-27) Girls’ Generation – Girls and Peace Japan 2nd Tour 2013 in Osaka

I attended both nights of the first Osaka leg of SNSD’s second Japanese tour with a group of fellow SONE. It was a whirlwind trip for me – in on Monday, see lives on Tuesday & Wednesday, out on Thursday. Worth every yen though, especially considering I hadn’t seen the girls since January 2012…yeah, 14 months is an eternity in pop idol world.

The concerts were held at Osaka-jo Hall, in the heart of the Osaka Castle grounds – which was great in that it enabled me to combine concert-going with proper sightseeing.

osaka_castle
Picturesque.

The first time I went along to a GG live it was on a whim, out of mere curiosity. I was not a fan back then (June 2011) but now…the less said, the better. You don’t want to know how deep I’ve fallen.

As with all idol concerts, it’s all about the visuals and performance and not so much about the music. There have however, been some complaints that this tour felt rushed and underwhelming compared to the 1st Japanese tour and the last Asian tour so I really did want to see for myself how the two shows stacked up against each other, all the more when I’d successfully avoided fancams and spoilers (bar the setlist).

pink
I’ll skip writing a full report on the events – it would go on forever if I covered all the fanservice parts as well, so just quickly bullet-pointing:

・There was a lot more technical stuff this time around. The work on PAPARAZZI is just marvellous, you have to see it for yourself to appreciate it. Basically each girl gets put in a box of their own stage front, with the screen up to flashing panels matching whoever’s singing their lines at the time, whether solo or in a group. Might have been a convenient excuse to avoid performing the horrendously difficult choreography ad nauseum, but I much prefer this version.

・Props and sets weren’t too prominent and rather peripheral to be honest. LED canes and random cannon shot during T.O.P were probably the highlights, the cage at the tail-end of The Boys was pointless, the props for Say Yes were amusing only when in Yuri’s hands. Dry humping a giant inflatable lipstick/mascara? I approve.

・Costumes were terrifying. And I’m trying to be polite.

・One of the video segments appears to encourage drink-driving. God, I hope they remove it for the Asian/world tour…

The Flanders part must’ve been written by a very high, drugged-up scriptwriter. But Yoong-oppa, sighhhh.
Note: Changmin got the biggest cheers on both nights.

・No solo performances, which may or may not be a good thing depending on the individual. I personally welcome cutting them out in favour of more group songs, but I did regret not getting Twinkle or Lost in Love as a result.

・What on earth was that dance choreography for Animal? If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean.

・Tiffany sings really loud. Either that, or her mic is broken.

・Seohyun’s Japanese has improved a lot. Scarily so. Sooyoung asides, the rest are just…lol, never mind. At least they tried…

・Truly Him Yoona. During the last song of the encore, the girls threw pre-signed balls into the crowd and I watched her launch some of them into the stand, 4-5th row. You crazy woman.

・Yuri was my MVP for both nights…in the wrong way. Certainly she was the most entertaining in terms of messing up or just messing about ie. missing her PAPARAZZI gloves on Day 2, fiddling about with the props on Say Yes, speaking incoherent Japanese or doing an impromptu Gangnam Style dance.

・Many, many girls at the concert. I think the ratio was easily 2:1 (girls:guys). Lots of teenagers and kids with their moms too.

・The trading cards appear to be bringing grief to lots of people. It’s 2 of each member & 2 group cards for a total of 20, some cards don’t seem to pop up very often ie Tiffany アップ or the light brown bg group card. We were apprehended by a couple of people looking to trade, including a middle-aged lady and her son who were begging me for my group card…lol. I’m missing Yoona (full) & Yuri (up) amongst those I really, really want…but I’m not too bothered about getting hold of them.

Setlist
1. FLOWER POWER
2. Animal
3. BOOMERANG
4. The Boys (Japanese ver.)
5. I Got a Boy
6. Say Yes
7. Dancing Queen
8. MR.TAXI (remix)
9. Express 999
10. GENIE
11. I’m a Diamond
12. T.O.P
13. BAD GIRL
14. PAPARAZZI
15. Run Devil Run
16. Reflection
17. Time Machine
18. ALL MY LOVE IS FOR YOU
19. My J
20. THE GREAT ESCAPE + Can’t Take My Eyes Off You
21. Kissing You + 힘내
22. Gee
23. Not Alone
—————————————-
(Encore)
24. Beep Beep
25. Oh!
26. Stay Girls
27. Girls & Peace

Slightly off topic: Before the live on Day 2, we spent 4 & 1/2 hours murdering SNSD songs in karaoke and dear Lord I tell you, I have the utmost respect for the girls’ singing now. I think the only songs we managed not to kill stone dead were PAPARAZZI, Run Devil Run, Let It Rain and FLOWER POWER. Everything else just had ridiculous phrasing or sung in impossible keys…let’s not even mention our attempt at I Got a Boy, hahahaha.

goods
Goods.

