Sunday, June 3, 2012

Concert Review: KOTOKO @ Animazement 2012

After another busy semester, I was finally able to take some time off to attend Animazement 2012 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The weekend was tons of fun and a post about AZ 2012 (and cosplay!) is in the works, but I wanted to take some time to review my highlight Animazement event of the weekend: the performance by KOTOKO.

I won't pretend to know much about KOTOKO beyond the bit of pre-con research I conducted to familiarize myself with her work, but I was certainly impressed by the few songs of hers I did listen to. Even more impressive to me, though, is the fact that KOTOKO writes much of the music and lyrics for her own work (and for other artists!). In a world where so many artists can take the spotlight from performance talents alone (or, as the case may be with some U.S. pop artists, not even that), it's really refreshing to see one who can not only sing well, but can also write great music.

Not counting the last-day-of-classes concerts that I attended during undergrad, this show marks my first live concert starring any vaguely famous artist. The show was hosted in one of the Raleigh Convention Center's ballrooms, outfitted with a stage, lights, and all the appropriate concert gear. The room was pretty small, but it fit the crowd just fine; felt kind of cozy, actually. My friends and I got in line pretty late, so we ended up close to the back; luckily, the room was small enough that we still had a pretty nice view of the stage.

The best thing about KOTOKO's performance, in my opinion, was her energy. She didn't just sing; she truly performed. She danced and moved around on stage almost as much as she sang (I can't imagine having to do both at once); at one point, she brought out a sword and began to swing it around. She took time between songs to engage with the crowd, despite her non-fluent (but very cute!) English. She changed into three separate outfits over the course of the concert. The crowd loved her, of course, clapping and fist-pumping with the music and even demanding an encore with chants of "KO-TO-KO!" Her energy was infectious. Maybe all Japanese artists are like this and I'm just naive, but seeing that much dedication to performance was something new and exciting for me.

Despite the very electronic nature of her music, KOTOKO came equipped with a trio of live performers: a guitarist, bassist, and drummer. For me, the live musicians added a lot to her performance. They played very well, of course, and also had a great deal of energy -- almost as much energy as KOTOKO herself, which is saying something. Plus, they were all dressed up as characters from Lupin, which was a fun touch. And maybe it's just my inner percussionist speaking, but I really enjoyed watching the drummer. Man, that guy can play.

As I alluded to earlier, I didn't know much of KOTOKO's work going into the concert, so I don't have many remarks on the repertoire. I certainly enjoyed the music a lot, though, with some personal standouts being Suppuration -core-, Shooting Star, Unite+reactioN, and unfinished (the ending to Accel World, incidentally the only song I knew well before the concert). I felt like I really got a taste of KOTOKO's musical style through her selection of pieces: for instance, her use of heavy electronic synths and characteristic vocal harmonies. Having a distinctive style is important for any artist, and KOTOKO really shines here.

Below is a setlist that I found somewhere online, arranged alphabetically because I couldn't remember the true order. Click on the little "X" marks before each song for a YouTube link; they're all great pieces.

[X] Ao-iconoclast
[X] being
[X] Chi ni Kaeru
[X] Face of Fact
[X] Hayate no Gotoku
[X] Hirake! Sora no Oto
[X] Light My Fire
[X] Oboetete ii yo
[X] Re-sublimity
[X] Sakura no Ame Moegi no Yo
[X] Shooting Star
[X] Special Life
[X] Suppuration -core-
[X] unfinished
[X] Unite+reactioN
[X] Wing my Way

Photos weren't allowed in the venue, so unfortunately I have no photo evidence from the event. To make my post prettier, though, I did steal a concert picture from KOTOKO's blog, so photo credits are all to her photographer. I'm in that crowd somewhere!

For more photos from the Animazement performance (and, if I'm not mistaken, KOTOKO touring various U.S. cities), check out her blog here. (Note that the blog's in Japanese.)

In the end, I had a great experience at KOTOKO's performance. Was it perfect? Of course not. But was it a lot of fun? Hell yes. I may not have been a KOTOKO fan going into concert, but I think I've been officially converted. :)

See you next time!


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