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Anime Expo 2007
Halko Momoi Concert

by Jonathan Mays,
July 2, 10:53 a.m.

Halko Momoi wears a Power Glove on stage. Seriously.

Everything I've seen from Momoi this weekend—reciting the nuances of Lupin's jackets, dissecting the doujinshi market on demand, reaming Anime Expo's staff in her blog only minutes after her panel—backs up her claim to the Akihabara throne. Either this is the most elaborate role that a J-Pop starlet has played in ages, or Halko Momoi is one serious otaku.

What this means for her concert this morning remains to be seen, but I guess we should be satisfied that she's even performing. After the disastrous SOS Brigade concert, I have little doubt that Momoi's public anger with Anime Expo is only the tip of the iceberg, and that she's only lingering in Long Beach because she doesn't want to bail on her fans.

Not that many fans remain on Monday: maybe two hundred at 11:02. The more resourceful ones make the most of the turnout by handing out glow sticks to everyone in sight. Momoi's “21st Century” video loops every four minutes, as it has for the last half hour. At 11:09, “Love.exe” substitutes. 11:15 arrives, and so does Momoi, dressed in a tropical kimono skirt, white platform shoes with neon yellow shoelaces, a red wristband, and, as promised, the Power Glove.

She leads the chanting crowd: “Hai! Hai!” and launches into her “Gura Gura” song before hundreds of waving glow sticks. The scene is unsettling: scores of men cheering anxiously to Momoi's squeaky, stylized vocals. Somewhere between my hotel room and the arena I unwittingly stepped into an episode of Genshiken.

Moments after Momoi announces the song, “Hide and Seek,” a call and response of "Mou iikai” and “Maada dayo” heats up. As is her wont, Momoi answers to her fans, not the other way around. She starts to sing, but the crowd continues to chant all the through the four-minute song. Momoi's stage presence helps: always striking poses and pumping her Power Glove-fitted fist.

Momoi greets her fans in Japanese and prods them to jump to her next song, “Tondoru Baby.” Realizing the makeup of the audience, no one bothers to put her comments in English. The crowd chants on every fourth beat of the chorus. And they chant like mad during the bridge, but you know that already.

“Thank you so much!” The song changes, but the crowd soldiers on, their chanting about to hit the fifteen-minute mark. Momoi affects an even more heavily stylized tone, and the crowd mixes things up with the occasional “Fight-o!” Cycling rainbow lights complement Momoi's kimono skirt. She throws a purple glow stick into the crowd.

“Sugoi! America ja nai mitai! Koko wa Nihon desu ka?” Sure feels like we're in Japan. “Shooting Star” mercifully brings Momoi's voice down a couple of octaves. Nami Tamaki fans would enjoy this synth-heavy song, or at least the chorus. The disco ball adds even more color to the visually stimulating show. Twenty straight minutes of chanting? Not bad for a Monday morning.

“Tsugi wa—” Woah, no chance of catching all of that. But whatever she said, the crowd loved it. The song starts with Momoi (and everyone else) yelling “Tenbatsu!” sixteen times in a row. Momoi alternates hand waves and fist pumps—and she throws the Power Glove into the crowd! Try explaining that souvenir to your friends. Also, where does she get extras?

“Romantic Summer!” The crowd gets a break at last, except for a few who sing along. Ha, forget that: everybody's singing along now. Actually, there are two vocal lines, and the crowd is doing the lower one. And harmonizing—eh, trying to—on the chorus, which sounds like a Beach Boys song. Oh, gosh, I just got a haunting vision of Halko Momoi covering a Beach Boys album.

The fog machine heats up, and Momoi grabs another glow stick. She's waving it like a dog bone. And there it goes, just in time for the bridge. She wraps the song with a patient note. As long as she's not trying to sound like a five-year-old, Momoi's singing is fine.

“Ohayo gozaimasu!”

Some folks in the back start chanting, “Mexico!”

Momoi knows just what to say:

“Thank you, Mexicans!”

Sometime between then and when I stopped laughing, she also thanked the Japanese and Americans in attendance.