To me, this set of lives serves as a dress rehearsal for the real showtime ie the next Asian tour, which should be getting into gear come this summer. Tentatively I hope to take in at least the Malaysian, Singaporean and Hong Kong legs, with Seoul and Taiwan on a standby list.

I wonder how much of the setlist and sets they’ll end up modifying? The Korean versions will be performed for sure, but I hope we get more songs from the IGAB album….Promise, Baby Maybe etc. And boy I pray that they keep the PAPARAZZI boxes.

2013 is going to break my bank account for real.

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Converting my CD collection to digital format #02

The quest to unravel the tangled threads of my dozens of boxes of CDs continues…

CD #0006: 五月天 – 愛情萬歲 [2000]
In the mid-90s,  most of my money went on Cantopop idols like Leo Ku & Gigi Leung, but by the turn of the century it was Taiwan that had my attention and Mayday were one of the biggest reasons for this shift. Their brand of MOR rock is nothing too special in the grander scheme of things, kind of like a watered-down version of Mr.Children if you want a label. Ballads were their forte and songs like 有你的將來 and 溫柔 were shower-karaoke staples for me, even though I don’t speak Hokkien, the Taiwanese dialect that they sing a lot of their songs in. I’d forgotten about them ’til a colleague of mine who’s a big fan went to their recent concert in Kuala Lumpur and asked to borrow some of my CDs. And that sirs, is the reason why I’m doing this series of posts – cos I went to dig out some Mayday albums.

CD #0007: 五月天 – 時光機 [2003]
This was to be the last ever Mayday album I bought – after leaving for boarding school in the UK it was virtually impossible to keep up with goings on in the Chinese music industry and once I got into anime, that was my love affair with Canto/Mandopop all dead and buried. I’m kinda bemused listening to this CD now –   I don’t actually remember any of the songs here so that might have contributed to my not buying any more of their albums.  Very tired and tuneless, with the youthful energy and abrasiveness of earlier works AWOL.

CD #0008: Gomez – Whippin Piccadilly [1998] {single}
If you were living in Malaysia in the late 90s and weren’t subscribed to the Astro cable network (like me), one of the only avenues to view music videos was on the crappy NTV network. Don’t ask me why the video for Whippin Piccadilly was a fixture on the channel, Gomez is obscure enough shit in their own country as it is so for Malaysians to be fed a daily dose of their most well-known song was just hilarious. Anyways, I only picked up this single and a bunch of their other CDs when I went to study in the UK in the early 00s. Their music can be broadly described as such drug-and-booze fueled psychedelic blues, very unique at a time when Britpop was still king. The last album of Gomez’s I heard was 2008’s How We Operate but by then, a few dozen other acts were doing their style of music, only better.

CD #0009: Toby Bourke with George Michael – Waltz Away Dreaming [1997] {single}
Definitely taking a turn into the obscure with this one. I was in the UK to attend my aunt’s wedding in May/June 1997 and this song got quite a bit of promo on local telly, being the first release from Michael’s own record label Aegean. It hasn’t aged well though – utterly dull then, even more excruciatingly so now. I think I might only have bought it for the novelty factor…

CD #0010: George Martin tribute – In My Life [1998]
Apparently my version of the album is the Japanese release, I didn’t even realize until now. This CD is where I got acquainted with Bonnie Pink (she did have pink hair back then) and I found her Engrish very…quaint. There were only a couple of songs on here I actually liked ie Jeff Beck’s A Day in the Life, Celine Dion’s Here, There and Everywhere and Jim Carrey(!)’s I Am The Walrus but otherwise it was weird to have Hollywood actors massacring beloved Beatles hits. I mean what the fuck is that spoken word cover of In My Life by Sean Connery?

Lots of weird crap in my collection yet to come…including boybands, huzzah!

Converting my CD collection to digital format #01

I’ve got easily more than a 1000 singles & albums in my CD collection, in a myriad of languages & genres – English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and miscellaneous Indonesian/Italian/classical/etc. Can’t imagine how much money I’ve spent in total feeding my habit, but it’s well in the tens of thousands if you take into consideration merchandising and concerts.

