Monday, October 15, 2007

Rolling Debut Revue DVD... er, Review

Seems hard to believe now, but yes, there was a time not so long ago when Puffy was virtually unknown in North America - no different than current Japanese chart-toppers like Yui, Ayaka or Kimura Kaela. Nowadays, of course, they've still got residual recognition from the "Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi" show, and they've built up a small but rabid nationwide fan base through their music. Most of those fans know the story of their debut here - the 2000 SXSW appearance, the subsequent continent-wide tour two years later.

Not many of those people have probably had the chance to see anything of those shows, though, considering that Puffy only released the DVD chronicling their US/Canada "Rolling Debut Revue" tour in Japan. I've always thought that this was pretty strange - if we were gonna get any DVD released here, it should have been this one. That's compounded by the puzzling title screen labeled "Puffy AmiYumi" (their North American name) and the western nicknames given to the entire band. It almost seems like this was meant for a US release, but for whatever reason, it didn't happen.

In 2002, Puffy was gearing up for the release of Nice (releasing cover album The Hit Parade in the interim) as they prepared to head full steam into the Andy Sturmer era. It was definitely the beginning of an all-new, retooled Puffy, and one that probably seemed pretty unfamiliar to their Japanese fans. Completely gone were the cute, bubbly, innocent girls that Japan had come to know and love - in their place were two indie rock chicks, all grown up and with an edge that they'd never had before. Gone also were the matching outfits, the complicated hairstyles, the overt poppiness and commercialism (for now).

Even the cover of the disc (pictured at the top) is about as out there as it gets. Yes, that's the real cover - coffee stains and all.

Whether this was Puffy intentionally trying to appeal to a western crowd or just them finally being themselves is anyone's guess - it may have been a bit of both. What seems clear from this DVD, though, is that it took them a little time to figure out North American audiences. The disc opens with their performance at Irving Plaza in New York City (where I'd see them three years later), and they seem outright nervous. Not only has their image changed from Spike Daisakusen a year and a half earlier, but so has their carefree attitude - they rarely so much as crack a smile while on stage.

The disc hops around from city to city, covering at least a few of the 13 dates on the tour, though most of the actual concert footage is from Irving Plaza.

Here's the full track listing:

1. Umi Eto
2. Ajia no Junshin (English version)
3. Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi
4. Boogie Woogie No. 5
5. Atarashi Hibi
6. Your Love is a Drug
7. Akai Buranko
8. Puffy's Rule
9. Wild Girls on Circuit

You'll probably notice that the track listing is quite short compared to, say, Tour! Puffy! Tour! 10 Final. But wait! This is not strictly a live DVD - this is a tour chronicle. Unlike most Puffy live DVD's, it has a large amount of candid backstage and tour bus footage.

See! Ami eating both Dunkin Donuts and McDonald's. She's a fast food junkie.

See! Yumi complain about a sign at one venue that reads "Pufy Amyum".

See! Drummer Furuta's (aka "Rick") "sexy" birthday cake.

See! Ami and Yumi do Q&A and autograph signing at a dinky little record store. (I know, it's the vitally important indie music shop Amoeba Music; I've been there.)

Puffy's pre-"HiHi" US fans had a little different look to them!

See! The entire band posing in front of Niagara Falls.

See! Ami and Yumi getting used to sleeping on a tour bus.

See! The band jam in an informal backstage session.

See! Yumi ride a roller coaster (by herself?!)

And much, much more. Favorite moment of the disc for me: one of their American fans enthusiastically telling the camera that meeting Puffy was the "best day of her life". This was in 2002! Talk about otaku.

The Dunkin Donuts scene is actually kind of funny, because somebody (probably special guest Bleu) apparently chose a Dunkin' Donut for Ami to eat as one of Boston's representative foods, as if she's never had a donut before and as if Boston doesn't have anything better to offer. She of course forces out a fake-sounding "it's good!" even though she probably eats superior Japanese Mister Donut (or Doughnut Plant) donuts every day of her life. (Hey, if there's one thing I'm an expert on, it's donuts.) I wonder if somebody offered her a cup of Starbucks coffee when they went to Seattle.

