After a break of almost exactly three years since her last record (Love, painful love), I Was There, I’m Here was released on September 21, 2003. It was Shoko’s first live album, and her first record released as an indies (non-major label) artist — this and several of her following releases would come through indie label Wonderground Music.
The tracks for the album (for the first two discs, anyway; I don’t have a first pressing with the bonus CD, so I can’t definitively say when those songs were recorded) were recorded over a four month span at the same venue — Minami Aoyama Manda-La in Tokyo. The first four tracks on disc one were recorded on February 20, 2002, with the rest of the disc’s tracks recorded on April 20, 2002. The first nine tracks on disc two were recorded one month later (May 20), with the remaining songs being recorded on June 23.
Interestingly, I Was There, I’m Here was not the only live album Shoko recorded in 2002. Shoko’s Christmas concerts that year (performed at Kichijoji Star Pine Cafe in Tokyo, and taking place on December 20, 24 and 25) were recorded and released three years later as Suzuki Syoko in “Love is a sweet harmony” w/E-cups (E-cups being a female vocal group, members of which sang on Candy Apple Red and toured with Shoko in the 1997-98 period). However, that particular live album won’t be reviewed by me, as I don’t own it — it’s extremely difficult to purchase the record if you live outside of Japan. Sorry!
But back to I Was There, I’m Here. Much of the album is Shoko solo, accompanying herself on either on acoustic guitar or piano, often sounding like a Tori Amos solo concert. But there are the occasional guests to fill out the sound a little bit. Singer and guitarist Masahiro Naoe (of the rock band Carnation, which would play a large role in Shoko’s next studio record) appears on “Koibitotachi no Tsuki,” playing guitar and adding vocals; Yuta Saito (who had appeared on both Shishousetsu and Atarashii Ai no Uta) shows up to play keyboards and add backing vocals to “Circle” and “Uchi”; Takuo Yamamoto (who also appeared on Atarashii Ai no Uta) adds saxphone and clarinet to “Amai Yoru,” “Fune” and “Moon Dance Diner de”; while former Super Junky Monkey bassist Shinobu Kawai and ex-jaco:neco drummer GRACE join Shoko to form a potent all-girls rock band on “25sai no Onna wa,” “Izon to Shihai” and “Soshite nao Eien ni.” Both Kawai and GRACE had previously backed up Shoko during the “bleeding heart, shaking tree” tour in support of Love, painful love in 2000, and Kawai in particular would continue to contribute heavily to Shoko’s work (both recording and live) in the coming years.
The track listing on the live album is a mixture of Shoko’s back catalogue, select covers of songs by other artists, a handful of self-covers of songs Shoko wrote for other artists, and even several brand-new songs. Among the cover tunes were songs by Unicorn (Tamio Okuda’s former — and now current — band) and American singers Edie Brickell and Linda Ronstadt, while the self-cover songs include tracks Shoko had written for artists like Kyoko Koizumi, Kumiko Yamashita (though technically, Yamashita’s version of “Happy Someday” was released after this album was recorded — but well before it was released) and Mari Kaneko. Due to the stripped-down nature of the show, several of Shoko’s better-known songs get fairly radical rearrangments due to the piano often being the only accompaniment (most notable on songs like “Radio no Youni,” “River’s End” and “Shelter,” which were all originally guitar rock tracks). It’s interesting to me to hear these re-styled songs, since usually live albums are kind of boring to me.
Though Shoko concentrated mostly on live work in the immediate years following Love, painful love, she still continued to write and demo songs, and very occasionally record new material as well (as evidenced by the several then-new tracks on the record). “Keiyaku (Spellbind)” would eventually pop up again on Shoko’s next album, while both “Amai Yoru” and “I was there, I’m here” would never appear on any other proper Shoko release.
Well…kind of, anyway. “Amai Yoru” — or rather, the demo of the song — was released along with two other tracks on Kuukan no Kanshouku~Suzuki Shoko no Sekai, a supplemental CD that came with an issue of CD Journal magazine in January 2003 (eight months before I Was There, I’m Here was finally released). The other two tracks on the set were a demo version of “Ai no Namae” (a re-recorded version of which would lead off Shoko’s next studio record) and the otherwise unreleased rock track “holdmethrillmetrustmeloveme” (featuring Shinobu Kawai on bass and backing vocals), which has never been released anywhere else (aside from a live performance on a DVD; it’s a shame, as it’s one of Shoko’s best rock songs). Needless to say, Kuukan no Kanshouku~Suzuki Shoko no Sekai is pretty rare.
