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Otakon 2004
L'Arc~en~Ciel Concert

by Christopher Macdonald,
On July 31st, 2004 L'Arc~en~Ciel played their first ever North American concert at the 1st Mariner Arena, Baltimore in front of a crowd of 12,000 fans. The concert was part of the 2004 Otakon Anime Convention, and attendance was included as a part of the Otakon pass (and wasn't available separately), but it was clear that not everyone in Baltimore that weekend came for the anime. It's impossible to count or estimate how many people came to Otakon just to see L'Arc~en~Ciel, but there was no questioning the fact that a large number of Japanese fans of the group were at Otakon primarily to see them perform. It isn't much of a surprise that people traveled, in some cases as far as the band itself, to see them perform. They are after all one of Japan's all-time most popular music bands.

Prior to the concert, while fans were still entering the arena, the first episode of FUNimation's Fullmetal Alchemist was screened in English for the first time. “Ready Steady Go,” the opening theme for the second season of Fullmetal Alchemist, was performed by L'Arc~en~Ciel, so FUNimation and Tofu Records decided to help each other out with a bit of cross-promotion. The episode ended up being shown twice, and for many people present it was the first time they had seen it.

After the screenings and everyone was seated, the concert started, with an explosion of pyrotechnics as L'Arc~en~Ciel took the stage to perform their first song, Kiss-Kuchizuke.

For the next hour and a half, L'Arc~en~Ciel fans were entertained with 14 songs from the group's SMILE and Clicked Singles Best 13 albums, as well as the groups newest single, “Jiyuu eno shoutai."

Without a doubt, nor any surprise, the songs that received the loudest response from the audience were their anime theme songs. In addition to performing “Ready Steady Go,” which received the most enthused response of all, they also performed “Driver's High” from GTO, “Blurry Eyes” from DNA^2 and “Spirit Dreams Inside” from Final Fantasy: Spirits Within.

Image Junichi Takahashi, © Tofu Records
But the anime theme songs weren't the only songs that the audience knew. When the band started the third song, “Heaven's Drive” the already excited audience really started to get into the mood. A lot of people in the audience were familiar with Heaven's Drive, and many were singing along. hyde later remarked in the press conference that he was surprised to see American fans singing along with him to the Japanese lyrics.

During the performance of their second song, “Lover Boy,” ken's guitar gave him some problems and he proceeded to break it on stage in typical “Rock Star Fashion™” before being handed a new guitar by one of the crew.

After the third song hyde, the bands vocalist, greeted the crowd in English, “Hello America! We are L'arc~en~Ciel. Are you having fun? I'm having fun too.”

Several times during the concert hyde and ken would speak to the audience, or, while performing, move up close to the front of the stage, almost (but not quite) close enough for the very excited fans to touch them. ken later remarked that in Japan they don't let fans get so close to the stage, and that there's usually a six-foot buffer between the closest fans and the front of the stage. He said that this gave him the feeling of being in a smaller, more intimate club-like venue, but at the same time there were big arena style pyrotechnics going off.

At another point in the concert, just before performing “Driver's High,” hyde screamed, “I am Evangelion... You know Evangelion? Going Berserk you know!... Going Berserk!!”

Perhaps the moment many people will remember the most is when hyde yelled “Are you ready? Are you fucking Ready? Ready Steady Go!” before launching into the Fullmetal Alchemist theme song. Those that choose to remember some other part of the concert probably remember hyde groping tetsu during the opening of Driver's High.

Image Junichi Takahashi, © Tofu Records
But despite all his apparent antics on stage, hyde was restraining himself somewhat. He explained during the press conference that when he's on stage in Japan, he likes to tell dirty jokes. But in America, while he was clearly having fun on stage, he wasn't sure if it was appropriate to tell the dirty jokes.

hyde wasn't the only one talking to the audience though, bass guitarist tetsu decided to give something to the audience. He asked them, “Do you want my bananas?” Apparently a fan of bananas, tetsu has performed a similar stunt at Japanese concerts where he whips a single banana out of his pants and throws it into the audience. Not familiar with the gag, and certainly not understanding his question, the Baltimore audience was at first silent, but erupted in laughter when tetsu brought from behind his back not one banana, but a whole batch of them and started throwing them into the audience.

Not to be left out, guitarist ken pulled his own prank during the intermission. He came out on stage wearing a dolphin mask and blowing on a Kazoo. He asked the audience if they knew who he was, and answered for them, “I am a dolphin. I come from the Baltimore aquarium!” ken had been to the aquarium during his visit to Baltimore, and had an amusing story to recount later.

The concert ended with “Pieces,” a quieter ballad, during which the crowd waved glow sticks, lighters, cell phones, and anything else that glowed, in the air.

Image Junichi Takahashi, © Tofu Records
Through random and fun audience interaction, a very complex pyrotechnic and laser show and a perfect musical performance that mixed text-book perfect renditions and improv, L'Arc~en~Ciel showed American fans why they were not only one of the most popular bands in Japan, but also one of the most popular stage bands. Everyone in the audience, from the Japanese front row attendees (who secured their front row seats by waiting over five hours outside the arena) to the people on the balcony all seemed to enjoy the concert immensely. People sang along, screamed in joy, stamped their feet and were gloriously entertained. No wonder L'Arc~en~Ciel is so notorious in Japan for selling out concerts in mere minutes. For a lot of people, the only question was, “When are they coming back?”

Unfortunately the answer given at the press conference was essentially “We don't know,” but at least they seem to want to come back.

Song List:

01 Kiss-Kuchizuke
02 Lover Boy
04 Spirit dreams inside
05 Jiyuu eno Shoutai
06 Forever-Eien
08 Living In Your Eyes-Hitomi No Jyunin
09 Driver's High
10 Feeling Fine
15 Blurry Eyes
16 Pieces

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