There is no life without music
Give me the money
And, of course, love
Become more beautiful
To my mind, the Nippon Budōkan is pretty much hallowed ground as a live music arena. It was originally built as an indoor venue for judo during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and remains as a martial arts venue to this very day. Bob Dylan, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, Eric Clapton, Pearl Jam and Dream Theater are a handful of non-Japanese artistes who have played the Budōkan (some with classic “Live at Budōkan” album releases). But I was not gonna travel all the way to Tōkyō just to watch bands that I could easily see in the UK live. SCANDAL played their debut Budōkan live performance back in 2012 and when it was announced last spring that they were returning here to play two dates back-to-back as part of a four-date arena tour, it was a right no-brainer.
This is my fourth visit to Tōkyō and I’ve to admit I’ve never been to see the Budōkan and its environs. The Budōkan is located in Kitanomaru Kōen, which is a park and is near to Yasukuni-jinja. From Shibuya, it was a 24-minute subway train ride on the Hanzomon line to Kudanshita. The entrance to the Budōkan grounds was akin to that of a typical Japanese castle and reminded me of my trips to Ōsaka-jō and Himeji-jō back in 2014.
On the first Budōkan date on 12.1.16, we arrived at about 4PM and much to our surprise, there was no queue for the merch stands. It was a Tuesday and I guess high schoolers were not out yet, as were fans who were still at work. I happily took the chance to get the Tōkyō-specific tee and towel (got every thing else I needed online prior to my trip – talk about forward planning). It was a tad chilly and after taking a quick photo outside the yellow SCANDAL signboard, we chilled indoors at the café across the road from the arena.
The queue was pretty much fast moving when the doors opened at 6PM. On reaching our seats in a middle block, we were stoked to see that we were sat on the 7th row, in front of a cordoned square which had a video camera for the screens. And we were slap bang beneath the Hinomaru. The stage was simple and less elaborate, as compared to what they had at the Budōkan/Ōsaka-jō Hall/YokoAri shows previously. Their amps were arranged in the standard row. There were no new gear of note, although I note the Funassyi sticker on MAMI’s Marshall head was no longer there. It appeared from the positions of the mic stands that the girls won’t be spread too far out.
The central lighting rig was a solitary rectangular frame which didn’t appear to have that many lights. As SCANDAL had Patrick Woodroffe design the lights, it didn’t seem to be as complex as I thought, especially when Woodroffe has done work for the likes of the Rolling Stones and AC/DC. There were vertical light arrays in between the three large rectangular LCD screens. I had seen some photos on Twitter from the previous shows and I have to say despite the ‘basic’ set up, the light show that accompanied the band’s performance seemed promising.
At the line check, I noted that TIMO’s 20th anniversary Stingray was brought out. The last time I saw this bass at a SCANDAL line check was at the HELLO WORLD Hall Tour last January, but TIMO never actually used her then. Whilst waiting for the girls to get onstage at 7PM, the PA had electronic music reminiscent to current-day Radiohead / Thom Yorke. I actually quite liked it – especially when the screens had a cool blue hue to it in this semi-lit octagonal arena.
The lights went down at 7PM prompt and the blue hue changed to a vermillion/red.
Everyone in the audience stood up and the atmosphere in the Budōkan erupted with loud cheers from the audience. RINA, MAMI, HARU and TIMO walked in single file from stage right. With a hearty “BUDŌKAN!!!” from HARU, SCANDAL kicked off the set with a resounding rendition of Image. This may well be the fifth time of seeing them play the song live, but for me, this felt different for an obvious reasons – it’s seeing them playing this at the Budōkan. Right stoked, man!
Fist-pumps are kinda tiring. Yup, my age was prolly showing during 瞬間センチメンタル *heh* and that was only the second song of the set. I had to keep up as DOLL was up next. HARU wanted to see how many towels, flags and, err… towel-less fists were in the house, while RINA was keeping a beat on the drums in the background. I’ve always said that there are a number of SCANDAL songs which are mawashite-able, but no one seems to do so. Pity.
ESY was up next and right after the first few bars of the intro, there was an exploding pyro which surprised the hell out of me, just before MAMI’s intro riff. What? WHAT?!
Anyway, pyro effects were something you don’t get to see in a live house/hall gig. MAMIchan was smiling widely during that intro, for some reason or other. For ESY, the signature audience move was the jumping fist pump on “YEAH!” where I always *koff* cheat on this one move.
But I will always have energy for what SCANDAL played next.
STANDARD is where I go absolutely apeshit. What synchronised audience moves? This song became my favourite SCANDAL tune after seeing them belting this out live in Tachikawa-shi last year. In the fact, the band was going pretty hardcore on this – TIMO was a mop of hair and MAMI’s guitar solo didn’t sound contrived as she really went for it. By this time in their set, everyone would have noticed how bad ass RINA is on her Pearl kit. She was really going at it on both nights, and I daresay I can see RINA ad libbing some of her drum rolls.