The early part of the 21st century saw Shoko writing more for other artists. In addition to “Happy Someday” for Kumiko Yamashita, the 2001-2003 period saw Shoko write lyrics and/or music for Puffy (“Angel of Love” from Nice.), former Say a Little Prayer vocalist Rie Taguchi (“Little Girl,” “Virginity”), Hello! Project artist Rika Ishii a.k.a. Peachy (“Yumemiru Chikara”), rock band Local Bus (several songs), and Miu Sakamoto (“Kuuchu Teien”) — of note is the fact that Sakamoto’s father is world-famous musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, and her mother is Akiko Yano…who herself covered Shoko’s “Natsu no Maboroshi” in 1995.
No singles were released from I Was There, I’m Here, and the album did not make the Oricon record charts at all.
THE SONGS: (Click on a title for a sample, where applicable)
Natsu wa Doko e Itta
Shoko’s debut single, played here by Shoko on finger-picked acoustic guitar and harmonica. Since the original recording was fairly stripped down to begin with, this live version sounds fairly similar to the original record.
As noted above, this song was released by Kumiko Yamashita a few months after Shoko recorded this live version (though Shoko hasn’t released the song otherwise). Shoko accompanies herself on piano here, and the lyrics (written by Shoko) are all in English. This is quite a pretty song.
Original version from Shishousetsu. This version sounds fairly similar to the record, as that was mainly Shoko and her piano as well.
Masahiro Naoe guests on guitar and backing vocals here, with Shoko on piano and lead vocals (and harmonica during the solo). The original was largely piano-based as well, so the sound is similar, but less filled out (no drums, etc.).
A self-cover, as the song was originally released by Mari Kaneko. Shoko’s version has her once again playing piano and singing. A bit of a melancholy song that somewhat resembles a Tori Amos track.
Originally released as a single in 1988 by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians (known mostly for their hit “What I Am”). Shoko is joined on this track (and the next) by Yuta Saito, with both perfomers playing keyboards. One of my favorite selections on the record.
Written by Tamio Okuda, and originally released by Unicorn on their 1991 album Hige to Boin. Yuta Saito adds backing vocals, and both he and Shoko play keyboards again.
Originally written by Shoko for Kyoko Koizumi and released on Koizumi’s afropia album in 1991. Shoko’s version here is just her perfomring solo, adding Wurlitzer for accompaniment.
“The ballad” — as Shoko refers to it — and a #2 hit for Kyoko Koizumi in 1993; it is still Shoko’s most well-known composition. Shoko plays Wurlitzer on this track, and at a slightly quicker tempo than her own previous recordings of the song.
Originally from Shishousetsu. Shoko really shines on piano here, especially as the complex orchestration from the original has been removed (obviously, since it would be hard for Shoko to play all that orchestration and other backing track bits all by herself…).
This song, written by Jimmy Webb, was originally recorded and released by Linda Ronstadt on her 1989 LP Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind. Shoko’s solo piano version is much more stripped down than Ronstadt’s more fleshed out arrangment (which featured backing vocals by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys), and I actually like it better than the original.
Originally from Hourglass. The original version was very piano-heavy to begin with, so this live version doesn’t sound radically different (lack of drums and strings aside).
Starting here, the second disc features a handful of Shoko’s songs that were originally upbeat and/or hard rocking but here are played solely on piano. Shoko apparently retained some affection for this track — which was first released on RadioGenic — as she would feature a re-recorded band version on her next studio album.
One of the previously unreleased tracks to make it onto the album. Shoko still occasionally plays the song live, but has never released a proper, studio-recorded version. This particular recording features Takuo Yamamoto on saxophone.
Yamamoto is also on this track, which was originally released on Love, painful love. Shoko plays the solo on a kazoo (!) and glockenspiel, and also shakes a tambourine at times during the song.
Another hard-rocking track transposed to a solo vocal and piano performance; it actually works very well as a dramatic piano-based song. The studio version was released on Candy Apple Red.
Shoko reaches back deep into the past for this song, originally from Mizu no Kanmuri. It is one of only a handful of tracks on the album dating from before 1991 — for whatever reason, Shoko avoided playing too many songs from her very early years on this CD.
This piano ballad originally saw release on Atarashii Ai no Uta. This piano & vocal performance sounds very similar to the demo version of this song that was released as a B-side on the “Atarashii Ai no Uta” single in early 2000.
Like “Shelter,” this originally hard-rocking track came from Candy Apple Red. And also like “Shelter,” the piano re-arrangment of this song is really, really good.
