Okay, there’s too much doom-and-gloom ’round these here parts lately. It’s time to FUNK. IT. UP!
I’m not a regular concert-goer; since attending my first real concert in 1993 (not counting the time my dad took a friend and I to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they were a “rock band” around 1990 or so), I’ve only been to a handful of shows – around 11, according to my count. But I like to think that I make good decisions on what shows I do see. By my count, these are the rock shows I’ve seen:
1993: Paul McCartney
1994: The Rolling Stones (the Spin Doctors opened for this show…I never knew the Pontiac Silverdome – with tens of thousands of people packed inside – could be so quiet as when those clowns played)
2000: Kiss w/ Ted Nugent and SKID ROW!
2000 or 2001: Steve Howe (lead guitarist for Yes)
2001: Tori Amos
2002: Paul McCartney again
2004: Neil Innes (a.k.a. Ron Nasty from The Rutles)
2005: Tori Amos again, Ted Nugent again, Tori Amos yet again (the latter two shows occuring within three days of each other)
So I’ve definitely seen some heavy hitters. But it’s very possible – even likely – that the loudest, most energetic concert I’ve seen was the one I saw this past Tuesday: Puffy (or, as they’re known in the U.S., Puffy AmiYumi), a “Rock Show From Tokyo, Japan”, as the stage backdrop informed us. At the very least, Puffy certainly gave me the most bang for my buck – at just over $20 a ticket (including Ticketmaster’s silly service charge), I got a more outstanding show than I may have otherwise expected. Compare that to $50+ tickets for the Nugent and Tori Amos shows, and the $90+ tickets for the second Paul McCartney show, and Puffy’s a downright bargain.
(You know what else was a bargain at the Puffy show? The merchandise. When I saw Kiss and Nugent in 2000, I picked up two shirts for around $80 total; at the Puffy show I got a CD – autographed! – two shirts, and two paper fans for the grand total of $64. The shirts were only $20 apiece and the CD was $18, a far cry from the usual insane prices for concert merchandise.)
As for the concert itself, it started out with local band Tally Hall – or, as Reaper and I took to calling them, “Tally Ho!” (Hilariously enough, at one point during the set, some random dude in the crowd yelled out “I love Tally Ho!”). Apparently Tally Ho! has some sort of indie-rock-geek thing going on, as all five members of the band were identically dressed: white collared shirt, slacks, and a colored tie (each member, of course, wears a different color tie). Now, I’ll say this for Tally Ho!: the vocalists harmonize very well, and they write catchy, rocking songs. Unfortunately, after the first song they played nothing but kitschy, goofy songs, one of which was a cover of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend”…which brings me to my main annoyance with Tally Ho!: guys as whitebread as them should not rap. Yes, not only were the audience treated to a couple of songs with silly rapping, but during said raps another band member would actually BEATBOX. It took all of my willpower not to burst out laughing. To their credit, Tally Ho! apparently realize how dorky their rapping is, but that still doesn’t make it okay.
The rest of Tally Ho!’s set consisted of more jokey tunes, such as “Banana Man”, with stereotypical jungle beats and goofy vocals, and “Welcome to Tally Hall”; of course, I shouldn’t have to mention that, unless you’re Black Sabbath, you don’t write a song named after your band (though, at least they weren’t as bad as the Flashing Lights, who not only have a song named after the band, but they also repeatedly chant the band name during said song). Bleh.
But enough about Tally Ho! – after all, it wasn’t them I went to see. After what appeared to be a bit of technical difficulties – the house lights went dark for the start of Puffy’s set, except their appearance was apparently delyaed for a minute or two before they (and their super awesome band) finally hit the stage. Once Puffy’s show started, though, it didn’t let up. Most of the songs they played were either from their new release Splurge (or, as it adorably sounded when Ami pronounced it with her Japanese accent, “Splaahge”) or English language tunes, though quite a few classic Puffy hits made it into the set list as well, fortunately.
There were several interludes during the set that allowed Ami and Yumi to converse with the audience; though Ami knows English – and Yumi has a basic knowledge of it – the duo instead used handy notepads with their lines already written down in order to more easily talk to us. Ami and Yumi were so gracious and charming during these parts that I imagine anyone who wasn’t there to see them – and, gaguing by some of the random shouts heard from the audience during the night, there were at least a few such people there – would have been won over nonetheless. Seriously. Whether it was Yumi instructing us how to speak Japanese with an Osaka accent or Ami introducing the other band members by way of embarrassing antecdotes (“Max ate some bad food and had cramps all day! Here’s Max!”), Puffy could do no wrong (well, at least in my eyes).
