After a long 7 year hiatus from the stage and limelight, Akina is back.
21st Dec 2016 at Yokohama Bay Hotel Tokyu
Her 8 Dinner Shows were all sold out in 1 min and she added another 3 shows, not only because of demand, but my dear friend Leslie said that she received many requests from her celebrity fan/friends that they can’t travel to Yokohama and could she perform in Tokyo, which she did on the 16th Dec, which was two shows before this.
I have read a few reports from fans on blogs, Facebook, tweets, and then Leslie’s glowing report whose quote was taken out for a media article on her Dinner Show performance. The anticipation has not only been built up from the moment we dreamt of her comeback since she went on hiatus, to the announcement of these shows, then to my decision to seize this incredulous opportunity to come, and finally to all of us flying from Singapore, HK and Sydney (myself), so that we could be there last night to watch her live.
I was strangely calm in the lead up to the show while I watched my fellow friends get rather nervous and exhilarated. There was a certain serenity in that it didn’t matter how she performed or where we were seated, just to be there for this special moment was enough. As Daniel mentioned, the anticipation is sometimes better than the real thing, just like when they say in life that the journey is better than the outcome, because that’s it. The End – and then we move onto another goal in life.
After blasting Vampire and Fixer in the hotel room that we booked in preparation for the concert and so that we could put all our belongings, we walked down to the entrance of the ballroom. There were already close to about 100 fans decked out in glory awaiting for the doors to open. We saw the promotional poster on the stand not far from the entrance and proceeded to take a couple of photos next to it, ignoring the stares of the well dressed Japanese fans who probably found us both bewildering and amusing at the same time. After all, this was a show in Yokohama, which is considered as one of the most expensive places to live in Japan. We were rather excited unlike the rather subdued crowd, and burst out laughing when Dan suggested that we pose like her in the photo which he did in perfection, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.
“Please queue up and show your tickets upon entering”, ushered one of the hotel management staff. We walked through, found our ticket numbers at the back, and discovered that 4 of us were seated on Table 8 (Row 2) and another 3 on Table 30 (Row 6) and finally Marcus who came late and sat by himself near the end of the ballroom. They were great seats. We bought a couple of merchandise and CDs (mainly for the poster) and then walked into the ballroom to our seats.
The dinner was a fancy and delicious French fare, which the Japanese loved and they were playing her Belie and Concert DVD promotional commercials over and over until the sounds of 「FIXER – While The Women Are Sleeping – 」blared through the speakers much like Madonna opening her Rebel Heart Tour with Michael Jackson’s 「Can’t Stop Till You Get Enough」, which you will understand why I make this reference later. We roared in unison with exhilaration.
As the song neared its end and transcended seamlessly into a new arrangement of the opening strings of 「Rojo」, we knew that we were going to see the screen split into half with a silhouette of her appear with the backlights, just like how we’ve seen one of the photos taken secretly by a fan. The screen opened up and our Queen was there. The moment was inexplicable. She was standing there with her left hand on her waist and the other holding the mic, stationary for a good one minute or so while the screams and cheers reached fervent levels. She just stood here and moved her face around in her jewelled mask, entering a masquerade scanning the crowd. Then she moved her arms in her usual classy and highly choreographed fashion that we’ve known her for, and it was the perfect opening and it would have been so good if she had done that for her 紅白歌合戦 performance in 2014. She was wearing a black jewelled top with a black veil from the top of her head. Her hair was like how she did it in 歌姫 concert at Parco in 1994 and the dress was an elegant pink ball gown with black veil over it, just like the final outfit for her Last Destination concert but this was a full dress to the ground.
Fans were tearing up as she started her first few notes and I was just in awe. She was in command of the stage and the entire audience and we were all there just for her. She sang 「Rojo」and at the end of the song, removed the mask in the most dramatic fashion lifting it from her face and slowly with her hands stretched out straight into the sky, much like how Momoe did it when she lifted up the mic for the final time before setting it down in her farewell concert. Her fans roared and screamed in approval. She moved into「ひらりーSAKURAー」and she was again in good control of her voice, but she hadn’t let loose. She hit every note perfectly and you could tell that she was nervous but wanted to put on a good show for her fans.
After the songs came the MC. She apologised for being away for so long and then introduced the two songs that she sang. She said that the food at the hotel was very good (and it was) and that she hoped that her performance is as good as the dinner tonight.
