PENICILLIN 20th Anniversary Semi-Final at Akasaka BLITZ
The bombastic semi-final for PENICILLIN’s “20th ANNIVERSARY COUNTDOWN MONTHLY LIVE” rocked Akasaka BLITZ with the 1998 album Ultimate Velocity and some other nostalgic coupling numbers.
The show started with pomp, trumpets, and a marching band theme catching BLITZ of guard. Without warning, the curtain fell to the ground, revealing the band onstage. PENICILLIN are nothing if not fashionable. Black, red, and white were the predominant colors for the skimpy outfits the members had put together. Chisato wore a long black Chinese dress patterned with a simple gold dragon and with slits up either side to the waist, letting his leather garters and white thighs tease as he kicked and spun. O-JIRO opted for a casual black jumper adorned with red crosses. HAKUEI looked outrageously trashy in his fleshy, red-lipped white shirt, tasseled leather short-shorts and a long, harlot-red fur coat with diamante cross on the back, topped by a matching hat with long red feathers.
The impact of the first three songs took the hall for a ride by starting slowly with the epic ballad “Chikyuu” and its lulling beat and catchy lyrics. The final guitar riff made a seamless transition to “CRASH,” a race to fast guitar solos and steady drums. The dancing heated up to the funky “anti beauty” and its hot piano and bass. The vocalist was at his best, rising and lowering his voice, whispers turned into cutting growls that would set your hair on end. PENICILLIN gave their guests a few minutes to recover with a witty chat. “If this year were a live, these 13 days would only be the opening number. There is a lot more to come!” HAKUEI assured with a casual grin. “But we’ll make a blast-off today!” “Rosetta” ignited the fuse. Like machineguns, the drums blasted powerfully, HAKUEI ready for war as he dangerously swung the mic stand over his shoulder. A music box in the background caused the song to halt, only to burst out with even faster drums and explosive guitar riffs. The ingenious rhythms of “love & peace” toned things down to a sharper intensity, support artist NAOMI slapping out some funky sounds on the keyboard.
After a sweet piano opening, guitar and drums blasted off for the strong ballad “prison” although the beat identified more with a prison break. The rhythm built up very slowly and sweet pleas turned into inconsolable, demanding cries that mingled with the fast guitar. Eventually, mellow piano made the transition to “Never Ending Story.” It was a haunting performance with HAKUEI expressing versatility and showmanship as he traversed the flashier tunes to this tender one. The song continued in a lukewarm, sweet and longing spiral that seemed never to end, all with an unmistakable ‘90’s touch.
“Who knows this song?” the vocalist asked the audience, explaining, “It’s a coupling song from our second single.” He was surprised when most of the fans confessed to be familiar with it and excited to hear it live. “I wonder why this song is so popular! This old man just doesn’t understand,” he went on, asking the crowd for an answer. “Because you never play it!” yelled a girl, though HAKUEI had a hard time hearing her and mocked her, saying, “Mamamamamamama?” the third time around. “Sorry, that was uncalled for,“ he apologized a moment later,” showing a rare sense of consideration. The chat became more sentimental after O-JIRO brought up the CD cover. “Do you know who that foreign guy on the cover is?” he asked. “Isn’t it GISHO?” was HAKUEI’s reply. The reference to the band’s former bassist brought quite a few laughs and nostalgic sighs to the conversation. “I met the guy on the cover once,” Chisato revealed. “It was after one of my solo lives and he came to me and said ‘I did your CD cover!’” The last he said in Japanese with a strong English-speaker’s accent that elicited giggles. “Those times were fun!” the leader went on. “My emcees used to be really fun, then!” It was the vocalist who uttered the question on everyone’s lips. “What do you mean by that?” “Well, I used to say things to get the crowd excited, like slang and swearing but now… Well, I’m more grown up and feel that would be rude and weird.”
The sweet ballads followed. “Butterfly” started slowly but built up, growing more and more demanding. Piercing cries mingled with the guitar solos as vocals and guitar became one. The fast riffs symbolized the ascending flight of the butterfly, white embracing the hall for the hopeful finale. The positive “make love” followed as if to symbolize a new start. All hands went up and down in unison to beat as the crowd swayed. The characteristic way in which the vocalist ended each verse in a semi-growl and the never-failing guitar work made for a powerful combination.
