Monday, November 17, 2014

Perfume at the Hammerstein Ballroom. World Tour 3rd. New York City. November 15, 2014.

「三人あわせて、Perfumeです!」(from left to right: Nocchi, Kashiyuka, and Ah~chan!)

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of seeing Japanese pop group Perfume. The group is insanely popular in Japan and are currently on their third world tour, which is the first world tour to include a stop in America. Perfume are a pop group consisting of three members: Nishiwaki Ayaka (“A~chan,” the defacto leader), Omoto Ayano (“Nocchi”), and Kashino Yuka (“Kashiyuka”). Perfume’s music--written by electropop maestro Nakata Yasutaka--is insanely catchy but the group’s hook is really their intricate three-part choreography. The three women weave in and out of each other’s space like gear wheels, a single mistake, a moment’s hesitation could end in a hard smack to the face or a high heel caught in a member’s skirt.

Perfume’s style has evolved into one that is perfectly suited to the small stage in a television studio. Perfume’s dancing plays remarkably well on television--whether it’s the swaggering dance step from “Spring of Life” that emphasizes the way Kashiyuka whips around her long hair or the section in “Spending All My Time” where the three women stand motionless except for their interlocking hand gestures. Their costuming also plays very well on television, the members don’t dress uniformly but rather they dress similarly, each having a style that emphasizes her best feature. Nocchi often wears shorts to show off her long legs, while Kashiyuka’s costumes highlight her slender neck and shoulders.

(Perfume live in Tokyo earlier this year.)

Despite the small scale of their act, Perfume’s stage show has grown very large. In Japan, they play to crowds of 50,000 or more in venues like Tokyo Dome. Unlike other pop groups who will bring in backing dancers or huge sets to fill the space, Perfume utilize visual effects, including projecting enormous images and using costumes with LED lights. The New York show I attended wasn’t nearly on this scale. The Hammerstein ballroom, though it was packed to capacity, only holds about 3,000 people. Perfume’s act was very much like I’d been watching on television for years but seeing it live, standing in the middle of a crowd of fellow fans, all jumping up and down… at the same time it was very different from seeing them on television.

Attending Japanese pop shows outside of Japan is quite different from attending Japanese pop shows in Japan. The crowd is generally a mix of Japanese fans who travel for a chance to see their favorites in a much more intimate setting than they could see in Japan, Japanese nationals living outside of Japan who may not be fans but who want to see a bit of home, and, lastly, non-Japanese fans. Japanese pop culture is not easily accessible outside of Japan and there is very little available in English, so the non-Japanese fans, myself included, tend to be a dedicated bunch. We would have to be, in order to seek out information and performances from our favorites. Both the language and cultural barriers are very, very high.

To that end, I was almost dreading to see what non-Japanese outsets would have to say about Perfume’s American shows. It turns out I didn’t have to worry. With no little surprise and relief, I see that they’ve been ignored.

I’ll give my opinion then: the show was awesome. Seeing Perfume live--even from the middle of a crowd, getting pushed and shoved and sometimes having my view blocked--was awesome.

Perfume’s dancing was just like I remembered from television but with an extra edge to it. They fed off the energy of the crowd and, in each of their faces, I could see how much fun they were having and how grateful they were for our support. I was especially touched to see Nocchi, who can come across as “cold” on screen, just smiling and waving to the crowd while she danced.

The set list was a mix of their new tracks from their latest album Level 3, along with some old hits like “Chocolate Disco” and “Polyrhythm.” I was disappointed not to see my newest favorite track, the peppy “Magic of Love,” but seeing the intense choreography of “Game” make a surprise appearance from the depths of their discography more than made up for it.

I’m still buzzing from the excitement and I completely understand why fans would travel thousands of miles to see Perfume in the intimacy of a 3,000 seat venue. I wish with all my heart for the success of their tour and another opportunity to see them live--even if I hope, at the same time, that mainstream American media continues to ignore them.

(For more pictures and the set list, check here. It's in Japanese but images have no language~ ♥)

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