Cover photo by Roman France.
Review by guest contributor Ciarrai Donnelly
Entering New York's notable downtown venue, the Bowery Ballroom, I was met by the familiar buzz of an eager crowd, excited but still patient, waiting for the show to start. The lights were low all over the house, leaving those up on the balconies in darkness, with the floor illuminated by a large, pink neon sign reading “End of the World” in cursive hanging over the small stage. Skeeter Davis's “End of the World” softly plays on repeat as the late arrivals hustle into the pink haze, pushing as close to the stage as they can get which, with no security barrier, is pressed right up against it. The old fashioned curtains and brass railings of the Ballroom, the neon sign, the people cheerfully chatting away while Davis croons overhead “...don't they know its the end of the world...” is positively dreamlike; and I seem to be the only one who doesn't know what's going on.
My relationship with Tokyo-based J-rock/pop band SEKAI NO OWARI is budding, a recent discovery, and as until last week they had never appeared in the Unites States I certainly have never seen them live. But their reputation preceeds them: an enormous and devoted worldwide fan base, three studio albums, a documentary, and sold out stadium concerts in world renowned theaters like the Nissan Stadium and Nippon Budokan. Their studio work, music videos, and live performances are famous for creative theatrical elements with elaborate and heavily stylized costumes, sets, and personas. So, I was frankly surprised when Bowery Ballroom was announced as the venue for their New York debut, and the final stop on their short American debut tour; an esteemed house of music of course, but a fraction of the size of Budokan, with a small stage not obliging to complex theatrics. The Ballroom turned out to be the perfect choice for a debut show: elegant and intimate, well known, and classically New York. The size of both the floor and the stage proved not to be a limit but an opportunity, showcasing the bands new aesthetic arrangements.
When the band hit the stage, the crowd loses it. The players include the four SEKAI NO OWARI members, Saori on piano, Fukase on guitar and lead vocals, DJ Love on the soundboard, and Nakajin on lead guitar, and two men clad in suits and what appear to be tapir head masks backing up on drums and base. The three male members all wear black tuxes and Saori sports a beautiful but simple black dress, a departure from their typical wild costumes; it's something more mature, even somber, but still maintaining their energy and edginess, matching the Ballroom's rock n' roll/classy art deco feel. They look like they belong there. With no introduction needed they jump right in, starting the night off right with “ANTI-HERO,” one of the band's latest singles, and an English version of “Monsoon Night” (my personal favorite of the night). The audience was having the time of their lives: singing and dancing, most notably during Saori's piano solos, and clapping and jumping at the command of DJ Love.
Now back from my travels, I use this now as a blog to document any live reviews, and personal experiences related to our collective passion for Asian identity and Chinese music.