HARU did a call-and-response MC getting the different sections of the Budōkan audience going “YAY!”. She was calling out to gals, guys, nosebleed seats, floor seats, those with glasses, et cetera. And the lasses then kicked off what appeared to be a segment of their current material with another one of my favourites, Onegai Nabigēshon.
After MAMIchan’s cutesey 本を読む where she played her White Falcon, it was time for the chilled out finger-snapping LIAJ, the B-side to their current single, Sisters.
I wondered at this time if they were gonna do their solo material in a stretch like the recent HELLO WORLD tour, but the the next item in the set was 少女S, just after a cute and meek sounding arigatō from TIMO.
少女S was a right treat, and it’s not just about that synchronised leg-flick.
Now, as far as I was concerned, the last time I saw 少女S live was back in 2013 and this was a good enough reason, but I wasn’t expecting a short showcase of their individual skills in the solo segment of the song.
The individual solo that stood out the most for me was TIMO’s pop ‘n’ slap bass improv. And I’d like to add that RINA’s mini drum solo here was a far cry from her 2012 Budōkan one. Two thumbs fresh, as they say in that Typhoo ad. For me, it was really nice to be able to see 少女S live again, as this was the song that introduced me to the band all those years ago.
SCANDAL kept the momentum going with Awanai next, with more synchronised audience jumping going “OI! OI! OI!” during the chorus bits. The familiar electronic drum beat heralding the shoegazing おやすみ saw RINA leaving her kit and she was handed her cream Tele. I remembered seeing her perform this really early on in the HW hall tour, and at the Budōkan, her tentative demeanour during this song has totally diminished.
HARU got us all to take our seats, as she jokingly described this as the “dinner show” segment of sorts. On the first night, the lasses spoke at length about their New Year’s Day vacation activities, one of which was HARU going scuba diving in the seas around Okinawa, including a tale of how she “peed in her drysuit”. On the second night, the MC theme was of new activities/achievements (I think) for 2016. HARU quickly reiterated her new found love of diving which she spoke of the night before, whist RINA was going on about pyjamas, TIMO on umeboshi and MAMI on making her own clothes. I only managed to catch certain phrases but not enough to understand the entire conversation. Here’s to hoping for a translate soon somewhere.
SCANDAL started off the seated “dinner” segment with Bitter Choco on night one – it felt like TIMO was working pretty hard that evening. The sequence of the set list was somewhat different at this point on both of the nights. On night one, they went on to do Winter Story, but on night two, they started off with Winter Story and only then did they go on to play their “song of the day” – this time it was the Foo Fighters-esque Morning Sun, a track from the upcoming album, YELLOW, which is also featured in an upcoming film, 猫なんかよんでもこない (Cats Won’t Come Even When You Call for Them).
After listening to it in its entirety at the show, I think I really like this delightful song. I have noted how some fans have lamented that these girls are no longer playing the raw garage rock they played in their earlier seifuku days. Change is inevitable and if straight forward rockers like this are their forte now, I’m all for this evolution of theirs.
“Depācha” was all HARU uttered before the band played this melancholic tune from HELLO WORLD as the last song of this interesting seated segment of the show.
The next two songs were also from HELLO WORLD. I felt Yoake was a tad mellow since we are doing this sitting down thing, but it wouldn’t work during the chorus when it comes to audience participation. I just love the starry sky/Milky Way backdrop on the LCD screens for this one.
Your song was the pop/punk crowd pleaser of the evening with the participating audience members almost losing their voices going “Whoooooah!” during the chorus. I used to kinda not like the song (I still think it sounds too much like a certain Green Day ditty) but after seeing it several times live now, it certainly has grown on me this past year. SCANDAL BABY seems to occupy different slots in the different live SCANDAL sets over the years. As this segment seems to have become more upbeat, I guess there was no better time that right now in the set.
On night one, there were no hiccups during the midway TIMO-HARU-MAMI standoff, but HARU missed some words because of this on night two. Result! Interestingly, MAMI cocked up too, in the final few octave chords in her solo!
The set was surprisingly mellowed down a tad at this moment when SCANDAL performed Sisters. One of the merch on sale for the tour was a flower garland headband (girls were wearing this at SCANDAL’s TOWER RECORDS Shibuya showcase a few months back) and I was half expecting some form of audience participation with this, although admittedly I couldn’t imagine how. My eyes were mostly on RINA as despite the easy-going melody, the drums on Sisters are pretty tough. For me, at least. Heh.
Some glittery confetti were shot out to the audience after the intro and I managed to grab two. Ooo… what an achievement.
