Otakon 2013: Concerts

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narutaki_icon_4040 Just like everything else about Otakon’s 20th anniversary, they went all out with their musical guest selection. Home Made Kazoku and T.M.Revolution were perfect fan favorite choices that have graced the halls of Otakon before. Chiaki Ishikawa was a beautiful new voice to add to the line-up. And then, Otakon shocked everyone by announcing that Yoko Kanno would be performing a special beta version of her new concert series Piano Me.

With nearly five hours of concerts to see at Otakon, it promised to be a weekend of music heaven.

hisui_icon_4040 I tend to focus a bit of coverage on the blog to Japanese production guests from anime and manga mostly because they get ignored by more fans than I would like. Bloggers and podcasters tend to pay a good amount of attention to them but that is mostly because anyone that deep down the rabbit hole is the type of person who naturally would be interested in such details. (You could then complain about such talk mostly just being preaching to the choir but that is beyond the scope of this report.)

But there is one type of Japanese guest that is beloved by anyone from the most casual fan who watches nothing but a handful of popular shows to the most dedicated scholar who compile Sakuga MADs. Japanese musical guests have that appeal. Even more than even Japanese voice actors they can really bring in an audience. There is even a distinct group of anime convention goers that just comes out for the musical guests and only the musical guests.

Otakon usually does a great job in getting a wide variety of musical guests with everything from JAM Project and VAMPS to the The Yoshida Brothers and the Eminence Symphony Orchestra. So for the 20th anniversary they went and got some of their most popular musical acts and created one blockbuster lineup.

But without a doubt Yoko Kanno was the keynote act. If she were the only guest (musical or otherwise) at Otakon 2013 I think most people would think the lineup was very thin but acceptable. She is one of the few universally beloved names and a distinct crowd-pleaser that transcends boundaries. She is synonymous with anime composition and her discography covers a wide variety of shows and countless different genres. It is probably easier to find someone who has never heard of Naruto at the convention than someone who does not love at least one of the songs she has created. In a fandom that is usually divided she is a wonderful unifier.

But lets us not discount the other guests as well. This was a stellar and unforgettable collection of artists that should not have been missed (even though I did miss some of them.)

narutaki_icon_4040 Home Made Kazoku can only be described as high energy! Their hip-hop, poppy songs practically force you to move around. They encouraged the audience to stomp, clap, wave, sing, and shout throughout their performance. Often coaxing everyone into competing with each other to be the loudest. At one point Micro got the crowd shouting “Hell Yeah!” and then “Fuck Yeah!” He demurred for a moment apologizing to any children in the audience, then after a beat, yelled out “FUCK YEAH!!!”

FREEDOM wasn’t the very first song, but it set the pace for the rest of their set. A high-pitched beat comes in and sweeps you away as their voices take on a raspy quality. The playfulness of the rhythm balances out the aggressive delivery. FREEDOM’s relation to Naruto is why so many people recognized it, but that familiarity will now be replaced by a fantastic live performance of the song.

The audience just got more amped the longer the show went on but that doesn’t mean there were no cool downs. They brought everyone in close when they sung out “I wanna be your superman.” They kept that intimate tone through to HOME SWEET HOME which they knocked out of the park and wound the crowd back up for the last couple of songs.

It only made sense that they closed out their set, which went by in a flash, with Bleach ending Thank You!! The audience was thanking HMK as much as they were thanking us.

hisui_icon_4040 Sadly I missed Home Made Kazoku set. I was going to check them out but I decided to check out the dealer’s room with some pals and then went to the show before T.M.Revolution began. Considering what Kate said about their performance I really missed something special.

I did however pop in for the T.M.Revolution part of the concert as casually as possible. I remember someone complaining that they missed the Saturday concert because they refused to sit 4 hours in the sun to see a band even if they loved them. The funny thing was the only time tp get into the First Mariner Arena was when the guards were looking through my bag (as would normally happen at almost any major concert).

I really think that half the reasons line culture exists because people think that line culture exists. If more people were just a little more particular about what they waited for two hours in advance and what does not need to be camped out like a spawn point I think a lot of the line problems at Otakon would go away. It is odd social dynamic where a fear of scarcity creates a culture of scarcity even if supplies are abundant.

