As you’ve probably already heard, J-pop singer LiSA was in the States this past weekend as a guest at Anime Expo, invited, no doubt, for her Angel Beats! and Fate/Zero involvement. Because this was my first chance to hear a J-pop idol talk and perform, I was pretty excited about her visit, even though I expected her to be your generic j-pop idol, mediocre singing and everything. At last, I would get to see one of the names in my music library in the flesh, a rare occurrence indeed.
As things turned out, my expectations for her were more or less met square-on. The panel the day before the concert more or less proved this, especially when question time rolled around. Her answers to all of the usual questions were all short and standard. (Well, short in the content sense. She stumbled along lengthily in broken English and Japanese in an endearing sort of way). Apparently, she used to be shy until her mother forced her to participate in musicals, enjoyed her role as Yui’s singing voice in Angel Beats, drew inspiration from Green Day, Avril Lavigne, and Blink 182, tries to infuse her songs with her emotions, and really likes the barbequed steak in America. As expected, nothing particularly deep or shocking, although I didn’t expect such a thin idol to heartily endorse steak. Perhaps the most interesting question was from a guy who asked her about her experiences providing the voice bank for a new Vocaloid, IA. After an awkward and confused silence, someone shouted “No, that’s Lia!” and the asker was booed off the stage. Ouch. He has my condolences for being only one letter off.
Altogether, the panel was a little disappointing because of how shallow the questions and the answers were. I guess this wasn’t too much of a surprise, given how there wasn’t much time to cram in a lot of questions and how LiSA had to painstakingly piece English words together or run things through a translator. Besides, she’s a pop idol. I should have known better than to expect deep, well-thought out responses in a panel packed full of devoted fans. Oh well. At least we were also treated to a preview of her new album, a plus for anyone who really loves her singing.
Speaking of her singing, the concert, too, had its strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately for LiSA, the AX staff really dropped the ball when it came to the sound balance. After hearing the same issues at the Yuki Kajiura concert the previous night, I hoped that they would be fixed by the time it was LiSA’s turn. Alas, it was not to be. All through the concert, there were assorted sound artifacts including buzzing, odd echoes, and even microphone screeches. Even worse was that the instrumentals were so loud it became difficult to hear LiSA sing. Part of the problem might have been that the concert was held in an empty exhibit hall as opposed to a theater. Exhibit halls are generally not built with acoustics in mind, so this might’ve contributed to the buzzing and sound distortions. Also, the flat floor made it all but impossible for me, a person of average height, to see anything without doing an awkward raised squat while craning my neck uncomfortably. Needless to say, my stamina and personal dignity prevented me from keeping that pose up for very long. Fortunately the staffers did put up large screens to the sides of the stage, on which close-ups of the performers were projected. So while I didn’t end up seeing as much of LiSA “in the flesh” as I would’ve liked, I could still see what was going on without creeping out everyone around me with weird posture.
As far as her singing went, the program featured a mix of songs from her new album and selections from Angel Beats! (“My Soul, Your Beats!,” “Ichiban no Takaramono,” and “Crow Song”), Fate/Zero (“Oath Sign”), and the upcoming OP for Sword Art Online (“Crossing Field”). Her sound and style was more or less the same as in her recorded Angel Beats! and Fate/Zero songs – that is, mediocre. One thing I’ve learned from listening to her is that she only has two settings, soft, and loud, with a large bias towards loud. With such a limited selection, she wasn’t able to make any of the songs stand out emotionally, as all she could do was pretty much shout into the microphone.
This was especially apparent during her rendition of the ballad “Ichiban no Takaramono”, in which her binary volume settings mangled the quiet, emotional atmosphere. It also didn’t help that her vibrato was lacking and that she couldn’t sustain the volume on the high notes. Another issue I noticed is that she also can’t hit a pitch without sliding into it. This ended up turning all of the songs into pitch-coasters instead of the collection of discrete notes they were supposed to be. (Well, I have to give it to her that she was more in-tune than I expected, at least.) All of these problems were augmented by the very generic composition of each song, causing the music to blend into one long stretch. From this long list of problems it might sound like I hated the concert, but no, I’m happy that I attended. As it turned out, her strength, as it is with most pop idols, is in her image and ability to entertain, not her singing talent.
And man, LiSA really knew how to wind up the audience. Compared to FictionJuntion and Kajiura from the night before, LiSA was bouncing all over the place, leaping up and down, waving her arms, and headbanging in sync with the rest of her band. Her energy was infectious. I found that I started focusing more attention on what she was up to than the sounds coming out of her mouth, a good thing too as I would’ve gotten bored very quickly.
Besides dancing around animatedly, she’d also shout out to the audience periodically, screaming things like, “I LOVE EHRRRR-EYYYY” which received uproarious applause in response. There was one routine which she was particularly fond of where she’d yell “WHAT’S UP IN DE FROOOONT?” (cue people in front cheering), “WHAT’S UP IN DE BAAAACK?” (cue people in back cheering), “WHAT’S UP EHRRR-EYYYY!” (cue entire crowd breaking into screaming, clapping, and stamping fits). One of her selections, “WiLD CANDY” from her LOVER “S” MiLE album, even involved teaching the audience a little dance routine to go along with the music. In any case, her broken English was charmingly cute, and it wasn’t hard to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the fans in the crowd as they went bonkers over the performance. It became easy to let go of my prudish music criticisms and to just appreciate the hullabaloo and excitement.
Overall, as you’ve probably gleaned by now, while I have a low opinion of LiSA’s singing talent and her musical performance at AX, I had a good time watching her antics and enjoying the hyped-up atmosphere. For me, it was definitely more about the novelty of seeing an idol onstage and getting pumped up with the rest of the audience, probably the whole point of a pop idol performance in the first place.