Those who know me know that I pretty much never go to concerts – which is to say, standing up in a pulsing, shouting, crowd; loud; lasers and lights and smoke machines sorts of concerts. I /do/ go, fairly often, to sit-down concerts of so-called “world music,” and things in that vein; in the last couple years, I’ve seen Kealiʻi Reichel, Jake Shimabukuro, the Silk Road Ensemble (twice), Kodō, and the Vienna Philharmonic, among others. And, when I’m in Okinawa, I go to “live houses,” aka “shimauta bars” – touristy though they may be, still, it’s live Okinawan music, and it’s really fun. But, on the rare occasions that I’ve been to the other kind of concerts, I’ve generally found them to be just too loud, for one, and just somehow or other just not my thing.
But, I am *so* glad that my friends Yumiko and Carl suggested that we go see Perfume, live in concert, in Los Angeles. They were at the Wiltern Theater, and the show was just an absolute blast. In its aftermath, three days later, I still have the music and the visuals, and just a remnant feeling of the whole experience, still running around inside of me. I’m watching videos and listening to the group’s latest album – Cosmic Explorer – on YouTube, and as soon as I get to Japan in a couple weeks I am going to seek out a real physical copy. Now, for perhaps the first time, I really understand why people go to live shows, why they get so hyped up about them, why they enjoy them so much – and, why they follow bands, and albums, and why they get so hyped up about buying the merch. I made the mistake of not getting to know the album better before I went, and so unfortunately I only got really revved up during the two songs I knew (from earlier albums). In that moment, I understood why everyone else was already so revved up, throughout the show – knowing the songs better than I did, they were feeling that feeling I only felt during those two portions.
I do wish I had known we were allowed to take photos. I’ve been to so many performances where they were not allowed, and so I just assumed they weren’t. If I’d known, I would have captured so many more moments – especially during the final song – the encore piece – which had just the most beautiful stage set + screens + costume design/aesthetic. But, so it goes. My huge thanks to those who took video and posted it up on YouTube, allowing me to share bits of the concert here.
I knew and loved Perfume already, from some years ago. Their songs “Polyrhythm,” “Baby Cruising Love,” “Chocolate Disco,” “Secret Secret,” “Nee,” and so forth are all just wonderfully energetic and catchy, and fill me with happiness. I also loved the robotic aesthetic to their dance style (and other aspects of their electronic sound, techno-electronic music videos, etc.), and the juxtaposition of that with cute, feminine, aspects of their hair, dresses, high-heel pumps, and so forth. Creative, unique, just wonderful. Not your typical J-pop, and certainly not your typical mainstream American fare.
A video of Perfume’s performance of “Story” at SXSW, 2015. Apparently, videos of last week’s LA concert are already getting taken down. :(
And all of that was well on show in this live concert. The live performance of “Story” (and the music video all the more so) was just pure techno wonderfulness. Perfume’s costume aesthetic, and robot-like dance moves were front and center. Indeed, they entered to a techno-style video, wearing Tron-like light-up outfits, and it just went on from there. I truly do love that aesthetic – it’s what makes Perfume Perfume, and actually just in the last couple days, watching some of their music videos from a few years ago, and comparing them to the concert, I really began to get a sense of how their style has evolved, matured, whatever we want to call it – and, yet, these fundamental attributes, that make them so distinctive, and so compelling, haven’t gone anywhere.
Ugh. The live version of this one has been taken down, too. Glad I saved/DLed it before that happened. Thanks once again to those who uploaded these videos!
But, in addition to that, on top of that, thinking about the concert, and also the more I listen to songs from the new album, what’s also really wonderful is just how varied it is. Perfume is by no means a one-trick pony, or a one-hit wonder. Within the bounds of that aesthetic (and sometimes venturing outside of it), they really do such wonderfully different stuff. “Story” is the ultimate in the electronic, digitized, sort of aesthetic – indeed, it’s mostly techno sounds, bordering at times on machine noise, even, with tons of graphics, and a minimum, actually, of vocals or dancing. This, in contrast to “Cling Cling,” “Miracle Worker,” “Next Stage with YOU,” and a number of the other songs, which feature brightly colored dresses, and really focus on the girls, their voicemodded singing, and robot-inspired dancing.
Perfume – Baby Face (English Ver.) – Live in San Francisco
Can’t seem to figure out how to embed this properly. Sorry.
I don’t know if this is weird, but, as much as I do love many of the songs overall, as whole pieces – the chorus, the melody, the overall thing that is each song – for whatever reason, I’ve gotten particular hooked on the brief instrumental sections. In “Baby Face,” this section features the wonderful sound of the clicks of some sort of wooden instrument – what I’ve been told is a synthesized sound of a pentatonic wood box. As much as I love the full and complex sounds of many of the other songs, I also love the simple, small, ton-ta-ton-ta-ton sound of this wooden box, and the cute hand-rolling to each side dance move that Perfume led us in. In “Star Train,” this is the whoa-oh, whoa whoa oh oh oh. And many of the other songs have something like it too – in “Cosmic Explorer,” they even sing it at the end, switching out of the fuller sound of the synthesized sounds, to the softer, “acoustic” sound of the girls singing it themselves.
I can’t even tell you how much fun I had at this concert. The ladies roused up the crowd, inviting us to sing and dance with them, and talking with us. They asked who had handmade Perfume “costumes” or “cosplay,” and seemed really genuinely impressed and enjoying seeing such passion in the fans. The three of them all demonstrated really good English, but they also selected someone from the crowd to even interpret for them, which must have been such a blast for her, even if it was nerve-wracking. (There was a great video of this, but that’s also been taken down.) I also especially liked the super-cute “Jenny ha gokigen naname,” a song from, apparently, way back in 1980, from a band called Juicy Fruits (I think I like the Perfume version much better. O_o) – which, as you can see in the video above, Perfume sings at their live shows as an opportunity for the crowd to get really involved and riled up, shouting the name of each girl as they come up.
Screenshot from a fan video of the concert, as Perfume performed “Star Train” as their final encore. Much thanks to whoever uploaded this, for helping capture this moment, and this incredible stage set. Glad I got the video, and the screenshot, before they were taken down by YouTube.
Finally, the whole experience came to its inevitable end. “Star Train,” which was the perfect piece to end on – a soft, kimochi wo komete (filled with feeling), nostalgic sort of song, which just really sort of touched me, leaving me (perhaps all of us) on a note of release, of relaxing and just enjoying the music, and then saying goodbye at the end of a intense fun time. Putting aside the pattern dancing, the girls sat on the steps of the stage set, or stood with mic-stands, in bright aqua dresses – the only bright color to be seen, providing a sort of shot of highlight, under an array of small lights hung from the ceiling to create the impression of a starry night sky. Video projected onto the back screen provided an English translation of the lyrics in a typewriter-style sort of font that lent, I don’t know what to call it, a certain aesthetic.
I think I understand now why people love concerts so much, and I can’t believe what I’ve been missing out on. Looking forward to seeing what concerts I might be able to attend in Japan this coming year.