Another track originally from Mizu no Kanmuri. This live version sounds very close to the recorded version, especially with Takuo Yamamoto on saxophone.
Another new track with Shoko accompanying herself on piano, and sung entirely in English. No studio recording of the song was made (or at least, one has never been released), and I’m not sure if Shoko still plays it live or not. I like it a lot; it’s a fun song.
The final new track, and the only one of the album’s new songs that would be re-recorded in a studio setting — Shoko would feature it on her next album. The re-recording adds a subtle french horn part and Shoko’s backing vocals, but otherwise sounds extremely similar to this live version. One of my favorite Shoko songs.
Shoko is joined by Shinobu Kawai and GRACE here; Kawai is on bass and backing vocals, GRACE is on drums and backing vocals, while Shoko plays Wurlitzer and sings. This funky track is originally from Atarashii Ai no Uta, and this live version is actually my preferred version; it’s a little funkier and not as polished as the studio recording.
Oddly, while this song’s composition was credited to both Shoko and Yoshiyuki Sahashi on the Atarashii Ai no Uta CD, here it’s credited solely to Shoko.
The second track with the Shoko/Shinobu Kawai/GRACE lineup; Shoko switches to piano. There’s an extended coda with Shoko adding an amusing new verse (sung entirely in English) about a vampire lover (?) that ends with her screaming “You BASTARD! I’m through!” among other things. The original version of this song is from Shishousetsu, but this live recording is less Rolling Stones-sounding than the original, and a bit more sinister and funky sounding (perhaps because the piano is the dominant instrument instead of a slide guitar).
The second disc closes with this track, originally from Shishousetsu. Shoko switches to electric guitar at this point (her Bonnie Raitt model Fender Stratocaster), resulting in the only grungy guitar rock song on the album. GRACE drums, and Shinobu Kawai is on bass on backing vocals — she misses a note or two here and there, but the sheer energy of this recording is amazing.
Disc 3 (First pressing bonus only)
Sugar Daddy Baby
Originally from Love, painful love.
My love, my love
Originally from RadioGenic.
Kaze ni Orenai Hana
Originally from the best-of collection Harvest.
BONUS TRACKS (B-sides, rarities, etc.):
Actually the first piece of music Shoko released after becoming an indies artist, which appeared on a Kinks tribute album (Kinky Boot) in February 2002. The Kinks’ original was released as a single in 1972, and later appeared on their Everybody’s in Showbiz album the same year. Shinobu Kawai plays bass on this track.
Kuukan no Kanshouku~Suzuki Shoko no Sekai
A three-song CD that was given away with CDJournal magazine in January 2003, featuring the following songs:
Ai no Namae (demo)
This particular track would be revisisted by Shoko on her next studio album, where it was performed in an almost identical manner. As such, I’m not offering a sample (seriously, it sounds almost exactly the same as the officially released version, aside from the limited sound as a result of the recorder Shoko used to make this demo).
The true find from this CD, one of Shoko’s best rock songs. It features Shinobu Kawai on bass (and probably backing vocals), and may also feature Grace on drums (though that’s just idle speculation on my part; the only reason I know Kawai is on the recording is because she says so on her web site).
Apart from this rare release, this excellent track has only been played live. Shoko first started playing it on her late 2000 tour, and will still occasionally play it live (sometimes with only an acoustic guitar as accompaniment).
Amai Yoru (demo)
The demo version of this song is kind of scratchy, and sounds as if it were recorded on a cassette recorder (a couple of times Shoko’s voice overloads the mic input), and lacks the saxophone from the live version, but otherwise sounds extremely similar to the live recording (and as such, I thought it unnecessary to offer a sample).
I Was There, I’m Here is currently in print, and can be ordered through most places that sell imported CDs. One track (“Adios”) was also released on the 2007 compilation SHO-CO-JOURNEY. The Kinks tribute album is still available from some online retailers, I think, while Kuukan no Kanshouku~Suzuki Shoko no Sekai was technically never sold to begin with, and as such is not available for purchase now.
Oddball Verdict: Much better than the average live album.
OTHER SHOKO SUZUKI REVIEWS:
Mizu no Kanmuri (1989)
Kaze no Tobira (1990)
Long Long Way Home (1990)
Sings Bacharach & David (1994)
Candy Apple Red (1997)
Atarashii Ai no Uta (1999)
Love, painful love (2000)
Suzuki Syoko (2006)
Sweet Serenity (2008)
Romances sans paroles~bande originale du film~ (2009)