Whew! Just got back from my second Puffy concert in a year - for anyone who's curious, click here for my previous lengthy report on last year's show at Irving Plaza. Also, for any Japanese speakers, my wife has posted her own short report from this concert (in Japanese) here.
I'll spare you most of the introductions - if you don't know who Puffy is by now, then feel free to read the intro in my previous report (and no, I'm not talking about "P. Diddy" or "Diddy" or "Dumbass" or whatever he's calling himself these days). They're at least a little bit more well-known in the US than they were even a year ago, so a full bio probably isn't necessary at this point.
Tonight's show was part of the River to River Festival in lower Manhattan. This festival began after 9/11/01 to help revitalize lower Manhattan by putting on a series of free concerts and cultural events to bring the visitors back. At that, it's been so successful that it's now in its fifth year. Puffy normally play small clubs in the US - dark, intimate settings that follow the standard club concert script. Lots of standing in line waiting, lots of standing on a hot club floor waiting, lots of suffering through an atrocious opening act, then more waiting, then finally, usually about 2 1/2 hours after the scheduled time, the headliner appears, plays for as long as they want, and the concert finally ends at around midnight or sometime after.
This is also true of most of Puffy's current US tour. Tonight's show was much different, in ways both good and bad. There was honest-to-god seating, for one thing! Take a look at the venue itself:
Like all the shows in this festival, there was no admission charge - which means no ticket stub to save for posterity! We got there a little after 5PM and got in line - and the line quickly grew behind us:
The gates opened a little after 6PM and my wife found us seats while I made a bee-line for the merchandise table, having heard that not only was the US version of their new album Splurge on sale 2 weeks before its street date, but the first 50 were autographed! Having scoped out the scene earlier, I knew exactly where to go, and found myself alone at the table where I easily got my grubby mitts on said autographed musical piece:
(A side note: the US version of this CD differs from its Japanese counterpart in many ways beyond the addition of "AmiYumi" to the artist name. The track listing is different [there is no "Basket Case" on the US release], the track order is different, and a couple of the Japanese songs are sung in English for the US release. Oh, and by the way, this album is incredible - easily ranks among their best, if not at the top of the list.)
Returning to find our seats, I discovered we had made it to the second row. Because there's about a seven foot gap between the front row and the stage at this venue, we were about as close as we were last year at Irving Plaza. There, the stage is close enough to the fans that the artists can reach out and touch them (as both Ami and Yumi did several times), so even though we were about 5 rows deep a year ago, we were no closer in the second row tonight. Still close enough to make out the gathering crows' feet around the eyes of the now-thirtysomething Ami and Yumi!
The show began on time, with no opening act - though there was no buildup of anticipation as at most shows. It was almost anti-climactic when Puffy appeared on stage:
Last year we were on Yumi's side - tonight, we were nearest Ami. Sort of just worked out that way - the front section on Yumi's side was reserved for VIP's, which must have made for a pretty boring show for her.
Because it was still daylight, there was no light show to speak of. As the skies darkened, things got somewhat more interesting and both the band and the crowd got more into it. I will say, though, that neither they nor the crowd ever really reached the frenzied level of Irving Plaza a year ago. No doubt part of it was the venue, as it kept the band at an artificial distance from the crowd (and kept much of the crowd seated, though those of us near the front did stand) and another part was the outdoor setting, which was large and open and not at all intimate. Whatever the reason, though, Puffy never quite made that direct connection with the crowd that they did almost immediately at last year's show.
I didn't have a pen but I made my best effort at memorizing the set list. If I've forgotten anything, please let me know - I do believe this list is complete, though the order may not be quite correct:
THAT'S THE WAY IT IS
CALL ME WHAT YOU LIKE
WILD GIRLS ON CIRCUIT
TOKYO I'M ON MY WAY
MOGURA-LIKE (yes, with the dancing!)
INTO THE BEACH
HI HI PUFFY AMIYUMI
BOOGIE WOOGIE #5
AJIA NO JUNSHIN
It was a short set, possibly because of the heat (it was really uncomfortable!) but leave a comment if you see them somewhere else and they play the same set. They may just be getting older and toning down their sets a bit - the Irving Plaza show seemed really long by comparison.
UPDATE: I've now confirmed that they cut two songs from the New York show - "Electric Beach Fever" and "Joining a Fan Club". The latter's no big loss, but I would have loved to have seen "Electric Beach Fever" live.
I thought the song selection was also a little strange in some cases - I know in Japan they're celebrating their 10th anniversary and so are playing lots of old stuff, but here I expected more from Splurge and less seemingly random stuff from Hi Hi and Illustrated History. I was pretty shocked (in a good way) to hear "Wild Girls on Circuit" - that song never gets a lot of attention here. I had also expected "Boogie Woogie #5" to be retired long before "Hajimari no Uta", the latter of which they played last year but not this year, even though it's on the album they're supposedly promoting!
Throughout the set, Ami and Yumi did their trademark shtick where they read a bunch of little stories about their recent days that they've written in English on little notepads. It seems obvious that neither one of them is comfortable enough speaking English on-the-fly yet. Their stories are sometimes a little more revealing than you'd probably want them to be, though I guess that's partly why they're popular (especially in Japan) - they really don't care what anybody thinks about them. Tonight, one of Ami's stories was about how she'd developed a rash that needed treatment. Another was about how she once left her fly open on stage (to which Yumi replied that she was laughing at her until she realized hers was open too). Yumi talked about going to a spa and getting a massage (adding in Japanese that she was totally naked).
Overall, it was a fun concert and they played and sang well - though it didn't have quite the energy of last year's show, for a variety of reasons. I appreciated just how freakin' efficient this show was compared to most, but I kinda hope they go back to the club circuit next time they visit NYC.
Musically, Puffy's still at the top of their game - but as they get older, and their social obligations mount as their energy level starts to drop off, you kind of wonder how much longer they're going to keep doing this. I hope it's a long time more, but it's rare for any Japanese musical act to last ten years - and they weren't sure originally that they were even going to last longer than one album!
I actually forgot to get any real photos of the crowd until everybody was leaving. It was a different crowd than last year - fewer kids (both the little kind and the teenagers), more adults, and more Americans. Probably bodes well for their longer-term success here. There were a lot of people there tonight too - I don't know how many people that venue can fit but it was pretty packed, including standing room. Kinda hard to tell from this but you can at least get an idea of the size of the area that was filled up:
I'll close by showing off a couple of the other tschotschkes available at the merchandise table - I didn't get everything (I really was just after the autographed CD) but I did get a shirt, and a "bonus" vinyl folder they were giving out.
T-shirt front emblem - the shirt's black but for this in the upper corner:
Puffy endorses piracy?!
Back of the shirt - I'm not too fond of this, but it was the only actual tour shirt they had (the other was a Splurge shirt, and it was white). Even a bit of bad English at the end (girls, if you need someone to proofread your shirts, I'll be happy to do it!):
Feel free to leave comments on anything - ask me questions, tell me about experiences at shows you've seen them at, or whatever else.