Utada in the Flesh 2010 – Concert Report

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!

Other notes:

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.

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Anime Instrumentality's Founder and Editor-in-Chief. As you can probably guess, I'm a big anime music junkie with a special love for composers who've put out some beautiful melodies to accompany some of my favorite anime series. I tend to gravitate towards music in the classical style with Joe Hisaishi and Yoko Kanno being a few of my favorite composers, but I've come to appreciate jazz and rock as anime music has widened my tastes.

16 thoughts on “Utada in the Flesh 2010 – Concert Report

  • January 21, 2010 at 11:36 pm
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    Very cool. I didn’t realize she had that big a following in the states. I’d love to see her live today. Did she just sing her english language songs?

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  • January 21, 2010 at 11:41 pm
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    Your focus on J-pop is exactly like mine.

    As you mentioned, concerts and live events are completely different from just listening at home due to actually being there in the crowd. I think it’s worth the ticket price just for that. However, the airplane ticket to get down there to LA along with the time needed is a whole another story for me.

    Also, I hate waiting in lines. I got almost all the autographs at Anime Expo, and the thing I remember most was just waiting in lines all day. Never again!

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  • January 22, 2010 at 12:01 am
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    @RP
    Both English and Japanese. The first 2-3 songs were in English and after that, she yelled out, “Are you ready for some Japanese songs???” (in English of course) :p

    And yeah, the line was kind of shocking. I knew the concert was sold out, but damn, seeing how packed it was was a real eye-opener. I think her other concerts in the US are also sold out.

    @Reltair
    Well, you could drive. It’s only 6 hours approximately to get down there! (I kid, of course. Having done my fair share of SoCal – NorCal trips, those can be pretty draining). And yeah, the ticket price was about the amount you’d pay for AX admission. More worthwhile I think since it got me 2 hours of music. Good music at that, so I was quite pleased.

    Yeah, I made that mistake once of waiting in AX lines too. Then I went into hardcore planning mode so I could minimize the line-waiting and actually have some fun at the Con.

    @bhive
    Thanks!

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  • January 22, 2010 at 7:55 pm
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    Umm … that photo is NOT from LA … its from the Seattle show last night!

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  • January 22, 2010 at 10:40 pm
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    She must have been really good if you enjoyed the concert even though you were not a fan going into it.

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  • January 22, 2010 at 11:21 pm
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    @erwin
    Wow, now I feel silly. Thanks for catching that and letting me know! Edited for good measure.

    @Yi
    Yup, not a fan, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the few songs of hers that I’ve listened to. And even then, the quality of the songs that she sang live outpaced the songs I’ve heard her on CD recordings.

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  • January 25, 2010 at 3:31 am
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    The “Happy Birthday” moment sounds like it’s something to remember. Not a big fan but I do enjoy her songs every now and then. 🙂

    Loved her “Beautiful World” for EVA’s ending.

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  • January 25, 2010 at 1:13 pm
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    @blur
    Yup, it’s definitely a special moment and one that will never be forgotten!

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  • January 26, 2010 at 12:22 am
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    FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

    I recall seeing this a while back on ANN and I made a mental note to buy tickets for this… As my reaction shows, all did not go well.

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  • January 27, 2010 at 12:48 pm
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    Ouch, yeah, I only lucked out because a relative reminded me about the whole deal and I decided “why not?” And it was certainly a worthwhile concert to go to. The only thing lacking was “Flavor of Life.” Having that would have totally made the night more awesome.

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  • January 28, 2010 at 1:39 am
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    Just happened upon your site after viewing The Nihon Review — have to say I’m very impressed with this report.

    First of all, I’d like to ask where you stood at the concert. I myself was attending (along with two friends), and we were standing in the middle of dance floor closer toward the left side (facing the stage). There are just a few things I’d like to point out about the concert:

    While I agree that Utada herself performed greatly, and that I absolutely loved pretty much everything about the concert (considering I myself was unfamiliar with her songs when I attended the concert), I found the crowd’s attitude to be somewhat off-putting. Although you could feel the energy from the crowd (such as when the time when everyone was cheering for an encore), I was extremely surprised and disappointed by the lack of movement from the crowd. At times there were just a few hands up in the air, and many people attending seemed to be content with just standing around. They were also very rude to the DJ that was playing before Utada’s arrival on stage, and I sort of felt like the overall experience would have been better had the crowd set the mood more so than Utada’s voice.

    All in all, I loved the concert. But I do think there’s something curious about a supportive crowd that, arguably, may be reluctant to get into the music when not at home. Or, perhaps, the cross-section of Utada fans in the US happens to have an abnormally high number of more introverted otaku (and/or others involved in subculture) that may not be able to express their emotion through their bodies. From what few videos I’ve seen of concerts in Japan, it seemed like there was a sharp difference.

    Thanks for the blog.
    ~Ky

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  • January 28, 2010 at 2:54 am
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    @Kylaran
    Hey, thanks for dropping by! Good observations overall and here are my thoughts on the questions you posed:

    I was standing in that middle section on the right corner (if you face the stage) of the boxed area where the people handling the sound system were at. Good view, though there was one sound guy that was going in and out, but that wasn’t too big of a deal.

    As for the crowd, yeah, they were rude to the DJ who was there before. I think part of that had to do with the fact that it was getting late and people were just getting a bit impatient in waiting for Utada to make an appearance. Without prior experience in these kinds of shows, I thought that the concert would start at about 9pm, and if people thought the same as I did (and that’s a big IF), then I can sympathize somewhat with their impatience if not the resulting behavior.

    In terms of the crowd moving along with the music, it’s an interesting observation since I haven’t attended a concert like this that I can make comparisons (nor have I watched videos of other concerts of a similar nature), and though the energy was there, its expression wasn’t blatantly visible. Strange way to put it, I know. Maybe it was because of the people I was standing next to, but while I didn’t see hands waving or body movement in sync with the music, I could see quite a few people quietly singing along with Utada when a song that they were familiar with came up. I don’t know if they were actually singing or just mouthing the lyrics, but in either case, the manifestation of their energy is more… subtle I guess?

    So yes, it may be because of the subtleness of that expression as well as the personality of those concertgoers that toned down the level of fan-expression at the concert. Utada Hikaru, in the US at least, tends to attract a certain demographic moreso than in Japan where she has near-universal appeal. I’d hesitate to say that makes up the entirety of the fan-reaction that you saw, but I suspect it’s a large portion of it.

    In any case, thanks for your thoughtful comment!

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  • January 30, 2010 at 1:19 am
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    Hm yes live sure feels good, even more so when the performer is involved in playing instruments for him/herself. I don’t usually go to them but have been to one lately and it’s an amazing experience. Sad that all these lives (that I wanted to go to) are happening in Japan and all the oversea fans will just have to miss out =/

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  • January 30, 2010 at 2:06 pm
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    @depthcharge101
    Oh how I’d love for an opportunity to see Nana Mizuki live. Doesn’t look like it’ll happen unless I make the journey all the way to Japan.

    Reply
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