Here’s a crazy project I’m going to undertake – to try and convert all of my collection to digital format. A good chunk of the English CDs I have were bought in the late 90s and most are out of print, so that’s as good a reason as any. Also, I haven’t listened to a lot of these for at least a decade so this will hopefully be a journey of rediscovery, and a huge nostalgia kick to boot.

Let’s see if the me of 2013 approves of my teenage self’s musical tastes. I’ll listen to them as I burn them, in batches of 5.

CD #0001: James – The Best Of [1998]
My first real internet handle that stuck (j1m0ne) was taken from the title of James’ first EP Jimone, so you can bet I was a real big fan of them at some point. I don’t think they were/are any good at making albums though (have you heard the weird shit on Whiplash? Like Go To The Bank?), the singles were always where it was at. Stuff like Ring The Bells, Tomorrow and Waltzing Along are total classic stadium rock anthems, they’re all still awesome.  Oddly, I do recall seeing James performing Sit Down at a Commonwealth Games handover concert on the telly around 1998, that was some surreal shit. Oh hey it’s on Youtube.

CD #0002: Ed Harcourt – Here Be Monsters [2001]
I got into the whole folk/acoustic singer-songwriter thing around this period of time (think early John Mayer, Bright Eyes etc) and Harcourt’s soul-infused voice set against an oft-bleak, bittersweet piano backdrop offered a refreshing twist on the genre. A bit like Ben Folds on antidepressants, if you wish. Those Crimson Tears is as heartbreakingly gorgeous as ever and of course, we have Beneath The Heart Of Darkness, a song that totally lives up to its title. Those two songs alone are worth the Mercury nom Here Be Monsters got but damn, the rest of the album is as good as I remembered it to be.

CD #0003: Tom McRae – Tom McRae [2000]
Oh gee I really did like them singer-songwriters didn’t I? If Ed Harcourt was all mellow nostalgia then McRae is bitter bile, spitting vitriol at whoever’s wronged him. I was probably going through a really angsty phase when I bought this album, maybe snarling the lyrics of The Boy With The Bubblegun (if words could kill, I’d spell out your name) at my enemies. None of McRae’s albums since have come close to matching the raw emotion on this self-titled debut.

CD #0004: Adrian Brett – Echoes of Gold [1979]
I’m amused that this CD is still working after all these years – we used to listen to this at home all the time when I was a kid. It’s a collection of flute covers of popular pop hits and traditional songs; thanks to this disc I learnt of songs like Mull of Kintyre, Send in the Clowns and Yesterday Once More. My parents’ listening habits definitely had a lot of influence in shaping my own tastes, everything from The Who to ABBA to The Beatles…and I’m really grateful for that – can’t imagine where I’d be now if they were fans of Teresa Teng & Sam Hui…Amazingly, Echoes of Gold actually made top 20 in the UK and went gold, guess my family weren’t the only people who liked all this muzak.

CD #0005: Matthew Jay – Draw [2001]
Oh God. I’ve barely touched this album since his tragic death in 2003, especially not when my favourite song is called You’re Always Going Too Soon. I guess it’s pretty ironic that Jay’s debut was most often compared to Nick Drake and Elliott Smith, and we know what the three of them have in common. I’m not getting all tinged in nostalgia though, Jay wasn’t even out of uni when Draw was released and it remains a hugely flawed album – songs like Four Minute Rebellion and Let Your Shoulder Fall only hinted at a good ear for a melody but most of the other tracks were sketchy, turgid messes. Sadly, that potential will remain a mystery.

I think I might actually enjoy making these posts…

noanowa – Cry Like A Monster


I don’t know what noanowa have been smokin’ between Magical Circus and this album but whatever it is – thank the drug lords for it cos hell yeah, noanowa are on song. They’ve always been a chameleon-like band, never sticking to one style, lurching from chill post-rock to bombastic Queen-esque rock operas – sometimes all on one song (re: Yume no Arika), but they lost their way a bit after debuting on a major label, running out of steam and out of ideas. Perhaps not coincidentally, their return to form comes just as they’ve switched labels and lost their drummer Honma Shunta.

The first thing about Cry Like A Monster that strikes you is the unpolished shoegaze sound permeating the entire album – where SPECTACLE and Magical Circus felt overproduced and calculated with the soaring strings, layered effects and autotune masking the fact that the tunes were shit, this album makes sure it gets the basics right: write some awesome songs, put Yukko at the forefront and then pile on the Wall of Sound. The result – a damn amazing album that tops every single thing they’ve done to date, even my most absolute favourite song Haku aka the song that made me cry every time I saw noanowa live.

