Anime Expo 2007

by Jonathan Mays,
July 1, 11:57 a.m.

Sunday morning may be an odd time for a ska concert, but after spending more than twelve hours in Long Beach Arena over the last two days, I've lost all sense of time. ORESKABAND has no such trouble; their concert starts only a few minutes after noon. As Santana's “Smooth” fades away, the arena lights fall and trumpet player Saki bounds on from stage left, followed by Ikasu (vocals/guitar), Tomi (bass), Tae-san (drums), Moriko (sax), and Leader (trombone).

Dressed in their usual white shirts, black pants, and black and red ties, the ORESKABAND girls urge the crowd of 1,500 or so to stand up. Are you ready?” Saki asks, rolling her r's. “We are ORESKABAND!”

Joined by her fellow band members, Saki leads a 30-second instrumental intro bursting with energy, especially compared to Saturday's stationary acts. Ikasu takes the first turn at vocals, betraying more range than a typical girl rock group demands. Tomi, Moriko, and Leader are surfing wave after wave of perfect harmony while never taking themselves too seriously. Is this really happening on the same stage that boasted the so-called Concert of the Century only two days earlier? How refreshing.

A kaleidoscope of lights signals the next song, which Ikasu helms with imperfect but reasonably solid vocals. More than half of the crowd waves their arms as Saki instructs: “Copy me! Left-o! Right-o! Let's go dancing!” Before long, the lights bleed orange and Tomi's bass begins the fourth number of the afternoon. Saki and Leader wave their trumpet and trombone in the air, performing the simple music with playful enthusiasm. Multitasking is no challenge for Ikasu, who maintains the backbeat on guitar. When they have a moment to take a breath, Moriko and Leader keep the crowd involved, pushing them to clap during the chorus. They seem to have earned some new fans in the second deck.

Saki hints about the next song: “Do you know Bleach?” The arena goes dark as Ikasu strums the first phrase before a single spotlight on the floor. Less than a minute later, the rest of the band joins the party. No one on stage is standing still. Ikasu soars on vocals, holding difficult sharps for several seconds at a time. The harmony is not as heavenly as before, but ORESKABAND set a high bar in its opening minutes. Tomi's bass solo reflects her attitude at yesterday's panel: modest but occasionally biting.

Without a moment's break, Ikasu revs her guitar to open the next song. It's a tough verse to negotiate, and she struggles with its extreme pitches. It's also tough on the audience: the entire second deck takes a seat, and the other band members stand idle for the first time since taking the stage. But even a weak ORESKABAND song has its moments. Ikasu strikes two chords on alternating beats, producing a cool reverberation against the back of the arena.

Leader grabs a bottle of water and tries to draw attention from Moriko, who is tuning her saxophone on the back of the stage: “What's up, Long Beach? Do you know ORESKABAND? Have you seen ORESKABAND shows before?”

Saki steps up: “I love America. I love California. I love Long Beach. And I love you. Put your hands up in the air—peace sign!” More than half of the crowd follows along. She's got them in the palm of her hand. “Next song: Almond!”

A few seconds of guitar-trombone-sax interplay yields to Ikasu, who takes her usual vocal lead in the first verse. When she reaches the refrain, all five band members (except Moriko, who is tied to her drum set) rush to the front of the stage and throw two fingers in the air. It's goofy, but nearly everyone in the arena follows the lead. And here come the waving cell phones, the first of the weekend! There must be hundreds of tiny glowing screens rocking gently over the audience. The video screens cut to the crowd, which is a smart choice because the scene is awesome.

High above the stage, a glowing disco ball takes us through the final thirty seconds of the song. It begins to spin, and we roll along to the next song without pause. Pulsating white lights, on beat unlike those at last night's concert, complement the fog machine humming under Leader's chant. “Hey-ho!” It is hard to tell the difference between this song and four or five others that preceded it until the bridge, when the band rocks as hard as they have all afternoon. Taking her trumpet vertical, Saki rolls through scales without getting too pretentious. Tomi ends the number on a jazzy note, the crowd cheers, and the arena falls into silence for the first time in quite a while.

“Shall we dance?” Do you even have to ask, Saki? Most of the action is confined to the floor seats, but there is a lot of nervous foot tapping in the first-deck risers. Saki encourages further: “Everyone sing! Do you know ska music? Do you like ska music?”

Leader breezes through a solo part. She's more excited about the “La-la-la” call and repeat that is rapidly gaining steam. It takes some pushing, and patience, to get the crowd to sing in proper time, but they get it soon enough. Perhaps appreciating the lesson in rhythm, the audience gives ORESKABAND an extended applause.

“Pinocchio!” The tempo picks up by half, and the band members introduce a new dance. Two claps, wave to the left, wave to the right, nothing elaborate. Japan's Para Para craze could use the lesson in economy of motion. Musically it's unremarkable, but what do you expect when most of the band is otherwise occupied?

Ikasu, Saki, Tomi, Moriko, and Leader congregate at Tae-san's drum set. Leader breaks the conference, jogs to the microphone, and tries to speak, but she's out of breath. The audience cheers out of sympathy, and Saki gathers herself. “Japan is a very nice country. We are from Sakai, Osaka, Japan. Do you know Osaka? Osaka? Do you know?”

“Thank you very much. O-ki-ni.” She's giving a language lesson.
O-ki-ni, o-ki-ni,” the crowd chants.
“Stop! Stop!” Silence. “Very interesting!” The education goes both ways.

From the middle of the floor seats, someone shouts: “Ho-na-na!” ["so long"]
“Yes! Osaka language!”
Ho-na-na! Ho-na-na!” The crowd chants for a while.

“The last song is Chuck! Don't forget about us, don't forget about Japan!” The band does not move. “Everybody sit down, please.” The audience obeys. “When I say one, two, jump, everybody get up!” Even the killjoy press section joins—well, most of them, anyway. “Jump, jump, jump!” The risers are shaking. Meanwhile, the band pulls off an awesome, vibrant interlude.

Saki's not done with us yet. “Repeat after me: la-la-la…”

Just as I'm starting to digest the moment, the band turns away from the audience and finishes with a flourish of notes played straight at the ceiling. “O-ki-ni!” Tomi can't even make it off the stage before dueling “O-RES-KA and “En-core” chants consume the crowd. No drama here: less than a minute later, the band is back. Leader screams some universal encouragement into the microphone before trying out her English: “I don't know English very well, but I'm very happy. Thank you, encore! Really, honto ni, last song!”

The first twenty seconds are excruciatingly slow, with Tae-san tapping the drums at half speed. Of course it's only a tease for a rocking conclusion, which all five members launch in unison: “Shall We Dance!” Each member takes her turn in the spotlight. Tomi's solo earns a jazz improv-style applause. And so it continues for another five minutes. To analyze delirium would defeat the purpose.

And suddenly, it's over.

No, wait, it's not. The band freezes for ten seconds to nervous applause only to wrap with a tidal wave of energetic notes, slowing ever so slightly as if to ease us back to reality. “Thank you!” Saki shouts. “See you next time! Ho-na-na!

Congratulations, ORESKABAND. You've put on the best show at Anime Expo.

Set list:

M-2: YEAH! Ska Dance
M-4: Cooler Society
M-5: Good Bye Deja vu
M-6: 20 tips
M-7: U
M-9: Things I Forgotten
M-10: Knife & Folk
M-13: Chuck

M-1: Shall we Dance?

ORESKABAND official website
Photos by Mayumi Nashida.

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