But since I got into the concert during the last part I had to take a seat in the middle of the arena. Considering how bombastic everything on stage was I think I actually much preferred that distance. It meant that I could still see everything but at the same time I was not the in the middle of the miasma of people and sound that existed around the stage itself. Also part of T.M.Revolution’s performance was the light show. Watching the lights roll back and forth over the audience was part of the experience for me. It was like the Destiny Gundam was attacking the stage. I’m not sure it would have had the same effect if I was in the middle of it.

Overall T.M.Revolution has a distinctly upbeat rocking tempo that carried his performance. He has a very distinct hot-blooded sound that really comes out with songs like Invoke or FLAGS. But I also had to agree with Kate that the biggest complaint was that when I did not know the songs he was playing they all sort of blended together. While that meant the songs had a very unified feel it was perhaps a bit too well blended. With a set of ten songs you want things to stand out a bit more between songs.

Still I had a great time. The audience and TMR had a good reciprocal energy. I even enjoyed Resonance despite the fact that I sort of mildly annoyed by the show it is based on.  That is a fairly strong endorsement right there. But the highlight on the night was T.M.Revolution and Home Made Kazoku team up for the last encore. They really played off each other well. It also helped that Home Made Kazoku brought as unique sound to the last song which help break up the set. It was definitely a good way to end the concert.

chiakiishikawa_geraldawo(photo courtesy of Gerald from AWO)

narutaki_icon_4040 Chiaki Ishikawa had a decidedly haunting voice that permeated the room during her short four song set.

The high notes she hits effortlessly ring out clear like a bell. The compositions of her song arrangements show a lovely grasp for storytelling using a myriad of instruments from piano to woodwinds to set the scenes.

While I’ve never seen the show, her style seemed perfect for the opening of a show like Bokurano. Uninstall starts with an ominous chant that folds into a voice that is uncertain in the world.

Ms. Ichikawa’s voice was a perfecting pairing and introduction to Yoko Kanno. I only wish they would have preformed together.

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hisui_icon_4040 The Yoko Kanno concert planning could have been done better. There were a good deal of last-minute changes that really threw people off their game. While the Otakon staff did a lot to publicize the changes they did leave some major avenues for communications about the event oddly silent. While I don’t think everyone would be happy if they communicated more I also think it could have helped cut down some of the bitter feelings.

But I also get the feeling  that some of the problems involved with the concert were more guests related demands than the Otakon staff making poor decisions. I think if they had their way the main room for the concert would have been distinctly bigger to start.

All that said I am a little perplexed how anyone’s experience was ruined. If you booked accommodations home too early to see the concert because they announced that Yoko Kanno was going to perform on Sunday after to made you plans, that is a legitimate complaint. But unless you are a TRUE AUDIOPHILE the experience in the overflow room was actually really good and surprisingly easy to get into.

I went to the complete Ace Attorney panel (which ended 15 minutes after they started letting people into the overflow room), then strolled over to the info desk near registration around out where registration was, and then wandered over to Video Room 1 in time to get on the tail end of the line. I easily got into the first third of the room with time to spare. So while getting tickets to see Yoko Kanno was a distinct pain getting into the overflow room was literally effortless.

From what I understand I may have even had a better experience than some people who were in the main room. Apparently Ink has an obstructed view for most of his experience and Ed Sizemore mentioned the video screen near him was not properly set up. I distinctly got the feeling of being in the same room as Yoko Kanno from where I was. The girl next to me was clearly highly emotionally moved by the Yoko Kanno performance. (Although I must commend that woman for waiting until the breaks between songs to fully release her feelings. She was clearly overwhelmed but she never let that feeling disrupt anyone’s experience.)

Chiaki Ishikawa is known to me mainly as the woman who does the haunting opening to Bokurano. And Bokurano is an anime based on a manga from Mohiro Kitoh aka the guy who made Shadow Star aka not the guy you to for happy endings. But that is neither here nor there. Chiaki Ishikawa gave a strong performance. She has a very ethereal voice which gives her songs as almost floating feeling with a bit of an edge.

In the overflow room we only saw the videos that accompanied the songs and never any footage of Chiaki Ishikawa herself. My major complaint was the videos were really abstract which while going along with the mood of the songs did give the whole affair a bit of a dreamy feeling. It did make me close my eyes a few times during the performance, thanks to standard con sleep deprivation, but thankfully the power of the vocals made sure I never nodded off.