Something else worth noting about Cry Like A Monster is that it features just the one solo composition by guitarist Gou (Core.), the creative force during their indie days, and it also happens to be the weakest track on the album. Otherwise, the tracks are divided into writes by the Yukko/Gou team, or by keyboardist Arayama Riku, with Yukko handling all lyrics as usual. Maybe these partnerships are the reason why the band sound a lot more cohesive these days, rather than the mess they’d been making. When Honma quit the band last year, his parting shot was that he ‘couldn’t come to terms with the musical direction noanowa were heading in’. Wonder what he thinks now.

Awsm: Utakata, SOUL STEP, Kaze ni Fukarete
Dump: Core.

ACID BLACK CHERRY – Recreation 3

Didn’t I just say that every Jpop covers album absolutely has to feature Ihoujin, Hanamizuki or some Inoue Yosui song? Well, yasu already did Ihoujin on Recreation and he does Shonen Jidai here, so that’s 2 out of 3 bases covered so far, yay.

A good chunk of Recreation 3‘s songs are familiar, having already featured as single c/w tracks or on compilation such as the nifty version of Siam Shade’s 1/3 Junjou no Kanjou (for a tribute album) or a fun cover of Tom Cat’s Furare Kibun de Rock’n’Roll. Of the newly minted tracks, nothing stands out as a particularly interesting choice of song to remake – there’s Koi ni Ochite for example, the Olivia Ong version of which I’ve heard playing in my local coffee shop for only the last 6 years…and how about Nakanishi Yasushi’s Saigo no Ame, which of all people Boyz II Men have covered? Even Teresa Teng’s Toki no Nagare ni Mi o Makase (original: 我只在乎你) has been done to death.

What yasu lacks in originality though, he makes up for by doing everything yasu style; his voice and sound is so distinct that it doesn’t matter who performed the original, what genre it is or when it was recorded – it still ends up sounding like yasu wrote it. His cover of DCT’s Mirai Yosozu II here is particularly kickass.

Taeyeon – 그리고 하나


My (rather sad) jam of the moment. For the record, I actually like Yesung’s Gray Paper more.

Written by SM veteran Kangta, both songs are used in the currently-airing 그 겨울, 바람이 분다 (That Wind, The Winter Blows) drama starring Jo In Sung & Song Hye Kyo. My mom’s watching the show and she’s been asking me ‘so what happens to so-and-so?!’ since I’ve watched 愛なんていらねえよ、夏 (Ai Nante Iraneyo, Natsu) the J-dorama it’s based on. That was 10 years ago though, and I don’t remember anything about it any more. Sorry mom!

As far as Taeyeon-involved OSTs go, 그리고 하나 (Geuligo Hana) still ranks below 만약에 (Manyage) in terms of emotional impact. Still, we only get on average one OST contribution per year from Taeng so I’ll take whatever, with open arms.

Uemura Kana – Steps

A recent interview by BARKS highlights everything I love about Uemura – her sweet, down-to-earth nature and refreshing honesty, something that comes across in both her words and her music. Her material in the last 3-4 years have tended to be more personal and story-like in nature compared to the typical love songs that dominated her earlier releases, covering certain points or event(s) in her life including memories of her grandmother (Toilet no Kamisama), her mother’s cooking (Sekaiichi Gohan) and her journey to self-discovery (Being in Nashville).

Retreating further away from the Jpop machine, Uemura’s gone DIY on Steps, which is entirely self-written and self-produced and comes off the back of a memorable year since her last album Te to Te. Uemura travelled the States alone for 2 months with her guitar in tow, busking on the streets and playing impromptu sets in livehouses. She also tied the knot with indigo jam unit drummer Shimizu Takehiro in January 2013, though apparently married life has been “not a whole lot different” from singlehood since her husband went on tour with two days after their wedding.

Uemura’s experiences during her year off has given her plenty of new things to write about on Steps – there’s a song from the viewpoint of a starry-eyed girl visiting the city (Oh! New Orleans), fears of being a failure in life (迷悩焦ワルツ – how do you read that? Meinoushuu Waltz?) and hurrah(!), a wedding song (LOVE). I find it funny (and true) how Uemura talks about never having thought of writing a wedding song prior to this ‘cos she found it impossible to write about something she’d never personally gone through. Many pretentious songwriters out there need to take a leaf out of her book.

