Pop Cult: Kyary is Live and there’s nothing you can do about it
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (All Photos by Daniel Ahrendt)
It is the day before Valentine’s Day 2014 and there is a mutli-aged, multi-colored line of people winding around Downtown Seattle. Gawking passerby’s are taking a few pictures, but not as many as the fans themselves. Each costume represents a different aspect of J-Pop fashion pop icon Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s aesthetic, from her innocent “Pon Pon Pon” days to her Little Nemo redux getup in “Mottai Night Land”. Costuming is not restricted to the young, there are many middle-aged men and women in meticulously designed apparel. In fact, there’s a noticeable lack of confused, plain-clothes chaperones; why would you need a chaperone for this show anyways, Kyary is the best babysitter.
The Showbox is kind of a smoky den of live music, much bigger than it initially seems. The set design for tonight’s show isn’t a full-on transformation. There are some oversized books, a large kid’s bed and a giant, illuminated bear, but nothing you probably can’t disassemble/deflate in less than an hour and pack into a truck. Compact kawaii constructions. As the crowd fills in and the people in the wilder costumes push their way to the front, an absurdly gentle tune played by a music box wafts over the PA.
The show starts with a countdown and a rush of color. Along with the night’s point of focus, four young looking dancers prance out looking like 8-bit fairies. They look like her friends the Tempura Kidz, but I’m informed by my friend that they are not the real Kidz; the originals are still in Japan, unable to obtain performance visas or something. I am left wondering if there is a cadre of spunky kids pocketed all over the world, who are just as talented and exciting as the Tempura Kidz. Why aren’t they all famous? Why isn’t every single pop act hiring these simulacrum Kidz? Kyary Pamyu Pamyu immediately lets the crowd know she is all business as the brusque distorted drops of “Invader Invader” blast through the speakers. I stop thinking about the Kidz.
The stage has a giant, plastic teddy bear tucked near the back. I hope this bear comes to life.
The bouncer guarding the 21+ area is doing some overtly slapstick rubbing of his eyes, in pure disbelief that something like “this” is a “thing” kids will pay to see. Is it really hard to believe that people are interested in things that are catchy and are visually interesting and take a little work to engage with? Talk to even the youngest Kyary Pamyu Pamyu fan (well, not the youngest as there are a few babes in arms at the show) and they’ll affirm that they know she doesn’t write her own songs, or even style her own clothes. But they know that it’s also about personality, about how the clothes are worn, how the goofy faces are made, about how there is a genuine, transparent desire to be an entertainer and be good at that, that makes them relate to the young starlet. The world is not lacking in talent that plays music and is visceral and real and certified organic. The world also only has one Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
For the first intermission There is a large, tweaked out bunny rabbit in a top hat playing hide-and-seek with a pre-rendered, animated video. It kind of looks like the monster in the “Furisodeshon” video but a lot cheaper. This is obviously to fill time during the costume change but it is still kind of freaking me out.
Halfway through the second act, a new person in costume appears. It is a bear costume, and it looks like the giant, illuminated bear in the back. That’s a fair compromise. But now I wish this man in the bear costume illuminated. I wish they had the technology or foresight to bridge this gap in expectations I have. I’m at a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu concert, and I’m allowed to have selfish concerns.
The second act includes her cover of “Super Scooter Happy” which I never realized was a truly certifiable dancefloor jam. Also she performs her newest song, “Yume no Hajima Ring Ring”, a melodic graduation song reminiscent of the bittersweet, echoy tones of my favorite single, “Candy Candy”. The chorus starts with a joyous shout of “Goodbye teacher! My friends”, which everyone in the audience knows to jump up and down at, even though the single at this point in time had yet to be released. That is why this is a good show, people have done their homework.
I’m glad she chose to perform “Saigo no Ice Cream”. I listened to a stupid review of Nandacollection that called out “Icecream” as a low point on the album. That statement was downright silly, as anyone with half an eardrum could tell that “Icecream” was a major leap forward in her musical development and was one of the most energetic tunes on the album. The little organ flourish in the beginning still sends shivers down my spine. This song is really good, and that internet guy is really dumb.
Kyary is taking time to sing some of these songs. For many of the songs she is performing, there is a pretty hefty backing track where the lead vocal is studio perfect. It’s her pre-recorded voice for most of the night. But on more than a handful of tunes, she is actually projecting her live voice through the speakers, which I must admit was unexpected. But hey! I’ll take it. It’s charming. Not really important, but charming.
I can tell the end is coming because now she is going through all her older songs. “Tsukema Tsukeru”, “Cherry Bon Bon”, “Pon Pon Pon”. I am doing the dances for these songs by reflex, but so is everyone else. There is a middle aged Asian woman in a frog costume, her hand flippers wave wildly when she is doing the eyelash dance for “Tsukema Tsukeru”. The Showbox has turned into the happiest Hieronymus Bosch painting ever. Actually that’s a pretty good way to describe her entire image.
And with an encore, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s live performance is over. It’s 9:30, she’s wearing bunny ears and the shirt for her tour. People are sweaty, but it’s mostly girls so there’s not that strange convention center smell that you usually get a whiff of when entering realms of intense fandom. Some of the hometown loli’s took of their tall heels. Her dancers seem really tired. Maybe they’ll pick up new ones in San Francisco. She performed a good 75% of her entire catalog, “Candy Candy” is still my favorite. As a farewell she takes a picture with the crowd behind her, and then a large human clog develops near her merch table. Matta ne, Kyary.