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Sound Decision
MUCC + Nana Kitade Live

by Jonathan Mays,
Photos by Shinsuke Irihi"It's hot and humid today."

MUCC singer Tatsuro's remark at the end of the concert Saturday was more than a weather report. It was his way of expressing gratitude to hundreds of Otakon members who braved the 20-minute walk to Rams Head Live in downtown Baltimore. And after a long, schizophrenic evening of music, Tatsuro's fans must have appreciated whatever cryptic thanks they could get.

The 1,700-capacity venue was already packed 30 minutes before the show, as most of the audience had arrived early in the afternoon. Roughly balanced by gender, the crowd was split between J-Rock cosplayers and less openly enthusiastic fans, with the occasional Kagome costume adding a jolt of color to the bleak mass of humanity. Red and yellow caricatures of jazz artists along the walls suggested the J-Rock invaders were considerably younger than Rams Head Live's usual clientele.

Saving us from another radio repeat of Weezer's "Buddy Holly," Nana Kitade took the stage promptly at 4 p.m., dressed like a maid with red shoes and a guitar in place of her iconic stuffed rabbit. Her Fullmetal Alchemist theme was pitch-perfect but did not energize the audience like I expected; perhaps they were too good for anime music.

"I'm Nana! I'm a Japanese princess. I'm so happy to be here in Baltimore."

With some help from the stage crew, Kitade tossed her guitar for "Kanashimi No Kizu" and its tempting chorus. The audience remained stunned and confused: Who was this cutesy anime girl, and what was she doing at a rock concert? Aside from two people bopping their heads in the front row, there was barely a twitch in the lower deck.

Kitade's shrill, unintelligible screams during the song did not endear her any further. Shaking her head and stomping her feet, she was rocking more than anyone in the deadbeat audience.

"Are you guys excited?" she squealed before the fifth song. Finally, her fist pumps found about 30 followers. After ditching the maid dress for a pink shirt, Kitade re-introduced her guitar with a cover of the Urusei Yatsura theme. Her chords did not match the sounds coming from the speakers; maybe her guitar was unplugged. Given the ear-piercing feedback that plagued the concert, it would not be surprising if one of the stage crew made such an elementary mistake.

Before her next song, Kitade asked the audience, "Are you okay?" Maybe she meant, "How are you doing?" Or maybe not. She wrapped up with intensity, bouncing around the stage despite the disinterested crowd. You are probably tired of crowd snipes, but the difficulty of performing at a high energy level when nobody seems to care cannot be overstated.

"That was disgustingly cute," said a teenage girl in front of me. "The only one I knew was the first song," said another.

Fifteen minutes later, apathy turned to anticipation as MUCC took the stage one by one: SATO-chi on drums, Yukke on bass, Miya on guitar, and Tatsuro in tennis shoes. The rest were barefoot. Pulsating red lights welcomed the band, along with a crowd that finally remembered how to put its hands in the air. Tatsuro's hands, on the other hand, were folded neatly against his chest, setting the tone for a modest opening that grew softly before exploding on cue.

They moved like dinosaurs, stomping around the stage so low that once or twice they may have been on all fours. Tatsuro's first chorus earned scattered cheers, the first time any of the audience responded loudly during a song that night. As the red lights faded to purple, Tatsuro bent over with his feet to the audience and face to the backdrop of MUCC's logo, as if we did not deserve to look him in the eye.

"Are you ready, Baltimore?" he growled. Tatsuro's deathly low vocals carried the next song until a surprise drum solo shook up the stage. Ever the showman, Tatsuro's ending position built on the first song's finale: back to the crowd and torso to the sky so a few lucky fans might catch a glimpse of his face in between his blinding white shirt and white pants.

MUCC was loud and heavy, which by the third song was all that mattered. The fourth was the same, and the fifth, except for one good hook somewhere in the middle. But as the band settled into a pattern, a bizarre dynamic emerged in the audience. The left balcony was full of hardcore, head-banging fans, while stage right was practically stoic. Maybe it was because the left balcony was closer to the bar.

Tatsuro took a break after the fifth song to turn "Hello" into a four-syllable word. "How are you doing? Fine? Yeah, we too."

The next two songs were notable for the improved bass and drum balance, a sharp turn with the drums pushing the pace to double time, and some seizure-inducing white lights. Most of the audience simply could not get enough of MUCC; they could have done the same thing for an hour and fans would have been thrilled. Or so I thought. But by the seventh song, it was clear the audience was beginning to bore. Several people around me left at the end of the song.

Luckily, a great bass solo and random key change sparked some more energy. Before SATO-chi could start the next song, a man in the lower deck screamed, "You guys rock!"

Song number eight marked a major change of pace, with a melodic intro leading into something like syncopated reggae. Tatsuro was less comfortable as a quiet, wistful singer. If MUCC has opened with this, there may have been a rebellion, but I guess timing is everything. The real payoff was the final chorus, when the band leaped back into hard rock while keeping the same melody. The boldness of the move outweighed its lack of grace.

Next was a companion piece, disorienting in its lack of a single syncopated note. It could have used more notes in general: too many dead stops killed nearly all of the band's momentum. The stratospheric bass bridge was great, but Tatsuro finishing the song on his knees was melodramatic. Still, the crowd loved it, especially the strained whispers of the last few words.

A few fans yelled, "I love you," to which Tatsuro replied, "Very funny."

Metal drums are cool, but not so much when they are pre-recorded for the ninth song of the night. MUCC was even less cool when they moved around the stage in sync, looking for a moment like side characters in a high school musical. Of course, their music was good enough to forgive their hokey dance moves.

Demonstrating once again his total control of the venue, Tatsuro spent part of the bridge leaning against the drum platform, as if in a rehearsal break. He may as well have waited for the crowd to call him back to center stage.

Manic drumming by SATO-chi assured there was no break before the next song, but somehow there was still time for Tatsuro to yell, "Baltimore, everybody go [expletive] crazy! Make some noise!" They briefly devolved into a scream band, which the lower deck seemed to appreciate. Tatsuro's primal scream at the end would have been a brilliant way to end the concert, but instead, we had another 20 minutes to endure.

I lost track of the song numbers, and others lost interest in the concert; 15 minutes before the end, the center balcony was almost entirely empty. Those who left missed some nice speed rock, but it was hard to blame them. As MUCC's stage time approached 90 minutes, one of their best songs of the night felt like an apology for spending so much time on the same couple of tricks.

Yukke and Miya left their bass and guitar reverberating on stage as they left, and the stage crew wisely waited half a minute before shutting them down. Chants of "One More Song" filled the venue. Seven minutes later, they returned for one more song. And then a couple more.

"It's hot and humid today," Tatsuro said.

"I'm a good escape."

Too bad the night ended with a different kind of escape in mind.

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