Going into this concert, I can’t really claim to have much in the way of knowledge of Hikaru Utada or many of her works. My particular focus on J-pop is mostly confined to whatever is packaged with anime series or video game music so in this instance, her work on the Kingdom Hearts franchise is about all that I’m familiar with. Still, after listening to this performance, I can see why she is held in such high regard. That she composes her own music and writes the lyrics herself is already something that earns my respect. When you combine that element with her ability to sing live, I can’t help but be impressed by her completeness as an artist.
I should not have been surprised when I saw the line snake around the block right in front of the House of Blues on LA’s Sunset strip. After all, it had been about three years since she last performed in LA and people were looking forward to seeing what slate of songs she would be singing this time around. On my end, this concert would be a new experience since not only would I be introduced to more of Hikaru Utada’s repertoire, it would also be the first time I’ve attended a concert where it was standing room only.
The line was pretty long, comparable to her Seattle concert shown above (photo courtesy of @erwinwijanto)
You could feel the excitement brewing once you entered the venue. A few of her fans had brought posters wishing her a happy birthday which made the event feel all the more special. Gradually, more and more people filed in until it was pretty jam-packed, and there wasn’t anything left to do other than to wait. After what seemed like forever, the band finally got into place, and Utada started off with “Opening – Crossover” and show went under way.
I was pretty much lost at this point because I wasn’t familiar with her songs, but then again, I didn’t really care. Her performance was absolutely entrancing. Whether it was because of the venue or the crowds bringing out the right atmosphere, I felt that the pieces she sang had a greater level of expressiveness than the ones that I’ve randomly stumbled across. Just hearing the little flourishes that she puts in here and there made me enjoy the performance a whole lot more.
Even the songs that I did recognize sounded a bit better. “First Love” felt like it had just a bit more emotion put into it, and I could feel the sense of longing that the song’s lyrics conveyed. Her rendition of “Simple and Clean” (this was one of the encore pieces) was also solid with its boldness, energy, and optimism.
This was definitely different from the J-pop concerts that I’ve been to at Anime Expo in that it was more polished (no surprise) and as a result, yielded an awesome experience. Live performances always seem to offer much more than what the CDs are capable of delivering upon because of the atmosphere and the crowd experience, and this concert was no exception. Utada Hikaru fans will derive a lot of satisfaction out of this, but even for neophytes like myself, it was fantastic, and I would highly recommend going if you’ve the time!
There was one segment where Utada Hikaru sang and played on the keyboard. No, I unfortunately don’t remember which song it was. Yes, what she was playing wasn’t that complex and shouldn’t be that amazing, but it was a nice touch all the same since many artists don’t have any talent beyond just singing.
The musicians played “Happy Birthday” and she jokingly joined in. It was silly, yes, but I really liked that moment. A serious business concert just wouldn’t be fitting.