Great lyrics only get you so far, thankfully Uemura is as gifted at crafting a song as she is at telling stories. The album’s lead promo track Dekoboko is kayokyoku/city pop straight from the Takeuchi Mariya songbook – classic Jpop songwriting; strong melody, strong hook, great song. Good news is that there’s plenty of them on Steps and at a mere 7 tracks long, the album never outstays its welcome.

Neat’s – Modern Times, Yucat – Parallel World

RYTHEM’s split in 2011 wasn’t drama-filled – there were no fights and no tears, just a quiet announcement during a live ustream that the two childhood friends turned bandmates would be going their separate ways after a final album & concert. No explicit reason was offered at the time but with both YUI and YUKA having started up their respective solo projects, it’s clear that ‘creative differences’ would have made an adequate explanation.

Sweet-faced Nitta Yui (keys/piano) was quicker out of the blocks, putting out a series of digital singles the same year that were more or less an extension of RYTHEM’s country/Motown/pop-rock sound, culminating in the release of her first full-length album Wonders in January 2012. There were one or two standout tracks (Miss Cloudy, BBB) but otherwise Nitta played it a bit too safe, resulting in a predictable, bland record.

Just over a year later and Nitta has already produced a second CD. She’s not doing things a whole lot different here than on Wonders and while there are still meandering moments here and there, Modern Times is an overall stronger set of songs. Maybe hanging out with live support members ART-SCHOOL’s Todaka Masafumi and té’s Tachibana has rubbed off on her songwriting, there’s an added punch to the arrangement particularly in the axework. Steady progress made, let’s hope Neat’s next album knocks the ball out of the park.

Which brings us to Kato Yukari (guitar). Such a dark horse is our Yuka, who’s developed a little bit of backstory for her Yucat alter-ego…or you could deem it an ‘excuse’ for what she was about to unleash upon her unsuspecting fans. Darkwave, industrial, neoclassical, goth, you can describe her music however you want but it’s obvious that Kato intended a 180-degree turn away from RYTHEM with her solo sojourn and I for one, am 100% thrilled with what I’m hearing.


I actually think anisong fans would take to Parallel World easily, it’s somewhat similar to Chiyomaru on his good days, earlier Yousei Teikoku or doujin stuff (Hosoi Soshi etc). Surely I’m not the only one who hopes she never sheds the Yucat moniker? This is just an awesome album. MOARRR PLEASE.

Very different offerings from either half of the duo formerly known as RYTHEM but they’re both enjoyable in their own ways. Yucat is definitely more my kind of thing, your mileage may vary.

Ed Harcourt – Back into the Woods


Recorded in a single 6-hour session at Abbey Road, Back into the Woods is Harcourt at his sweetest and most romantic best. The raw and intimate nature of the record makes it feel like Harcourt is playing a concert for you in your living room. Ed and his piano, 9 fragile, heartbreaking songs.

Such a shame that mainstream success continues to elude one of the greatest songwriters of my generation.

Additional reading: a feature on the album by Best Fit.

Sabão – BIG VENUS


It is a really, really strange feeling to see Tama & Takuya form an act that is essentially Hysteric Blue Mk II (minus guitarist Akamatsu Naoki who was jailed in 2004 on multiple accounts of rape). What’s really weird is that they already form one half of a band called The Screaming Frogs along with two members of unsuspected monogram so why the need for Sabão, I wondered.

Turns out the pair only started Sabão after being tapped to license their mega hit singles Haru~spring~ and Naze… for use in a pachinko game. They ended up re-recording the songs as the originals were out of print and at the same time, Takuya suggested that they try putting together some new material just as a duo…and BIG VENUS is the result.

One listen and I understand why Sabão needed to happen. The Screaming Frogs is more or less set up as a backing band for Tama, who writes all the songs with Wakana Takuma & Sakuma Otoya. During Hysteric Blue’s days however, it was Takuya & Naoki who were the principal songwriters and with Takuya in charge once again in Sabão, the contrast in styles between The Screaming Frogs and Sabão/Hysteric Blue becomes as clear as night and day.

You sense that Takuya has plenty of unfinished business after Hysteric Blue came to a premature end 10 years ago and he channels his Judy and Mary-influenced punk-pop style well on BIG VENUS. While it’s not quite on the level of the perfection that is Grow Up or Little Trip, it’s a real shot of nostalgia for us fans and the inclusion of the two aforementioned remakes on the single…well, they’re just about gonna bring tears to my eyes.

Lordy, Haru~spring is now 14 years old. Why doesn’t anyone make songs like this anymore? Maybe Sabão will.