Friday, September 8, 2017

5 Years 5 Stars A.B.C-Z 五周年おめでとう!!! [Part 3 of 4]


(SLT tour 2016, repping Hashimoto)

Following the MC in the arena shows was the Junior group performance, giving A.B.C-Z a chance to rest and change costumes. In the hall shows, the change in turns during the MC. And then it’s into the leisurely rap-ballad “Glory Days.” In all the years I’ve been listening to and obsessing over pop music (from my earliest memories, basically) I’ve never been much of a lyrics person or a ballad person so stand-and-sing songs like “Glory Days” tend to leave little impression on me. It’s a pleasant song, though, with some nice harmonies and register switches to falsetto and back from Hashimoto.



And then “Lily White”, a bonus track from the new album. “Lily White”  has strong echoes of the Kinki Kids classic “Bonnie Butterfly” which makes sense because it was also written by the great Ide Kouji! It’s a mid-tempo song featuring a flowing melody over a choppy electro-looped spanish guitar. It’s extremely catchy, classic J-Pop.

“Lily White” begins with the five A.B.C-Z members dancing on center stage. In the first Yokohama Arena show, I was seated somewhere between the main and center stages and so I was watching the choreography from behind, which meant that it took me a minute to figure out who it was that popped up from under the stage at the beginning of the first chorus. And I wasn’t the only one. An incredible growing cheer of recognition rolled through the crowd as the thousands of fans in Yokohama arena slowly realized we were seeing… ふぉ〜ゆ〜!!

(For the second Yokohama show ふぉ〜ゆ〜 (4U) got an immediate--and very loud--cheer from the crowd.)


(GACHI was really fun!!! I love ふぉ〜ゆ〜)

Favorites of long time A.B.C-Z fans, the “undebuted” four member dance unit ふぉ〜ゆ〜 are A.B.C-Z’s contemporaries and have worked with A.B.C-Z extensively over the years in various stage productions. The two groups share a sense of humor and common performance aesthetic and remain very friendly despite A.B.C-Z being debuted while ふぉ〜ゆ〜 are not. (I would see ふぉ〜ゆ〜’s stage production GACHI later the next week in tiny Theater Crea and it was utterly delightful. Like the other ladies in Yokohama Arena, I enjoy ふぉ〜ゆ〜 quite a bit.)

As it turns out, the choreography for “Lily White” had been done by ふぉ〜ゆ〜’s Fukada Yuta, which makes sense because there were about 100% more hip rolls than Goseki adds to his choreography. The nine-person choreography for “Lily White” infused the song with a fresh energy and these guys clearly all love performing together and I hope this becomes a regular thing.

Following this was another dance medley featuring a couple more of my favorite songs (ultra groovy vintage R&B style album tracks “Fantastic Ride” and “Whippy”).

And then it was time for Dance Master Goseki’s solo song.

The evolution of Goseki’s solo songs has been incredible to witness. The man is notoriously quiet and kind of spacey but he knows how to put on a show.

One of the things about Goseki that has stuck with me over the years is from an interview with him before “Early Summer Concert.” He said that watching the video footage he was disappointed in his 2014 solo song because he realized that the lighting made it difficult to see his dancing. That stuck in my mind because it seems to have stuck in his mind that it’s not just dance that makes a good performance. And every year since then his solo songs have gotten better and better at utilizing stagecraft--and indeed the entire stadium--as part of his choreography.

In 2015, for “We’re Fighters”, he used two sets of junior dancers. One set runs the entire length of Yoyogi with giant blue flags; while he literally climbs the other set at the climactic part of the song, popping open his shirt to incredible cheers from the crowd.

In 2016, for “To Night’s Love”, the performance begins with a dance vignette illuminated only by a wall of junior dancers holding mini-spotlights. It was breathtaking to see live.

For 2017’s “Mr.Dream” (no space), Dance Master Goseki appears on stage wearing a feathered cape, angelic wings projected behind him. The theme of the performance is of a (sexy) dancing angel. A huge burst of feathers falls from the ceiling at the climactic part of the song.


(Three years worth of tour towels!! 2015, 2016, 2017 from top to bottom. Guess who learned her lesson...)


And in one of the few big changes between the arena and hall shows, in the hall show, one by one all of the other members appear to back dance for Goseki’s solo. Wearing white suit jackets with just a hint of feathers on the tails, they mirror his movements, adding a real jolt to the performance. The atmosphere in the hall during “Mr.Dream” was electric.