The pace continued to rise with the hot “Soshite Densetsu he” and the theatrics grew. HAKUEI danced to the funky beat, all ceasing for the vocals as words left his lips with deadly fire. It was an old-school rock piece that got the hall moving and brought Chisato and support bass HIROKI to the front for some hot solos. Red lights swallowed the venue in “Zero” with its loud and jolly tune, all hell breaking loose for “Mr.Freez.” Thunderous drums and a demonic growl summoned the thrashing heads. All sweetness gone, HAKUEI’s voice was now all growls as he headbanged, twirled, kicked the air and moved around the stage like a wild beast.
“Jump!” the vocalist yelled as the first beats of “99banme no yoru” shook the hall. The rapid-fire drums were accompanied by electrifying guitar and a ‘90s disco beat. Contrasting with the feisty instrumentals, HAKUEI’s voice carried a sorrowful tinge that made this an interesting number. With the drums growing stronger, Chisato took the song home, falling to his knees for an ardent finale. HAKUEI’s fur coat came off in anticipation for the powerful “Inazuma” then Chisato and O-JIRO dove into the closing number, “fantasia.” Vigorous drums and electrifying guitar made for a powerful combination, bass and keyboard close behind. HAKUEI was at his best, commanding the crowd as he half sang, half spit the lyrics, always moving with a natural, spicy mischief.
After an effusive encore demand, the band returned to reflect on the Kanto disaster. “It’s been exactly a year. We were mid-tour at the time and were going to Sendai the next day. We felt the tragedy deeply, but I’m happy that we can still laugh, have fun and have good times like we are having now,” HAKUEI said. “I think we need to be thankful for tomorrow and with that thought in mind, we leave you with this song!”
To a slow guitar and bass intro, PENICILLIN delivered the solemn ballad, “Tomorrow.” Chisato sang backing vocals while his guitar sped off towards the hopeful morning sun as warm white light engulfed the stage for the finale. “Ultrider” lightened up the mood, HAKUEI with beer in hand teasing HIROKI and Chisato as he moved around. He led the crowd in a chorus of “la’s” with a high note thrown in that most could not reach, resulting in laughter from the vocalist.
The next emcee almost had a Chisato reminiscing on the encounter with some fans from Sendai after the earthquake. HAKUEI again lightened the mood, demanding “Positive power!” He caught HIROKI napping, warning the bassist and the crowd never to let down their guards before insisting that the positive HIROKI fire up the crowd for “Speed KING.” The mic stand swung dangerously in HAKUEI’s careless hand while he danced and kicked the air, lost in the beat.
Wasting no time as the crowd demanded more, Chisato, O-JIRO, HIROKI and NAOMI returned to a loud cheer. Chisato introduced the merchandise, white shirts and short black jackets worn by all the band, (Chisato now clad only in the garters and what looked like soft leather underpants below the waist). “The pins on HIROKI’s shirt are Fan Club only,” he explained, adding with a disapproving growl “but he isn’t in the Fan Club yet.” Keeping a serious face, the band’s leader proceeded to introduce the white and pink towel for the 20th anniversary countdown. “You can twirl it!” He demonstrated, holding the towel in his hand, and the crowd let out a laugh as he jumped around like a fan, singing random lines of “Romance” HAKUEI walked in, clad in a dark-red, skin-tight and shiny suit. “That suit looks familiar… Isn’t it from the PV of the song I just sang?” mused Chisato. “I’ve never worn this one at a live, I think. Only for the PV,” the vocalist replied. The fans were ripe with anticipation and so HAKUEI suggested, “Let’s sing “Romance.” The approving shouts from the crowd accompanied the song’s intro. It was a magic moment with the hall singing in one voice, all raised for the guitar solo–even HAKUEI’s.
O-JIRO having left the stage, the most unusual thing happened – the crowd started shouting for another encore even as HAKUEI and Chisato waved their goodbyes. Untainted by the stiff formality of rock in Japan today, PENICILLIN were pleased to oblige then and there.
“REAL×××” brought the live to an end. Holding Chisato from behind, the vocalist indulged in some fan service as he shared the mic, cheeks touching the guitarist’s as they sang together. The drums signaled the end of the show, HAKUEI blowing kisses to the crowd while Chisato bowed and waved.
PENICILLIN left the stage with the promise of an explosive finale where they will review the entirety of their indies music at Kawasaki Club Citta.
- anti beauty
- love & peace
- Never Ending Story
- make love
- Soshite Densetsu he
- 99ban me no yoru
- Speed KING