Friday, September 1, 2017

5 Years 5 Stars A.B.C-Z 五周年おめでとう!!! [Part 2 of 4]


(Packing up my uchiwa collection, 2017)

“5 Stars 5 Years” begins with a short video introducing A.B.C-Z. Each member wears a costume representing a different era of their career: the plastic space suits of “Space Traveler,” the garish plaids of “Never my Love,” the floral coats from “花言葉”... And then the stage lights go up and bang! IT’S A.B.C-Z!!!!!


Hashimoto: さぁ Fantastic!!
Totsuka: もっと Exciting!!
Kawai: グッと Flying!!
All together: 始める そう Reboot!



We kick things off with two extremely high-energy dance songs.


Reboot”, their 5th anniversary single from earlier this year intended as a bit of a rebrand. The choreography has lots of flips and other acrobatic tricks, including a truly bizarre move where Kawai and Hashimoto do a sort of interlocking somersault thing. (Click the video to see for yourself.)


Take a 5 Train”, last year’s super-peppy transit-themed single featuring a fun audience call and response (Go! Go!) and fan-beloved train-themed choreography in the choruses.


And then it’s into the classics:


ずっと Love”, their 2nd single and one very special to me as the song that hooked me as a fan. In my first A.B.C-Z concert, “Early Summer Concert,” I almost hit the woman sitting in front of me with my penlight numerous times during this song because I didn’t have the moves down yet.


(The infamous "hand" penlight, 2015. It makes your hand SO SWEATY but the diffuse light effect is pretty.)

The penlight choreography for ずっと Love is extremely fun and after five years we’ve had plenty of time to perfect it. We mimic the hand motions of the members during the choruses, holding our penlights aloft for the climatic ずっと of the chorus and rippling them slowly back and forth as the choruses wind to a close. To be in the middle of a sea of penlights moving in unison is really something quite beautiful...


Amd a bit of a cool down with “Walking on Clouds,” their light and breezy 4th single. It took a while to grow on me and it’s not something I’d go out of my way to sit and listen to but I’ve become extremely fond of singing along to it. In other words, this is an fun karaoke song.


Because this was A.B.C-Z’s first concert in Yokohama Arena, the stages were arranged a bit differently from Yoyogi Stadium. In Yoyogi they used a front, center, and back stage connected by walkways that ran around the audience seating. In Yokohama, they only had the front and center stages and the walkways were arranged more like points on a star spreading out from the center stage. The entire space is used for the performance. There are no bad seats at an A.B.C-Z show.


During certain parts of the concert, certain songs--like “Walking on Clouds”--the group members will spread out and walk or dance or both along the walkways and engage in some crowd interaction. The crowd interaction bits are a lot of fun as a fan. This is where you flash your message uchiwa asking for a peace sign or a kiss. The guys walk around and wave and give high fives and Goseki will troll sections of the audience by aggressively leading them in choreography rather than doing any of the above.


(With my "Please BOLT" uchiwa outside Yoyogi, 2015)



For “Early Summer Concert” I had an uchiwa that read “ボルトして” (Please BOLT). Tsukada happened to see it as he was returning to the main stage and--in a moment that lives forever on the DVD--he stopped, read it out loud, “ボルト?”, and then did the Usain Bolt celebration move for me.


This year I had an uchiwa that read “アメリア♥マッスル” (America ♥ Muscles) and wouldn’t you know, Tsukada spotted it and flexed for me. I don’t yet if that made it to DVD as well but I was extremely delighted. Tsukada is the king of ridiculous fan service and it is much appreciated. (塚ちゃん、ありがとうございます!)


Moving back to the main stage, A.B.C-Z follow up “Walking” with a slick dance medley incorporating a two-story trampoline rig for some genuinely jaw dropping moves. And then it’s into our first member solo: Totsuka’s “Dolphin”.


Totsuka’s solo songs are always written by him, always heartfelt, and always feature him playing guitar. While I tend to skip past the album versions because the production is usually extremely bland, the live versions tug at the heartstrings. You hear the raw emotion in Totsuka’s voice and can see just how badly he wants to transmit his feelings to us, the audience.


Maybe because Totsuka is putting his entire soul and being on display in his solo songs, every year something dramatic always seems to happen, whether it be a scream born of feeling too much all at once or--like this year--a battle against a voice that didn’t want to cooperate.