ちいさなほのお was on next. HARU’s clean guitar intro evoked some butterflies in my stomach for a moment, just like when I listened to this for the first time in the docu-film trailer for HELLO WORLD. I actually don’t know the words to this at all, nor its meaning. I’ve never been one to know words to any songs, let alone one in nihon-go. But, the images of the recent world tour accompanying this song on the official PV was just so apt, that it was likely that the song sums up what could’ve been the emotions felt by the band on the tour.
From a technical standpoint, this time my eyes were on TIMO whilst my right hand were plucking air bass strings. Yes, I play air guitar at gigs. It’s so much easier doing that to, err… show appreciation for the music. Heh. I just love the bass lines on this. Yup, another melancholic SCANDAL song that’s up there in my books.
A mellow end to the main set and the girls then retreated backstage.
This time there were no concerted shouts of enkoru unlike the hall shows I attended last year. The lasses returned onstage garbed in modified versions of the tour T-shirts. On both nights, the encore had the same list of songs starting with love in action, and as the song is tuned half a step down, TIMO played her Bluetus, HARU her Mustang Special and MAMIchan her Classic Player Jazzmaster.
Stamp! followed suit which was preceded by the girls encouraging everyone to stomp their feet and clap to a drum-clap track with a beat reminiscent of We Will Rock You. This was prolly the closest I’d get to a Queen concert I guess.
As a right cheerful summery tune, seeing/listening to Stamp! in the middle of winter felt pretty refreshing. TIMO and MAMIchan finally swapped their stage positions mid-song. One would’ve thought with the wireless, they’d be more free to roam around during the show but this may prove difficult especially when they are actively doing main vocals and backing vocal duties (respectively). Not to mention stompboxes are partially controlled by the lasses themselves which meant they were somewhat rooted to the spot most of the time.
HARU asked the audience if we wanted to hear something from the new album, YELLOW, and we were treated to SUKI-SUKI which made this the second new song that I’ve never heard in full before.
The song has a relatively raucous bass intro with a pretty nice groove, although I feel that the chorus is a tad out of place when compared to the main verse. But that’s just me. I’d prolly warm up to it more once the album is out in a few months’ time. All good things, however, have come to an end. Two and a half hours. 24 songs. Taiyou Scandalous ended the gig nicely. Mustering whatever energy that was left, I think the audience went all out for this 2012 classic, just as much as the girls did onstage.
HARU did the band roll call to a much appreciative audience, with Image blaring in the background on the PA. After saying their goodbyes and getting offstage, we stayed behind to soak up the post-show atmosphere. Die-hard fans were still at it, cheering and whooping along to the music, as if the band was still onstage!
If you asked me, I felt that the second night was way more happening than the first. The band was fine on both, and was prolly a bit more upbeat on night two, with it being the final show of the tour and a recorded one at that. The Budōkan felt a little longer to get filled up on night one, I thought. Fifteen minutes before the show started, the were gaps here and there in the rafters. Interestingly, there were four vacant seats in front of us throughout the show!
I really like the ‘grown up’ SCANDAL. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the earlier uniformed version of the band, but to reiterate, evolution in a band’s music is inevitable. Sometimes, if a band is around long enough, things may go full circle and who knows, we’ll get to listen to a more current version of DOLL or Kagerō in the future. A more matured SCANDAL is also more about the music and not so much the image. I was quite happy they were not in costume as such. Obviously, for the past HW and the current arena tours, the random outfits were still contrived but I don’t really miss the feathers, glittery harlequin outfits, or what the hell they wore for the Asia tour in 2013!
Anyways, the SCANDAL arena show box is now ticked, and of all venues, it’s the Budōkan!
All but one of the photos have been screencapped from the WOWOW broadcast.
Nippon Budōkan Tōkyō 12.1.16 set: Image / 瞬間センチメンタル / DOLL / EVERYBODY SAY YEAH! / STANDARD / お願いナビゲーション / 本を読む / LIFE IS A JOURNEY / 少女S / 会わないつもりの、元気でね / おやすみ / Kill the virgin // ビターチョクレート / Winter story / Departure // 夜明けの流星群 / Your song / SCANDAL BABY / Sisters / ちいさなほのお // love in action / Stamp! / SUKI-SUKI / 太陽スキャンダラス
Nippon Budōkan, Tōkyō 13.1.16 set: Image / 瞬間センチメンタル / DOLL /EVERYBODY SAY YEAH! / STANDARD / お願いナビゲーション / 本を読む / LIFE IS A JOURNEY / 少女S / 会わないつもりの、元気でね / おやすみ / Kill the virgin // Winter story / Morning Sun / Departure // 夜明けの流星群 / Your song / SCANDAL BABY / Sisters / ちいさなほのお // love in action / Stamp! / SUKI-SUKI / 太陽スキャンダラス
Nihon-go for twirl. Kinda.
This gig review was first published on 無秩序の胃 16.1.2016.