Goseki is A.B.C-Z’s most introverted and least vocal member which is why I find his solos so fascinating as an evolution in understanding what kind of character he should inhabit on stage and what types of performance will leave an impression on his audience.

From the dance heavy “Mr.Dream” it’s into the heavy dance track “Fire in Love” followed by crowd sing-along favorite “花言葉” and then to Hashimoto’s solo “Love to Love You.”

Hashimoto, the youngest of the five members, is also the main vocalist of the group and is the one who ends up doing the heavy lifting when it comes to the chocolate boy, “teen idol” image in the way that we tend to think of boy bands here in America. And it’s not just his delicate tenor and puppy dog eyes, Hashimoto also has a sentimental and romantic streak a mile long. His favorite band--as he’s said in interviews--is the soft rock trio Back Number, beloved by high school girls nationwide for their heartfelt lyrics about heartbreak.

A Hashimoto solo, much like a Totsuka solo, is far, far better live than on CD. Though the genres of their solo songs are different, Hashimoto also pours his heart into every single performance, wanting to make every single person in the audience feel special.


(At Hashimoto's "Summer Paradise" show in 2016)

In the hands of Hashimoto, 2014 solo “DANCE!”, written by one of my favorites, Tommy Clint, is turned from frothy candy confection to an earnest expression of love of performing. It is the rare performer who can imbue the lyrics, “SINGIN'胸に届け強く自分信じchange the world” (deliver my SINGIN’ strongly to your heart, believe you can change the world) with true and deep meaning but Hashimoto does it.

The delicate “Stay with me” from 2015’s A.B.Sea Market (lyrics by Hashimoto) is a plea for affection and--this is NOT an exaggeration--has brought me to tears every single time I’ve seen him perform it.

“Crazy About You” from 2016 was a classic R&B jam, mixing of slow verses and frenetic dance choruses. He had an even tougher task than usual in 2016 because his solo fell directly after Tsukada’s melodica weirdness which left the audience in a strange, strange space. Again, only Hashimoto could make cheezy lines like “抱きしめたい your heart” (I want to embrace your heart) sound genuine in an almost innocent way.

This year Hashimoto’s solo “Love To Love You” is a mid-tempo R&B ballad about a relationship in trouble. There are no great theatrics or clever staging, just Hashimoto singing his heart out. And it’s lovely.

And then the concert begins to build to the finale.


(Hashimoto "Summer Paradise" confetti and a souvenir from Pacific Drive-In in Kamakura that is one of Hashimoto's favorite restaurants!)

After Hashimoto’s lovely solo we get a video of Dancing Goseki teaching us the extremely complicated string of moves to “ドキナツ2017” that ends with the “Princess pose” where the fan has one hand behind her head and the other resting on her hip.

I try my best but it’s hard to maneuver standing shoulder with my fellow fans, especially with all of us holding penlights and uchiwa. Goseki really is a troll...

When the video ends, the house lights come up and A.B.C-Z spread out into the crowd for the “ドキナツ2017”  performance. They wave, smile, and dance along with us. Fangirls quickly make friends with everybody around them as we all try to figure out who is going to walk by us, where our favorites are, and enjoying the reactions of other girls in other sections as members pass by and they get a smile or a thumbs up. All the while still doing the Dancing Goseki hand movements in time with the music… just in case Dancing Goseki himself happens to come by.

Then they return to the stage for my favorite song from the new albumテレパシーOne! Two!” (the linked video also features ふぉ〜ゆ〜) a retro 1980s R&B jam that is so good that after the first time I heard it, I actually messaged both the songwriters--Victor Sagfors and Ricky Hanley--to tell them. It has these rhythmic pre-choruses that build and build until they just POP! into the chorus. And the funky keyboard riffs anchoring the whole thing are 100% my jam.

The choreography for “テレパシーOne! Two!” was done by TAKAHIRO (not the guy from Exile), a choreographer who has done extensive work with girl group Keyakizaka46… who are known for their unique and creative dancing. TAKAHIRO’s vision for A.B.C-Z is similar to Goseki’s work but a little more bounce, giving “テレパシーOne! Two!” a looser vibe, less controlled. Goseki’s background is in the theater and his choreography is meant to work best on a stage. Judging from what I’ve seen of his work, TAKAHIRO thinks more in terms of what will pop on television, which has never been an A.B.C-Z strong suit outside of their one-camera performances (which, luckily, was the first thing I ever saw from them.)



(Pacific Drive-In, 2016)


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