She talked about her 紅白 performance of「Rojo」, and how she regretted that performance. It was all so last minute and she didn’t have time to plan. She knows that her fans would have liked her to sing live on NHK Hall, but she was concentrating on recording her new albums, so she couldn’t make back to Tokyo. She was anxious about what to sing because there were different calls for her to sing an old song, a medley or her new song. She said that she read the news reports after which were rather negative and how many didn’t like it, but she couldn’t tell what it was like while she was performing because there was no TV projection, so she couldn’t see herself in the studio. After she read the reports, she watched the video recording and she said “Yes, I agree with all of you that it was no good”. The crowd roared in laughter. Akina was back to her self-deprecating humorous self that we love her for.
She also talked about 「ひらりーSAKURAー」and how it was her first sakura themed song (or rather single – because we all know she had sung sakura themed songs before). She liked the song and they tried to make it a hit, but it didn’t turn out to be one (more laughter from the crowd). She also joked about her Faithway fan club membership which she joked that “You must think it is pointless to join the fan club, but it isn’t”. She also answered a couple of fan calls by saying Thanks and even twirled around when a longtime fan Nagai-san asked her to show us her beautiful dress.
She talked a little about the album FIXER which I think was more to do with introducing the next song「Rebirth」which is the final song from the album and the only ballad that she sang. She teared up midway during the song and you could tell she was crying but she wasn’t singing in sorrow. She sank onto the floor in her pink like she did in her 2001 concert but got back up effortlessly in her 5 inch platforms. It was almost like a true Akina rebirth.
At the end of this song, she moved stage right and her staff removed the ball gown and revealed tights underneath. the outfit reminded me both of Cher’s dress at the 1988 Oscars when she won for Moonstruck, a modern Catwoman and the veil from the top of her hair making her look like Anita Mui’s 妖女 image.
She sang 「気絶するほど悩ましい」(a cover song from Char in the 70s) from her newly released 「Vampire」 album. It was beautifully sung and during the MC, she said that her brother introduced this song to her when she was young and she thought it was a really cool song. We have all read about how happy she was to receive the approval to sing this song, and it was a difficult song to sing since it felt like 2 or 3 different songs in one, but she did well.
She introduced her new album「Belie」and talked about the cover album a little, and then said “But I’m not singing any songs from that album (to more laughter)”. She mentioned the new release「Vampire」and she said that she shot the cover as it is because she wanted to create impact when it is displayed at the CD stores. She wanted people to be shocked when they see that, but then was just told by her staff that it is sold out, so her idea of it being displayed in stores fell through (more laughter from the crowd). She also said that her makeup is getting thicker and thicker with every show, so please don’t come too close to her, or you may get a fright too! LOL.
「あゝ無情」is one of my favourite songs from Ann Lewis, so when I learned that she was going to sing this song on「Vampire」, which I adore her version, and then also live, I was almost dying of anticipation. All of those expectations were exceeded in her live version. Her vocal chords have opened by then and she gave a flawless rendition of that song. OMG! OMG! Her voice is back!! There wasn’t a break and her live performance was better than the analog recording on the vinyl. She did a few kicks which you could tell she has relaxed and she truly looked like she was enjoying herself. I was also very amazed that when she started the chorus, the audience knew exactly where to cheer her on with a “Hey Hey” after the first two verses of the chorus and then “du-du-du-du” right before the climax. It was so FUN!!
She moved into the next cover song Linda Yamamoto’s「どうにもとまらない」and her voice control was perfect. You could tell that she had gone through vocal training and she sang all the notes in one go. Perfect! I was in awe of her and she moved so well, and truly let go and danced like she was in a 70s disco lounge to close off the song.
She exited the stage and the screens resumed playing instrumental versions of 4 MVs from Belie while she refreshed and changed off stage. It was also a good opportunity for fans to go relieve and freshen themselves up. The break was about 5-10 minutes and the strings to the Sex and the City theme song started. She entered the stage once again in the most beautiful shocking pink trench-coat that I’ve ever seen her in. The dress reminded me like she just walked out of a scene from the movie 「Umbrellas from Cherbourg」and she moved to the beat of 「The Heat」. This was the 30 minute 13 song medley that I have been waiting for.
I had watched her twice before but they have always been her「Empress」concerts in 2005 and 2009 where she sang cover songs from other artistes, so this was my virgin experience of listening her sing her hits live – her must sing setlist for her fans. This was followed by 「落花流水」,「オフェリア」,「愛撫」with a new arrangement which is so good, 「花よ踊れ」and「原始、女は太陽だった」before she did another costume change on stage. When she hit the high notes of「落花流水」, the crowd roared in loud applause. Her voice was back to the condition she had in the 90s. I have watched her straining to hit the notes on TV but this time, she did it with perfect control and power. She did that with all the other songs, especially 「原始、女は太陽だった」which I don’t really like listening to on CD, but her live rendition rendered me speechless.