Speaking of the band, I must make special mention to the five musicians who backed Ami and Yumi – they were certainly one of the tightest, most talented bands I’ve ever had the fortune of seeing. Both guitarists were supremely gifted, capable of holding down the rhythm or tearing off a searing solo at the drop of a hat – Kenji, who was on our side of the stage, played most of the leads, while the other guitarist (whose name escapes me at the moment) concentrated more on rhythm guitar and entertaining the crowd with his incessant leaps and animated stage presence; the bassist – Max, I believe – was all over his instrument, almost like a J-Pop John Entwistle; the keyboard player – Ben – while not as featured as the rest, still held down his post and kept the audience entertained with his antics; and the drummer – Rick, who got the largest ovation of any band member not named Yumi or Ami during introductions – was a total maniac, throwing off complicated beats and thunderous fills like they were nothing. It was one big thundering, pulsating, well-oiled rocking machine, and it was glorious. It definitely didn’t feel like the band was simply there to back Ami and Yumi; they were a unit, all seven of them, and it clearly showed.
(Another note: I may have totally screwed up the band member names, though I think I got them right. If they’re incorrect, I apologize, even though they’ll no Puffy band member or fan – other than myself and my friends – will ever read this.)
What was most noticeable about Puffy and their band, however, was the sheer amount of energy and enthusiasm they brought. Now, Puffy has been recording and touring for a decade now, and have played to huge crowds most everywhere – so you might think there may be a letdown for them to be playing in a small, cramped club to a few hundred people at most. If this is what Puffy and their band felt, it sure didn’t show in their performance. The entire band – not just Ami and Yumi – were in great spirts all night, smiling, laughing and joking throughout the entire 90 or so minute set, dancing and trying to get the audience to participate at every chance. And none of it seemed forced or calculated, which was refreshing.
creepy fanboy mode /ON
I’ve been a fan of Puffy’s for about four or five years now (yay me), but seeing them live in concert has seemingly triggered the long-dormant, nonsenical fanboy in me to surface. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I’ve totally developed a crush on the girls from Puffy as a direct result of this concert. Sure, I’d always thought they were cute before – even though Yumi has, at times, saddled herself with some of the most atrocious haircuts in the known universe; Ami, however, is almost always incredibly cute (she’s my fave! ^___^) – but seeing them live has awakened some irrational part of my brain, the part that’s ignoring the other part going “You idiot! You’re not 13 years old! You can’t develop a crush on some Japanese pop star, much less two of them! Get real! Get over yourself!” Yes, I’m sad. And embarrassed that I’m writing this. However, having read some things other fans of the band have said on message boards and the like, perhaps I’m not quite as weird as I first thought (for example, I don’t think the simple act of posting on a message board is akin to talking directly to Ami and Yumi).
creepy fanboy mode /OFF
Of course, you may be wonder how all of this ties into the title of this post. Let’s just say that Reaper and I were among the very few people over 21 in the crowd who were not chaperoning their kids that night. Yes, as a direct result of the success of the Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi cartoon, young teenage girls are among Puffy’s biggest fans here in the U.S., so a good chunk of the crowd was 12 and 13 year old girls there at the venue with their parents (also included in the crowd were some 6 or 7 year olds…I’m sure they’ll thank their parents for the permanent hearing damage they incurred from the concert later in life).
I also have to mention the large, middle-aged fanboy in the homemade Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi shirt (all drawn in marker, it seemed) – who, of course, was center-stage in the front row – who endeared himself to the rest of the crowd (or at least to Reaper and I) when he did things like mimic Puffy’s dance moves during the song “Mogura-Like” (along with about half of the front row – of course, he was more than twice the age of everyone else doing it, not to mention a good 100-150 pounds heavier than anyone else, so to say he stood out a bit is an understatement), as well as headbang in the most inept way possible. Seriously, I’ve never seen someone headbang so much and never once manage to headbang along with the beat of the song. That takes talent. Still, he didn’t harm anyone, and possibly had more fun than anyone else in the venue, so more power to him, I guess.
All in all, it was an outstanding night. Better yet, I think the show may have finally turned Reaper into a Puffy fan, after years of me blabbering about them to anyone I could get to listen. Unfortunately, the prospects for a return tour (or, at least, a return trip to Detroit) seem unlikely at this point; I know that Puffy’s albums haven’t sold too well in the States thus far, and I know that a couple of prior stops on this mini-tour had to be moved to smaller venues due to lack of ticket sales. Still, I hope that Puffy continues to make inroads in this country and keep coming back – because I’m selfish that way. I may be odd, but I sure as hell would rather listen to Puffy singing in a language I can’t understand as opposed to the vacuous, “Oooh, look at my near-naked body” music of Ashlee Simpson or (gag) Paris freaking Hilton (WHY is she still famous? Hell, why was she famous in the first place?). And for those of you who say “But Puffy’s singing in Japanese! You can’t understand it! Why bother?”, I would reply “Well, I’m pretty sure plenty of opera fans aren’t fluent in Italian or German, yet they still listen. Should they stop listening to what they like because of a possible language barrier, even if the music is outstandingly good?”