Totsuka is a performer you have to see live to truly appreciate. It’s a rare thing to see somebody so open and honest on stage. Film just doesn’t capture him. I’m hopeful that at some point he’ll either figure out how to get that feeling on CD or else find a producer that can. Actually, I’d love to see him collaborate with a classic rock great--somebody like Kuwata Keisuke from the Southern All Stars or Sera Masanori. (桑田佳祐や世良公則とのコラボはどう、とっつ??聞きたいな〜)


(Convenience store Totsuka illustration in Yokohama, 2017)

The lyrics for “Dolphin”, written by Totsuka, culminate in this fantastic string of syllables: “青い胥い炎を...” (Aoi Aii hono o…) And in the convenience store next door to Yokohama Arena, one of the staff had drawn a tiny Totsuka saying “Aoi” and stuck him in the water bottle section. (Water, dolphin…) My friends and I enjoyed that quite a bit.


Following Totsuka’s solo this year was Kawai’s solo: “OTAGAI☆SUMMER”. (The star is important.)


I mentioned before Kawai is my favorite member and this is why: every year Kawai’s solos have been meta-takes on what cool male idols are supposed to do and every year he tops himself with something even more exaggerated and ridiculous.


(SLT's transit-themed penlight, 2016. It can also double as a ticket holder!)


2014 was a cover of KAT-TUN’s ultra-cool “Red Sun”, a song he must have backdanced for approximately one thousand times (as evidenced in the linked video). Dressed like peak late 1970s sex bomb Sawada Kenji in a white shirt and military hat Kawai tears through the song like a hurricane. As he glances over his shoulder to camera with a smirk and an air kiss, we see the panty wetter within, unleashed for a single song.


2015 was “未来は明るいかい?” (Is the future bright?) written by the ultra-cool John Kurosaki and featuring incredibly pun-filled lyrics by Kawai himself that include a call and response over whether or not we think he’s cute. 河合は可愛いかい?可愛い!(Kawai wa kawaii kai? Kawaii! Is Kawai cute? He’s cute! ) The song itself has a 1980s retro caribbean feel with a bouncy bass line that pushes the verses along just fast enough to make it difficult to sing in karaoke. Dressed in a lurid track suit and ridiculous dreadlock wig, Kawai smirks his way through the performance with a glee that can only come from making an audience of ten thousand plus fangirls chant about how adorable you are.


2016 was “SL Boy” (Short Leg Boy), a massively J-Pop song written by the massively J-Pop AKB48 mega-girl group songwriter Sasaki Hiroshi and (again) with lyrics by Kawai. The song opens with a sample of Kawai’s infamous horsey laugh and he enters the stage majestically astride... a wooden horse. Dressed in black leather faux military gear, he sings about how he’s short and has a horsey face but, hey, maybe that’s okay.


Working in Sawada Kenji’s legendary hand moves from 勝手にしやがれ Kawai slowly makes his way towards center stage where he’s hooked into a flying rig and is (majestically) lifted above the crowd, long flowing streamers attached to his coat. But as the song comes to a close, the streamers drag on the coat and rip the whole thing off leaving him hanging topless and vulnerable above the crowd.


Immediately Golden Bomber’s live performance of さよなら came to mind. That too featured a similar flying naked gag and the meta-meaning of both was the same--the fascination with both the trappings of elaborate Kouhaku J-Pop and the smallness of the person inside the J-Pop costuming. It was wonderful. (And it should be no surprise that Golden Bomber and A.B.C-Z are on friendly terms. Hey, I like what I like.)


2017, finally, what would Kawai deliver?!


(My Kawai Fumito uchiwa collection: (l-r) 2016 "Train Man", 2017 "Cool", 2015 "Idol-pose")

His solo begins with a video of him in a cool car, parked on a cool white soundstage, looking cool. Dance master Goseki joins him in the passenger seat as the cool electro-beats kick in. They perform a cool seated car dance and the crowd goes crazy at every smirk from Kawai. The panty wetter has returned.


When the video ends and the stage lights come back up, we see Kawai seated in an aquarium. He’s wearing sunglasses and rapping into a handheld vintage mic. After the first verse or so he busts out of the tank and dances his way towards center stage--still wearing sunglasses, obviously.


