New York Anime Festival 2009
AKB48 Live in Concert

by Carlo Santos,

It's an adage often repeated about music performers, but in the case of AKB48, it holds especially true: you haven't really seen them until you've seen them live. With a barrage of catchy songs, energetic dance moves, and flashy costume changes, they showed a receptive audience at Webster Hall New York City why they have captured Japan's attention as the idol group of the moment.

Sixteen girls from the 65-member collective took the stage, opening with their signature song, "Aitakatta"—arugably the best use of a four-note motif since Beethoven's Fifth. Right after that came a couple of equally upbeat numbers: the brassy, Motown-styled "Baby! Baby! Baby!", followed by the tuneful (if somewhat lyrically goofy) "Namida Surprise." Then it was time for each member to introduce herself in English—a segment that reached various levels of funny, charming, or even cryptic, depending on their language skills.

The middle of the concert brought a change of pace with "unit songs," where the girls split off into smaller groups to showcase their individual skills. Catchy retro-pop numbers like "Nagisa no Cherry" and "Bye Bye Bye" clearly won the crowd's approval, but the next couple of songs—the playful "Ame no Doubutsuen" (complete with animal costumes) and the forceful beat of "Nageki no Figure"—didn't make quite as much of an impact. The mood quickly turned around, however, with a tough, hard-rocking, downright sexy performance of "Blue Rose," which got the most enthusiastic reaction of the night.

After that, the full group came together once more for the last few songs. First came the sweet, lilting melody of "Boku no Taiyou," followed by English versions of "Bingo!" and "Oogoe Diamond"—and while some of the lyrics got lost in pronunciation, one could still pick up enough words to understand the sentiment. The next song, "Hikoukigumo," even got the crowd involved, as they were encouraged to wave the red souvenir scarves that had been handed out before the show. Finally, it was time to say goodbye with a nostalgic ballad (and AKB48's first-ever single), the choir-like "Sakura no Hanabiratachi."

After the group left the stage, fans called out for an encore, and sure enough, the girls returned wearing "I ♥ NY" T-shirts—a crowd-pleaser if there ever was one. The encore ran through a string of uptempo numbers including the group's most recent single, "Iiwake Maybe," the urgent rhythms of "10nenzakura," and a reprise of "Oogoe Diamond" in English.

But they weren't done yet. A second curtain call followed, and the crowd got to wave their scarves again with a repeat of "Hikoukigumo."

That second round of scarf-waving was a telling sign of AKB48's instant appeal. When the concert started, maybe a fifth of the crowd was seriously into it—basically the hardcore fans in the first few rows—but by the final encore, almost everyone was waving along. Those who had come in knowing nothing about the group were coming out knowing that they had experienced a level of fun and energy that is perhaps unmatched in any other form of entertainment. As they say, you've never seen AKB48 until you've seen them live.

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