Hell, there’s even English language rock that is difficult to understand. Listen to some crazy psychadelic rock from the ’60s or prog rock from the ’70s and tell me what the hell those bands are singing about, and if it makes any more sense than the Japanese lyrics I can’t totally understand. Not to mention the fact that many English-speaking bands are insanely huge in places that don’t speak English – hell, Japan is the Beatles’ second-largest market in terms of albums sold. Should we tell the Japanese that, because the Fab Four never recorded any Japanese language songs, they shouldn’t be listening? That’s just silly, and to use the same argument agaist Puffy is equally silly. If people would bother to pull their heads out of their asses for five minutes and simply listen, they’d probably find they like what they hear. But I digress.
(Then again, maybe a return tour isn’t so farfetched: in this interview, Yumi says the current tour is “the best tour ever” — which maybe a bit of fluff, admittedly, but still…it’s cool. And they were doing plenty of business at the merchandise table, which is also good.)
So, to recap: if you like fun, high-engergy rock (that happens to be fronted by two immensely adorable, immensely likeable, immensely talented women) – and don’t have a stick up your ass or have your head up so far up your own ass you can see your small intestine – do what you can to see Puffy live. You won’t regret it. Well, see them the next time they come, that is, since the last date on this tour was last night. Until then, however, do the next best thing and support the Puffy cause by picking up their new album Splurge, due out in stores next Tuesday (the 25th, for those of you keeping score). I also think you can purchase the individual songs from Splurge right now via iTunes, but I’m the sort who likes having a shiny, physical CD to listen to. But I’m old skool that way.
And just to make this insanely long post even longer, this is the set list (if you care to know such things):
Nice Buddy (from Splurge)
Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi (from Jet CD, with Yumi and Ami each taking turns on half of the harp solo)
—MC/Talking to the crowd—
Call Me What You Like (if you like rock-n-roll) (from Splurge – U.S. Version)
Mogura Like (from Splurge)
Teen Titans Theme (from 59)
Basket Case (cover of the old Green Day song) (from Splurge – Japan version)
Circuit no Musume (from Jet CD)
Joining a Fan Club (from 59)
Tokyo I’m On My Way (from Splurge)
Jet Keisatsu (from Jet CD)
Umi eto (from Spike)
Hi Hi (from Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi)
Akai Buranko (from Nice.)
Puffy no Rule (from Spike)
Boogie-Woogie No. 5 (from Spike)
Radio Tokyo (from Splurge)
Asia no Junshin (from amiyumi)
Actually, that’s the set list for their Chicago show that I found online. But, aside from a possibly different order in one spot (I swear “Puffy no Rule” was the last song they played before the encore at our show, and not “Boogie-Woogie No. 5”…though I could be very wrong in that regard, and likely am), all the songs played are the same.
The only albums they didn’t touch on (not counting their two remix albums, natch) were Fever*Fever (a shame, since that’s my favorite Puffy album) and The Hit Parade (which is probably my least favorite Puffy album, so no complaints there). As noted earlier, the set list is heavy on recent tunes (in fact, aside from “Puffy no Rule”, “Akai Buranko”, “Jet Keisatsu”, “Basket Case” and “Circuit no Musume” all the songs they played are available on their two most recent U.S. releases)…but hey, that’s what the tour is promoting. And I got to see Puffy live, so I’m not complaining at all. I certainly hope it’s not the last such time.
I’m sure there’s plenty of stuff that I missed – Reaper can probably help out here if he’s so inclined. Off the top of my head, here are some other highlights that I couldn’t fit into my narrative above:
- Ami and Yumi recounting how they often find the zippers on their pants undone, and then making each band member show off their zippers to make sure they weren’t open
- Ami telling us how the rest of the band went to the Motown Museum while she and Yumi were stuck in New York until the morning of the show. “They went to the Motown Museum yesterday. (pause, conferring with Yumi and the rest of the band) …Yesterday? No, this morning!”
- Yumi asking the crowd what a good place to eat in Detroit was, and some dude yelling out “White Castle!” in reply
- Ben, the keyboardist, leaping up on his keyboard set-up and pretending to rock out on his guitar (which was turned around so that the strings were pressed up against his abdomen)
- Ben losing his percussive shakers on the stage floor and frantically searching for them during (I think) “Boogie-Woogie No. 5”, which made Ami totally crack up
- The age of most of the audience showing itself during the first encore song, “Radio Tokyo”; while one dude predictably pulled out his lighter, a whole bunch of underage teens instead pulled out their cell phones and held the lit LCD screens high in the air
- The guitarist on the other side of the stage, during “Asia no Junshin”, using a hand puppet shaped like a pig as he sang his bits through the vocoder and played his synthesizer. Again, laughs and merriment all around
Sadly, I wasn’t able to get any pictures – indeed, cameras were not allowed at all (though that’s normal for most rock shows, admittedly). In fact, the bouncers at the club made sure to tell the crowd outside the venue that, if caught with a camera, either the camera’s memory card or the entire camera itself would be confiscated. And they weren’t joking – at one point a bouncer took someone’s cell phone away because he’d been using it to take pictures. Ouch.
I also read recently that Puffy are possibly going to be touring the West Coast at some point this year. Sniff, sniff…what’s that? I think I smell a road trip coming on in the future…