“OTAGAI☆SUMMER” was written by Micro, half of the 2000s rap duo Def Tech, and is gloriously cool. Perhaps as a response to fans (though not me) who were tired of Kawai’s goofy riffs on Showa era idols, “OTAGAI☆SUMMER!” is a pastiche of contemporary “cool” idol performance. The song ends up being very much in the vein of something like a Kis-My-Ft2 song but with the cool turned up like maybe 10-15% too much to take seriously… which means it’s a heck of alot more fun.


From Kawai’s solo song, the concert continues the summer theme with two more summer songs: the easy-breezy album track “Endless Summer Magic” and fan favorite… “Summer 上々!!” This section was also interrupted by a game in which the loser had to wear roller skates (arena) or deliver a cheezy love line to the audience (hall). Hilarity ensued.




(The 2017 "fidget spinner" penlight. The click-clack of the thingy inside was really addictive.)


And then came Tsukada’s solo corner, an elaborate skit involving his girl idol character “Rika-chan”. (Here’s a video news clip to give you an idea.) Tsukada is known for being a girl idol fan and his “Rika-chan” character shows all the attention to detail one would expect from a girl idol fan.


Rika-chan first appeared in 2014 in a fluffy yellow dress to sing the hilarious, high energy “気にせずGo My Way”, which was followed up in 2015 with a double appearance with Tsukada’s “visual kei” character “Darkness” in “DARKNESS (LOVEです☆ver.)” that had Rika-chan in a pair of fetching booty shorts battling Darkness with a long series of backflips. 2016 was the odd melodica solo discussed in part one and 2017… RETURN OF RIKA-CHAN!


In one of the Nagoya concerts Tsukada mentions that the staff had been tired of Rika-chan after 2015 but had been suspiciously happy to accommodate Rika yet again if it meant no more weird melodica solos. While I enjoyed the oddness of the non-song from last year, Rika-chan’s reappearance in “アツあつ!?夏フェス☆!!” (Atsu Atsu!? Natsu Fesu!! Hot hot summer festival) was truly inspired. The song is basically a long skit about Rika-chan going surfing for the summer… INTERNET SURFING! She clicks on different videos and the music changes for each genre. And there’s a call-and-response (“Rika-chan, Rika-chan, Ri----ka-chan!”) that extremely fun.


For the performance, when Rika-chan (wearing a fetching AKB48-style costume) “clicks” on a different genre, one of the other A.B.C-Z members appears dressed up in costume as her boyfriends. Goseki first appears as a “rock star” and then Totsuka as a “DJ” and Kawai as a “Festival singer” before Rika-chan clicks on the “sexy” website… at which point she rips off her AKB48 dress revealing a leather bustier and booty shorts, modesty only barely maintained by a mesh skirt. A stripper pole appears on stage and Rika-chan performs an incredibly sexy pole dance (Tsukada apparently took lessons) for us before Hashimoto Ryousuke, the last boyfriend, shows up bare chested in a leopard print tracksuit.


After one last chorus of “アツあつ!?夏フェス☆!!” all of Rika-chan’s boyfriends appear for a martial arts movie-style fight over her. The fight choreography is complex and involves video screens and a two story staircase, culminating in Tsukada reappearing as himself to win Rika-chan’s hand in a super serious dramatic denouement that was really the only way the skit could have ended.


I cannot emphasize enough how delightful this skit was, combining all the fan service of a reverse harem shojo manga with Tsukada’s girl idol obsession and topped off with a heavy dose of his unnerving sexiness. There was something just so darn adorable about a sweaty Tsukada, wig askew, begging the other members not to fight over him (her?). It’s pure entertainment of the sort you simply cannot see in the United States because it would be impossible.

And then it’s into the “MC” or talk portion of the concert. The “MC” is something that took me a while to understand because in English an emcee (“MC”) is a person, the “master of ceremonies” of a particular event. In Japan, in my experience, the MC is a staple of most concerts that aren’t part of a multi-act bill. It acts like an intermission, giving people a chance to run to the bathroom without fear of missing a song. During the MC the group talks about… stuff. Anything, really. The MCs for the filmed concert DVDs are always a bit tamer than non-filmed MCs but in general they are simply free for all conversations. For example, in Nagoya, Kawai spent part of an MC making fun of Tsukada’s solo last year and Hashimoto told a story about how the night before he was locked out in the hallway of the hotel in just his undies.

No comments:

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl