Due to a combination of factors I missed out on going to Otakon in 2008 and therefore I missed the JAM Project concert. I regretted not going because it really did feel like I missed one of my very few opportunities to see JAM Project live. And JAM Project rocks pretty hard so it felt like a real loss especially considering how many positive reviews there were of the concert. But for Otakon’s 20th anniversary they decided to start pulling out all the stops even before 2013 by announcing the first Otakon Music Festival this year with three very special guests. The opening acts were Natsuko Aso and Faylan. I can’t say I really knew either singer apart from Faylan doing the opening to Canaan. But the headliner was obviously the band that would let me rectify my poor choice years ago.
The biggest hurdle was getting to the concert itself. Normally it should have been a fairly straight forward affair. After using Megabus several times to get to Otakon proper the trip should have been effortless. But since the concert was right after Hurricane Sandy there was no subway service from Brooklyn to Manhattan. That meant my trip with my roommate just became 1000 times more difficult. We had to take several buses and trains to Escape From New York on time. Everything went smoothly until we arrived at the emergency shuttle bus that was the only reliable way to get to midtown Manhattan. Even at 6 am on a Saturday there were a good two or three hundred people already waiting for the bus ahead of us. As I waited in the cold I was a little worried than even leaving three hours early might not have been enough but the line was processed pretty quickly by a steady stream of shuttles. When we got to Manhattan we had enough time to eat a leisurely breakfast and be the first people in line for the bus. We eventually met up with David Cabrera and his friend Jose. They certainly helped pass the time with some pleasant conversation.
Other than that the trip was fine. The public transportation in Baltimore was a bit delayed but I had long since factored that into my equation. We arrived with enough time to have a leisurely dinner with Patz, the last member of our little crew. We went to Edo Sushi since Dave never goes there during Otakon as it is nearly impossible to get inside. He noticed that the bento box specials are not available during holidays and conventions (aka Otakon) which amused everyone. After that we all got in line at the Rams Head Live theater. Thankfully we arrived early because I left my ticket back at the hotel room so I had to run there and back. Thankfully I got back with time to spare and even got to sign the get well card for Yoshiki Fukuyama who sadly could not be at the event as he was still recovering from surgery. I saw Mike Toole and The Digital Bug on the line as well which was a treat.
The venue was very cozy which I swear was the term EVERYONE used to describe the place. But it meant that even when I was in the back of the crowd at the show I was slightly closer than I would be to the band at any major event at a convention. The choice of venue also meant there was a full bar which was greatly appreciated by many of the attendees. The merch booth was fairly well stocked. The JAM Project items were fairly nifty. I eventually got a pack of playing cards but almost went with the key chain instead. I was filled with regret when I discovered the key chain had a light that projected the JAM Project symbol (presumably to summon the band whenever they are needed by the city) the next day. They even had orange happi for the hardcore idol fans in the crowd. But eventually everyone got their fill of souvenirs at the concert began.
While they were just opening acts Natsuko Aso and Faylan did a good job of winning over the audience despite the fact that most of the crowd was not there for them. I think the smaller venue helped connect them both to the audience. Faylan came out in a rocker girl outfit. She had a distinctly sexy edge to her act. In retrospect she made a serious error in her musical selection. She should have thrown in Toki wo Koete to her set list as the opening to Zeta Gundam would have surely gone over well with a JAM Project audience. Pretty much right after Faylan ended her set Natsuko Aso jumped on stage. Natsuko Aso was distinctly more cutesy pop. She came out in an outfit that made her look like an Irish drum majorette (who loves huge gaudy ribbons). I will admit that big silly hats like the one she wore always amuse me (and are possibly slightly awesome). She did much more bubblegum songs with lots of idol hand dancing. Her performance was unexpectedly enjoyable. It is always nice to not be chanting “get off the stage” in the back of your head whenever you watch the opening acts.
But after a little break the people everyone wanted to see was there. I have to assume the break was partially there just to give the band some time to breath and freshen up. After a little conversation with JAM Project the went into full-bore rocking mode. It was hard not be swept up with their energy. All the anticipation that the opening acts had built up in the audience totally exploded when they started singing. After two group songs they each did individual ballads. That was probably a smart idea as JAM Project song have to be draining for the singers. Masami Okui singing Rinbu Revolution was the highlight for me. But anything Utena is a highlight.
After that they has a special surprise. They brought out Yoshiki Fukuyama on a big screen over Skype which was amazing. The connection could have been better but he did a melody that combined King Gainer Over and Dynamite Explosion. Despite the sound dying out occasionally the audience knew when to shout “Dynamite, dynamite, dynamite explosion once again!” as was proper for all good people with righteous hearts. While it was sad Fukuyama could not be there this little treat helped ease the pain. That said if he wants to throw an American Fire Bomber concert next year I will be there. I mean American needs to hear Try Again live.
Keeping the energy up was a nice melody of songs some of which standard bearers and some were unexpected like Rescue Fire. They of course took a break and came back with a little Crabby skit and then an encore of Skill which is one of those songs which would have been odd for them NOT to sing. At the end they brought out Natsuko Aso and Faylan to sing the chorus of Skill with them. They both seemed a little confused but they quickly got swept up in the excitement of everyone involved. It was a nice way to end the show and tie everything together.
I want to give a quick shutout to the band for all three acts. The five of them played the whole night which was quite an endurance feat. The rhythm guitarist was fairly placid the whole night but such is the life of the rhythm guitarist. The lead guitar and drummer rocked hard during some parts and rested on others. The lady playing the keyboard came out in a full fur coat which she had to take off during the JAM Project set because otherwise I am sure she would have spontaneously combusted. But nobody rocked out as hard as the guy on the bass. While he might have been the oldest performer on stage that night he totally threw himself into every song. It did not matter it was a JAM Project song or a Natsuko Aso one he was thrashing like he was the only guy on stage. I have to give him his proper repsect for just being awesome.
I did not go to the VIP part of the show as my finances let me attend the concert but anything past that was a bit too rich for my blood. I did get to hang out the Viga and her fiancée which was fun. From what I heard the VIP party was rather relaxed. There was a little Q&A, a signing, and a chance for a photo with all the guests. Apparently everyone was supposed to get a VIP souvenir but Sandy made it so they would not get those until later. I am indirectly proud of my little band of friends as they apparently picked up a female party member during their excursion through sheer force of awesome. It seemed distinctly worth the money if it happens next year and you like the musical guests. It is about as intimate as your going to get with Japanese bands. I do not want to see what Narutaki would do to be a part of a Gackt VIP party. A know throats would be slit without a second thought.
After all of that the next day was mostly just coming down off the JAM Project high. I finally got to try the Royal Farms shake machine which I had been denied twice the day before. After that the trip home was far simpler as limited subway service had been restored to Brooklyn. Also the bus was playing Equilibrium on the way back which was awesome as I had never seen that movie before.
Sadly I heard the concert did not sell as well as they had hoped but that is mostly hearsay. That is a shame because it was quite the rollicking event. There was something utterly invigorating about such a small venue that larger event could never provide. I wonder if a more visual kei styled band would have been a better choice? While I might not cared as much it might have been able to sell out rather quickly. Either way I hope they can do this again. While the band they chose would very instrumental in decided if I go again I think the idea is sound and look forward to them doing something like this again next year.