Big In Japan Feat. Cibo Matto, Yellow Magic Orchestra and Yoko Ono Last Night
June 26, 2011
The Hollywood Bowl
Despite the huge, sophisticated venue, Big In Japan had all the trappings of a cheesy cultural show at Little Tokyo: paper lanterns lined the walkways; cherry blossoms were projected onto the bowl; and in between sets, kabuki and taiko drummers performed in full costume. That may have done something to play down the expectation for the bands performing that night. On one hand, there were all the ingredients of a full-on dance party. There were synthesizers and drum machines aplenty, from Buffalo Daughter's sonic collages; the DJ set by Deee-Lite DJ Towa Tei; the nostalgia trip via Cibo Matto and the techno prog pop of Yellow Magic Orchestra. Hell, even Yoko Ono's one-song appearance with the "We Are the World" flourish as a finale was probably conceived as a jumper!
Unfortunately, the audience at the Hollywood Bowl last night was a lot more sedate than I would've expected. There was a lot more wine sipping than dancing.
While I was admittedly most excited about Cibo Matto's reunion performance, the avant garde, Le Tigre prototype was kind of disappointing in the flesh--not because their performance was lackluster, but because it wasn't enough. The duo of Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori (later joined by a drummer and bassist) buzzed through a short set that had all the nostalgia triggers: "Sugar Water," "Beef Jerky," and "Know Your Chicken"--but it ended just as the audience was getting warmed up. Hatori kept asking why no one was dancing--it was probably because until Yellow Magic Orchestra came on, it felt more like a showcase of Japanese archetypes than a real concert.
Luckily, YMO lived up to their legendary reputation. Their performance was aural perfection, a perfect blend of math rock, electro pop and trancey beats--it was clean and tight, yet with enough space to lose yourself in. The band hasn't played in LA since 1979; after breaking up in 1984, they reunited in 2007 and has since played some reunion gigs. Last night, only a few of their songs sounded dated. The only blight in their otherwise masterful set? A guest spot by Yoko Ono, who yelped out "It's Been Very Hard" at the end of the YMO performance. We don't expect musical greatness from Yoko Ono (I love everything she's done and what she stands for), but placing her as a finale of another band's groundbreaking show seemed a little...disrespectful. I would've preferred the spotlight to stay on YMO. After she sang, YMO performed the Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye" and brought all of the night's performers onstage. Much like the cherry blossoms and Japanese lanterns, it was just a little bit cheesy, and was a little bit of a let down.
Critic's bias: I love most '90s feminist girl groups and their offshoots--Luscious Jackson, Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Sleater Kinney, Indigo Girls, etc.
Overheard: "I LOVE YOU!!!" -- Yoko Ono
Random Notebook Dump: YMO comparisons abound: Some songs sound like a more rockin' Air, or Battles with a horn player, or a poppier Pink Floyd. Other times, their songs sound like a montage for 1980s Japanese cartoons like Mazinger Z and Voltes V.