Friday, June 8, 2007

Utada United 2006 - Hikki's a trooper

(Originally 23 December 2006)

Must get Utada United DVD when it comes out…in America! Actually waiting for it to be available in Canada so I can avoid currency conversion charges. At the very least, Amazon tends to sell things cheaper than YesAsia, even if things are still priced in USD.

For the time being, I am pretty happy with a low-quality encode from jpopsuki. At first I was pretty excited about her second ever live performance of Final Distance, but at the end of the day, her MTV Unplugged performance tops it. Nine songs out of twenty (excluding the bit of intro music at the start) are post-Deep River, but it seems the pre-Deep River stuff is like money-maker material - they've all been performed at Budokan 2004, and probably Bohemian Summer. I welcome repeats of actual Deep River tracks, though, as they haven't gotten nearly as old as say, First Love.

Her performance was consistently solid, but her ballad performances in the first half weren't as good as in the second half. She didn't hold over the high notes in Final Distance as long as maybe she could (or should) have, and First Love was run of the mill, but it's hard to breathe new life into something so old without a radical re-arrangement, and there was no such radical re-arrangement. Movin' on without you, was also run of the mill, and didn't have the energy seen at Budokan 2004. The post-Deep River songs, and to a lesser extent, Traveling, blew me away.

Three Exodus tracks made it into Utada United, and who would have thought that Devil Inside could sound so good? The cheesy synth line, which only alternates between two notes the whole way through, was ditched in favour of a much darker electric guitar presence. Heavy bass also beefed up the texture. Hikaru didn't sound like she was struggling (or dying) in Kremlin Dusk. Only YMMWTBAM was weak, as there wasn't much substance in the arrangement, and it's not on my favourites list for Exodus tracks, either.

As a general rule, a lot of the songs performed had been re-jigged for a lot more activity and energy, with richer support. It was quite refreshing, and brings back memories of how good the Distance-era material sounded when re-arranged for MTV Unplugged. Following the Exodus block of songs, a cello was brought in, and for Be My Last, was the sole accompaniment. It didn't suck, but it was pushing the limits of my attention span because there wasn't much that could be done with just a cello and Hikaru trying to fill in the blanks, or vice versa. The original arrangement was a lot richer in that regard.

Dareka, though, was moving. The piano synth was brought in, and images of war and poverty are shown on the huge background displays. I can't say much more; what can anyone say about a fundamentally sad song, with sad images? Unless you want to get cynical.

Colors, with most of the driving percussion stripped away, had a slightly laid back feel. Solid performance, but Colors isn't one of my favourite songs.

The next three are all solid performances, but they're Distance-era. Wait and See is as impressive as always, no matter how old it gets. I prefer the MTV arrangement of Addicted to You.

Letters, solid also.

Alright! Keep Tryin' is up. I wrote a lot on Keep Tryin', mainly in defense of her sub-par vocal effort. Some had speculated that she was fading this late into the concert, which is reasonable. After watching everything up to this point (and the performances after), though, I know that she wasn't tired enough to suck. No, she was running, literally, herself ragged working the crowd. There's no other explanation for her solid encore performances of Automatic and Hikari, the latter of which was much better than her Budokan 2004 performance of the same, and Hikari was up first two years ago. I still like Keep Tryin', very much.

It's like a maxim to say that Hikki can't dance, much less sing and run around the stage at the same time. Still a great moment, as odd as it is to say that given what I've said above (c'mon, the singing was fine to begin with).

Production values, huge. Those images put on the background displays were neat, as well as the images projected down onto the stage that almost no one in the audience would see. It seems like the Distance-era songs got the short end of the stick, but received fancy light work as a consolation prize.

Hikki herself worked a lot harder this around it seems. I don't remember seeing her sweat so visibly. Come to think of it, I don't remember ever seeing her sweat, period. I hope she was having as much fun as she looked like she was.


The concert version of This is Love has the inclusion of a twangy guitar that isn't present in the album version. I like this a lot, as it actually removes some of the texture. In other words, it makes the song sound sparser, which is counter-intuitive. I think its timbre, which is thin and high-strung, dominates the passages in which it is included. Call it an audio illusion, if you will.

One of the major reasons I like This is Love is because it's perfect driving music, which is to say it sounds very urban, hip, and free. I associate the urban/cosmopolitan feel with a sense of minimalism. This thinning of texture is representative of that minimalism.