Anime Expo 2010
AKB48 Live in Concert

by Carlo Santos, Jul 2nd 2010

It begins with a primal scream.

"AY KAY BEEEEEEEEEE—"

"FORTY EIGHT!"

So goes the opening cadenza of "RIVER," the late-2009 hit that catapulted AKB48 into the J-pop stratosphere. The entire first minute of the song is a hip-hop-styled stomp routine, an open defiance of pop formula that has, among other things, made them the most recognizable idol group in Japan.

As the song segues into its hard-hitting beat and inspirational lyrics, the hundreds of lightstick-waving fans in Nokia Theatre know that the moment has come at last. AKB48 has returned to American soil, this time to the United States' true entertainment mecca: Los Angeles.

The next song is a hit from a few years back, "Aitakatta!", but still an evergreen crowd-pleaser with its catchy hooks and upbeat melody. Then comes "Iiwake Maybe," last year's rock-infused summer single. By this point, the Nokia Theatre has become a nonstop party fueled by the sound of idol pop.

The energy is dialed down a bit for the next few minutes, as the 16 representative members of the super-sized group introduce themselves one by one. Their English skills range from polished to just-barely-scraping-by, but that's part of the charm—that each girl has an individual personality, a unique way of presenting herself.

This range of personalities also comes out in the following set of "unit songs," where the members divide into smaller groups to showcase their talents. Anyone who would dismiss AKB48's repertoire as carbon-copy bubblegum has not heard or seen these songs: "Kuroi Tenshi," with its S&M overtones in the dance routine; "Seifuku Resistance," which adds a punkish touch to the group's school-uniform aesthetic; "Bird," which has a dark side despite its energetic beat. Even "Heart Gata Virus," presented with cutesy pastel dresses and tambourines, comes with a minor-keyed sense of longing in the tune.

Then comes the big crowd-pleaser, the one AKB song that always brings American crowds to their feet: "Blue Rose," a hard-rocking number powered by distortion guitars and 4/4 drumming, not to mention black leather coats and midriff-baring tops. If the other songs were simply stepping up the energy in the building, this is the one that sends it through the roof.

After another brief MC segment about the many tourism options in L.A. (is it any surprise that Disneyland and Universal Studios are on the to-do list?), everybody re-groups to perform some hit singles from the past and present. The joyful "Boku no Taiyou" is there, followed by English versions of "BINGO!" and "Ôgoe Diamond," which in their tuneful lyrics stress the importance of expressing one's true feelings. After that, it's time for the last song: the sweet choral ballad "Sakura no Shiori," which makes for the perfect farewell.

Except that they're not really done yet. After rhythmic calls for an encore, the girls come out one more time in Anime Expo t-shirts to perform the energetic hits that everyone's been waiting for: the festive "Namida Surprise!", the new summer single "Ponytail to Shushu," and finally—one more farewell song—"Hikoukigumo." After an hour and a half of unbridled joy, the concert is over, but the memories will last a lifetime.


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