She moved to the right of the stage, removed her pink trench-coat to reveal an extremely sexy green sheer outfit, of which the pattern reminded me of that infamous Jennifer Lopez dress that she wore to the Grammys. Akina’s version was elegant and sexy with a see through sheath running from her shoulders down the her side of her entire body, shaped the way the slit runs down Elizabeth Banks body in the Showgirls movie poster. She clipped another veil of the same material to her hair and moved like she did for「AL-MAUJ」
She updated her dance moves to「TATTOO」and it was Akina back in the 80s but her vocals in the 90s. She continued with「APPETITE」and at one point, she lowered herself and got after, after which we realised from Daniel’s account that she fell but recovered really quickly with slight embarrassment but she is such a pro. Who could walk in those 5 inch platforms, let alone dance like she did. She moved on effortlessly through to「ミ・アモーレ」and her three final calls of アモーレ, アモーレ, アモーレ had all of us on the edge of our seats but she delivered it in POWER!! Akina is back to reclaim her Queen status and crown which she really never lost but proved to everyone that she has truly returned.
The SATC music started again and this time it was the intro to「飾りじゃないのよ涙は」. Everyone knew the lyrics to all the songs from now on and were singing along. When the first recognisable strings of「十戒（1984）」appeared, I started crying. She did her signature 90 degree band and the crowd went wild. It reminded me of her confident 1984 紅白 performance which I love. She sang「TANGO NOIR」next and danced like she did in the 80s and then when the first verse of「少女A」commenced, there was no singing from her at all. She had momentarily forgotten the lyrics, probably because she was having so much fun. She made some mumbling voices tu-du-di-du, quickly apologised for forgetting the lyrics and then hit it right. She apologised again at the end of the song, but I was really happy that she missed the lyrics because it showed that though she had sung to a minus one recording, there was no backup vocal tape, so it was all live, and she was just so amazing.
We all knew that meant that「DESIRE -情熱-」was next and it was the end of the one and a quarter hour Dinner Show. We didn’t want it to end but we were ready to cheer her on this final song. She definitely showed who was the best performer of this song, and NHK, if you’re watching this, invite her right now to deliver this song as part of a medley, because the young need to know she is the true Queen and no one else comes close.
She said Thank You and wished we had all enjoyed a nice evening before the final chorus of「DESIRE -情熱-」and ended the song and the evening on a high note, belting and dragging out the final lyric Burning Love … in perfect fashion.
I gave her a standing ovation with a few others, many mindful not to disrupt the crowd behind but I couldn’t care less. She had given the best live performance I’ve seen her do and this tops all the live concerts that she’s had since 「FELICIDAD」and maybe even bettered that. This was one show I could watch 7 times again and again. She blew a huge kiss to everyone before she made her final exit and we chanted AKINA AKINA before the lights came up, signifying the end of the show.
We were all in awe. Her performance tonight definitely belied her 51 years of age. She looked so GENKI, sang and moved so well. You could tell that the 30 minute medley was draining but her vocals never let up. How could someone so skinny with such a small waist be so powerful in her singing? She chats like a mouse but when she sings – OMFG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Especially near the end of the medley right where she thanked the audience.
I kept wondering what the wait staff were thinking of her. Eugin had spoken to some of them who said that they were amazed that the tickets were sold out in 1 minute and they probably thought we were all weird taking all kinds of photos (from the menu to the food etc), but deep down in my heart, I can’t help but believe they couldn’t not have been impressed by her professionalism and artistry.
The break has definitely done her good, not only from the perspective of her vocals but you could tell that she picked up good tips from Madonna’s Rebel Heart concert with the opening animation intro to the graphics projected behind her while she sang the medley. It was perfect. The outfits were all fantastic with a rousing tick of approval, and we are harsh critics.
For the next hour, we couldn’t stop talking about the concert, comparing notes and all still in awe from the experience. We met up with Leslie over a late supper and he shared how he and the celebrities on the 16th were all so impressed by her AURA. That’s the right word for it. He said that he had worked with so many artistes like Namie and Ayu for so many years, but no one comes close to Akina. It’s a special aura and Akina has it. He has a couple of young friends who have never listened to Akina before but came to the concert interested to see why he said in many interviews that if there is one more artist that he wants to photograph, that it is Akina, and they walked away very impressed.
This is the best pre-birthday present that anyone could wish for and I am so elated that I got to spend it with Akina and my gorgeous friends who came along to share this very memorable night that we will never ever forget.