But some of the audience members were ready to riot in the overflow room. We were not able to see Chiaki Ishikawa and everyone else was really worried that they would do the same during the Yoko Kanno set. You could see the staff do their best to assure everyone that if would be different during the second half but you could tell that some people were a hair away from taking out the pitchforks and torches.

Thankfully when Yoko Kanno stepped on stage we got to see everything. And that was super vital because Piano Me was just as much a visual feast as it was an enchanting audio cornucopia. Her piano was draped in a way that let images be projected onto the instrument during the performance. If a normal piano piece is a complex and compelling two-dimensional affair than this rocketed the concert into full 3D experience. It was a level of showmanship that really makes you understand the idea of why you have to see some performers live.

The fact that Yoko Kanno herself has such a playful stage persona sold her performance in a way that just some pretty pictures on a grand piano could not convey on their own. Just the way that she moved around the stage and interacted with the audience felt extremely personal.

But beyond the spectacle there was a superb performance that brought to life to these timeless songs. The impact of songs like Monochrome and The Real Folk Blues had the audience looking inward and outward at the same time. You could feel the songs seeping into people and filing their hearts and minds in different ways. But at the same time there was the group feeling that brought everyone together in an amazing harmony. It was truly a remarkable experience.

If anything my only complaint is I wish it was longer. I would have loved to get some more Escaflowne songs like Flying Dragon or Machine Soldier as well as anything from Turn A Gundam. I would have paid an extra 10 dollars just to hear Moon. But I totally understand why she picked the songs she did. Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain, and Ghost in the Shell are what the audiences wanted and it is what they got for the most part. There is a reason she did not do anything from Brain Powerd (even if it just got license rescued). With an artist who has a catalog as varied as Yoko Kanno there are always going to be a few selections let get left out that you would have really wanted. But you still have a great time even if none of the songs you wanted get played. Tank! alone is worth the price of admission.

It was an unforgettable experience and without a doubt the best way to end the weekend.

narutaki_icon_4040 The Yoko Kanno concert had that “once in a lifetime” feel to it. Her performance was one of those shining moments in your fandom that you never forget.

Ms. Kanno charmed the crowd instantly with her quirky antics on stage from coming out in bunny ears to kicking her shoes off to “dressing” the piano.

Fanelia from Vision of Escaflowne was most lovely to hear in Kanno’s presence. It tickled my mind when she started its opening delicate notes but I couldn’t place it until later. Listening to it now will only be that much more amazing, it kind of makes me tear up now.

In fact, the entire concert felt like I was swimming in music; I was so wrapped in it. None of it quite registered as it should have.

The audience was so enraptured that many nearly missed realizing she was playing the Star Spangled Banner. It was as if we were all in a trance but then suddenly woke up at the same time in order to rise to our feet and sing the national anthem.

Not to be out done by a decades old refrain, she closed out the concert the only appropriate way with full rendition of Tank!

I realize I haven’t gone into detail about the sound but I find I can’t really do it justice. She is Yoko Kanno, you know she was complex and amazing in her musical delivery.

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hisui_icon_4040 If you are going to have a 20th Anniversary convention this is probably the sort of lineup you want. It was not only a good amount of quantity but and amazing amount of quality. After JAM Project and Yoko Kanno I’m not really sure where else you have to go unless they can get Gackt to personally serenade Kate next year.

But they are welcome to try for that. She would distinctly appreciate that.

narutaki_icon_4040 I’m not sure if Otakon can really top themselves after four incredible performances over one weekend. It was all over in the blink of an eye.

More Otakon 2013 posts:

Otakon 2013: Tweets
Otakon 2013: Our 6 Favorite Announcements
Otakon 2013: General Impressions
Otakon 2013: Shinichiro Watanabe
Otakon 2013: Artist Alley
All Points Bulletin: Leaving Baltimore, Heading To Las Vegas
Otakon 2013: 10-minutes with Yuzuru Tachikawa and Michihiko Suwa
Otakon 2013: Guests
Otakon 2013: Shingo Adachi and Tetsuya Kawakami
Otakon 2013: Fan Panels
All Points Bulletin: The Gamification of Otakon
The Speakeasy #044: Baltimore Zoo, Otakon 2013

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