Once more: “Ohayo gozaimasu!" She says she's happy to be performing and to see her “Japanese friends” in the audience. Then in English: “Let's all come on! Here's a famous Japanese musician who arranges my songs. manzo!”

A middle-aged man in a blue jumpsuit, reflective vest, and white construction helmet walks on stage, acoustic guitar in hand. He plays a goofy rock song: “We will destroy houses! We will destroy bridges! We will destroy buildings!” (I'm told it's the theme song to a Japanese demolition company. Did you know Japanese demolition companies had theme songs?)

manzo: “The next song is the last song! It's a famous song from Japanese anime: Genshiken.” The crowd goes wild as he strums away. He's not bad. Wait a second: the Genshiken theme is by a guy who does music for demolition companies? How does that happen?

He hits the last chord four times, and all too soon, he's gone. Momoi returns. Now, she says, it's time for an English song. “Everybody sing along!”

Worlds collide as Momoi sings the opening lines to “Video Killed the Radio Star.” How fitting that the first music video on MTV renews its ironic quest on the lips of an Ahikabara addict. Momoi stretches her modest range in the unaccompanied chorus. Mild applause grows when she opens the next song, “Mebius Ring,” building to the steady chanting that consumed the first half hour of the show. I don't get the wild enthusiasm for a middling pop number, but that's how it goes today.

“The next song is my hometown song: Akihabara!” In between the “Hey” chants, the odd fan yells, “Akiba!” Even for this show, it's kind of weird.

“Kono natsu wo, Anime Expo de…” The crowd celebrates her improvised lyrics. Despite the tease of a piano intro, it's back to the synthesizer backbeat in less than a minute. An efficient work, the six-minute song has only four phrases. Momoi's solo bridge finally lets the crowd come up for air. She leads the crowd in a wave. I think everyone in the arena has at least two glow sticks. Most fans have four or five.

Tsugi wa… Wonder Momo-i!” The usual enthusiastic cheers greet synthesized horns and electric guitar. About a minute in, Momoi spins around and, get this, starts impersonating an idol singer with a much lower voice. Alto Momoi is pretty cool—she rolls her r's and all—but she has to fight through a brutal chorus that's on the fringe of her ability. Less than a minute later, she's back to her old squeaky voice, but Alto Momoi rejoins us for the chorus. This is actually a really cool song. You win, Momoi.

Gathering her breath, she shouts, “This is the last song!” It's the one that ran right before the concert, "Love.exe." The syncopated chorus is catchy, mostly because it's syncopated. The verses are bland, and the guitar in the bridge gets killed by the backbeat. None of this really matters to the mass of humanity crowding around the front of the stage.

The song wraps at 12:17, and chants of “Mo-mo-i” and “En-core” begin before she even leaves the stage. Eventually the crowd settles on a Japanese specialty: “En-co-re.” The music returns at 45 seconds, and Momoi's back within a minute with “Saigo no Rock.” Air guitar Momoi is amusing. Her opening lines have the same yodel as that of atsuko from Angela. It's sort of downhill from there. Squealing “Jump! Jump!” in the middle of a chorus doesn't really work in a rock song, even a fluffy one. The crowd does enjoy repeating it, though.

“Minna daisuki!” She thanks the audience repeatedly and then invites everyone to move as close to the stage as possible, pausing a minute for some slowpokes in the back. She takes a photo of the crowd. “Thank you!”

manzo returns with his guitar for the finale, “Yumeno Baton.”

“Clap your hands, please!”

A few fans turn it into a chant, but Momoi settles them down and sings. There's no backing track. Momoi is in tears, along with many of her fans. She holds herself together just enough to keep the lyrics coming. The fans remain silent save their steady clapping. Glow sticks light up the entire arena floor. The audience must have doubled since this morning. What a remarkable scene. Momoi's losing it: only the audience's beat is keeping her in rhythm. The clapping falls away. manzo retires the guitar, and a sobbing Momoi ends it a cappella.

After four days and more than 400 minutes of live music, I couldn't have asked for more.

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