In fact, it's these scenes that make this DVD worth owning. You're not going to see many of them turn up online (some of the concert footage has), and while a few individual live videos from this DVD were thrown onto the US release of Nice, none of the candid stuff made the cut. Puffy also look a lot more comfortable and relaxed in these scenes than they do in the concert footage, where they never really come out of their shell - in fact, through much of these shows, both Ami and Yumi are staring at the floor like a couple of early 90's British shoegazers.

These were not their best-ever performances. In fact, it was seeing some of this footage on the Nice album that set my expectations so low for my first Puffy concert in 2005 - expectations that they completely blew away. I know firsthand that they're capable of so much more than this. And I also know it from their other concert DVD's, all of which are more energetic and fun.

But the backstage stuff is fun, and it's the Puffy we all know. There, they seem to feel free to be themselves, and they're among friends. On stage, they're in an unfamiliar situation - playing small arenas to crowds that may or may not know their music. I will say that it's surprising to see how packed some of the venues are, given their name recognition here at the time. Who knows - maybe that scared them a little bit.

This kind of setup had to be intimidating to a couple of girls who are used to playing large arenas with raised stages and a ten foot buffer zone between the stage and the crowd.

No doubt they were also emotionally and physically drained by the tour, which Ami makes pretty clear in her goodbye speech on the last date in Toronto. A 5,000 mile bus tour is not something most Japanese acts ever have to deal with. The geography of Japan is such that, given a few days in between tour dates, a band can play a show and be home the same night for a couple days of R&R - almost regardless of where they're playing. Worst case, a Hyatt's never more than a dozen miles away.

It may not have been the best choice to feature one of the last performances of the tour (Irving Plaza) so heavily on the DVD.

I will say that there are a couple of tracks here that aren't often repeated on other live Puffy DVD's, so there's another good reason to seek this out. "Ajia no Junshin" in English? Don't think that even exists live anywhere else. "Your Love is a Drug" has similarly not been repeated to my knowledge. "Atarashi Hibi" is rare.

With everything taken together, this is a pretty interesting DVD - though uneven, rough around the edges, and definitely not their best pure live concert DVD. It works really well as a snapshot in a time of renewal - their metamorphosis from the vestiges of their old personas in Spike was now complete, but they didn't seem quite comfortable with where they were headed just yet. They did settle in nicely by the time I'd see them in 2005, so viewing this now only shows the promise of what's to come (it could have easily gone the other way, depending on what the future brought).

Watching it also helps explain their current habit of doing "mini-tours" in the United States, covering only one coast or the other. They were clearly worn down by the end of the Rolling Debut Revue tour - you can almost watch it as it happens here. They obviously learned a lot on this tour, and that's only helped their future performances here get better.

As usual, the DVD is locked to region 2, and it is 4:3, though my screen grabs came out at an odd 720x536 resolution, so it seems like it may actually be using the full horizontal and vertical resolution of the format. The picture quality is not bad, but it doesn't approach the level of the anamorphic and all-around excellent Tour! Puffy! Tour! 10 Final DVD.

Final grades:
Performance: C+
Disc Content: B
Production: B+

As I mentioned, there is some streaming video from this disc floating around the net. Unfortunately, it's divx video - I'll embed it here, but it won't work unless you have divx installed. (On the plus side, the quality is very good!) As always, I highly recommend buying the DVD, though this one is long out of print and was never an easy one to find.

Umi Eto

Akai Buranko

Atarashi Hibi


  1. I personally own the Rolling Debut Revue video on VHS and it was a great buy. I loved how Ami and Yumi mistook YMCA for YMCX. Seriously, what could the 'X' mean? I couldn't believe it when they played Ai no Shirushi when they were supposed to play Circuit no Musume and Yumi liteally freaked! It's my most favorite artwork for any Puffy video. It's simple, but I love it.

  2. I'm pretty sure the YMCX thing was intentional. Though I honestly don't remember too well at the moment :) But that was my impression as I was watching it.